Would you like to see this in your city?



A modern tram in Grenoble, France – Photo credit: Wikipedia (copyleft)

The tram initiative is building up momentum. So far, 25 29 30 31 bloggers and websites have signed on to the campaign.

Civil society activists have articulated their views too. Here’s what some people are saying:

Heritage writer Khoo Salma Nasution:

Heritage writer Khoo Salma Nasution noted that the Penang Island Municipal Council was the first local government to introduce electric trams in the inner city in the early part of the last century.

“People think the tram is a thing of the past, but they are wrong because it is actually the thing of the future,” she said.

“It is clean, energy saving and user-friendly not to mention fast, efficient and also cheap.”She said the tram could provide an iconic identity for Penang and help revitalise the heritage of the inner city.

Khoo, who published a book titled ‘Penang Trams, Trolleybuses & Railways: Municipal Transport History 1880s-1963’,said trams could also help traffic calming in Penang’s roads.

Citizens for Public Transport (Cepat) coordinator Dr Choong Sim Poey asserts:

“We believe that any massive transportation mode requiring massive permanent infrastructure should not be implemented without proper study and a transport masterplan,” Choong said.

He said there were many alternatives besides the intrusive overhead monorail system that were cheaper, more sustainable and suitable for Penang with its heritage city and tree-lined roads.

“There are modern trams as used in Hong Kong, San Francisco, and recently introduced in Paris, Melbourne, Nottingham, Manchester and five other British cities.

“Trams were used by cities throughout the world including Penang until phased out by the increase of number of cars which are now proving to be a problem,” he added.

Choong said the O-Bahn bus and rail links of Adelaide, Australia, and many German cities were hailed as among the best sustainable public transportation for cities similar in size to Penang.

Penang Heritage Trust council member Ahmad Chik thinks its do-able:

Ahmad Chik, the author of (a tram) proposal and a PHT council member, says electric trams, or light rail transit as they are known in many countries, do not require a licence from the federal government to operate but can be undertaken by the local council.

Even business weekly The Edge published a full-page story supportive of the idea of trams:

12 May 2008: Corporate: Penang looks at tram alternative

By Lee Wei Lian
Email us your feedback at [email protected]

The Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) has proposed that the Penang government reintroduce trams as a mode of public transport in the island. Penang used to operate an electric tram system until 1936 when it was discontinued in favour of trolley buses.

The proposal is based on a study done by the PHT last year. According to a copy of the proposal obtained by The Edge, the first two phases will cover the routes with the heaviest traffic, totalling 7km in length. It will be serviced by 10 electric tram cars, of which seven can accommodate 220 passengers and the remaining three 40 passengers. The estimated cost is RM63.98 million or RM9.14 million per km. The proposal also estimates that the project would take no more than 24 months to implement from the appointment of consultants to the commissioning of the system.

This proposal comes at an interesting time because a monorail system that was supposed to be implemented in the state under the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP) is in question. In January, Syarikat Prasarana Negara Bhd awarded a letter of intent for the construction of the monorail system in Penang to a consortium led by Malaysian Resources Corp Bhd. The other members of the consortium are Penang Port Commission and Scomi Engineering Bhd.

Last month, Melewar Industrial Group presented a proposal to the Penang government for a 52km monorail system costing RM2.2 billion. In March, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was reported to be considering a subway system for the island.

The federal government is currently reviewing its projects under the 9MP and speculation is rife that the implementation of the monorail project may be delayed.

When contacted, Lim Hock Seng, state executive councillor in charge of air, sea and rail transport, says Penang welcomes any federal government initiative, such as the monorail, but if none is forthcoming, the state government will have to explore alternatives.

Ahmad Chik, the author of the proposal and a PHT council member, says electric trams, or light rail transit as they are known in many countries, do not require a licence from the federal government to operate but can be undertaken by the local council.

He adds that the proposal was presented to the previous state government, which was in favour of it, and that it was mentioned to the new state government in a brief meeting. But a formal presentation is still pending. He says a more detailed study should be commissioned before any major transport decision is made.

