The other day I was passing by Penang Road and I noticed some major road excavation work in progress. I looked more closely – and there it was: preserved like an elongated time capsule under the surface of the road were two parallel metal strips right smack in the middle of the road. The old tram track!
This section is probably a continuation of the 50 metres of tram track that was unearthed – and now kept visible – following road and pavement upgrading works in 2004 at the Chulia Street/Penang Road junction.
Let’s hope these discoveries will inspire our urban transport planners to look more closely at the system of trams, which first began running in Penang in the 1880s. These trams later became part of an integrated people-friendly public transport system in the decades that followed.
Reviving the trams will be timely – and it won’t cost much. In fact, Australian tram engineer Ric Francis, author of Penang Trams, Trolleybuses and Railways, estimates that half of the old tram track could be dug out and re-used. One tram could keep 55 cars off the road, he says. Plus it will conserve our fuel, reduce pollution and complement the new public bus service, RapidPenang.
Moreover, trams that blend with the old-world architecture of George Town will surely enhance the heritage value of the inner city, which has the largest collection of pre-war shophouses in South-East Asia.
This is definitely the way to go!
Listen to Francis speaking about Re-introducing the Tramways in Penang – A Proposal for Action on Saturday at 10 am at the Penang Heritage Trust (26, Church Street). For details, phone 04-2642631.
Be there for a fascinating glimpse of what could be possible.