Chow Kon Yeow, Penang exco member in charge of local government, traffic management and environment, confirms that the proposal was mentioned to him but there still has not been a formal presentation.

Dr Choong Sim Poey, the PHT’s president, says trams are environmentally friendly and some of the old tram lines still exist on Georgetown roads and can be reused. “Don’t go for expensive solutions. Look at multi-modal public transport and show the cost benefit to the people,” he says.

Trams were very popular in the early 19th century. However, with the growth in popularity of motor vehicles, many cities decided to remove the tram system, which was perceived to be old fashioned, in favour of cars and buses. Notable exceptions include San Francisco, Zurich and Melbourne.

Melbourne not only preserved its tram system, but also expanded it into the world’s most comprehensive one, with over 245km of lines, 500 trams and 1,813 stops.
In the 1970s, the term “light rail transit” or LRT was coined by the industry to update the image of the tram and the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Unlike in Malaysia, LRT in most other countries refers to modern electric trams, which run on unobtrusive rails embedded in the road as well as conventional rail tracks. Today, LRT is enjoying a resurgence and dozens of cities around the world have reintroduced LRT to their streets.

These include Los Angeles, which once had the world’s largest tram system, and Sydney, which reintroduced trams to its streets in 1997. Last year saw the opening of new LRT lines and cities that joined the tram fraternity include Buenos Aires, Argentina; Nice, France; and Toyoma, Japan. The latest city to do so was Shanghai, which started construction on a 10km LRT line last December, some 30 years after the last tram was taken off its streets.

While some people perceive trams as old-fashioned vehicles, modern electric trams can look quite sleek and futuristic. Their main advantage is that they operate at surface level and commuters can hop on and off without the hassle of trekking up to an elevated platform. The cost of building a tram stop is also negligible compared to building an elevated platform station. The stops are also less visually disruptive and tend to blend in with the urban landscape…

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Yes I would agree for The Penangites to be equipped with a modern trams to solve the public transport in Penang.I am a sailor previously
the developed nations like Holland or France had been having this facilities for 30 years and we are behind.It is time that DAP and the ruling party do something in Penang forget about the differences in politic we appoint you to the services for the rakyat.

Let us stop politicking and gets things done.

I have a rooting in Penang my father inlaw is in Penang


Now, before we jump straight into trams, we’re gonna need an in-depth study first. And lets do these first: 1. Improve the current bus service (state will need to takeover). No use introducing trams that certainly won’t integrate with the present bus system, looking at how its run. 2. Once #1 is settled… how about trolleybuses? You’ll need overhead cabling but no need for tracks. Get those trolleybuses with built-in batteries, so they can be driven for short distances without an overhead power supply. 3. Then after we have trolleybuses operating together with the present diesel bus, you can look… Read more »

Moaz Yusuf Ahmad

pinangroup, thanks for your feedback. I agree with most of your points. It it clear that Penang needs a better public transport system. However, whether Penang needs mass transportation or not still has to be established. The threshold for mass-transit is 20,000 passengers per direction per hour. I have seen rapid tram lines that carry 10-15,000 passengers per direction per hour. At 1/5-1/10 the cost of an MRT! So some trams can operate at levels very close to mass transit. In contrast, the RapidKL Kelana Jaya LRT line is carrying 9,000 passengers per direction per hour when it ought to… Read more »


love to see this modern tram in Penang, was using old style trams when training in Basel, & Montreux, Switzerland.

I feel its not the method, but the disipline. when in Switzerloand the trains and the postal bus, (the bus service to villages from towns is run by the post office) are always on time.


i am all for trams.


alternative modes of transportation are definitely the way to go in the future. future as in the long term, 50 or 100 years from now. cars should no longer be the sole mode of transportation looking at how much energy and resources are needed to produce it, not just the petrol it takes up. even if it’s a hybrid, then what about the materials used to make cars – chemicals from paint, oil, plastic and all those small individual parts that are made by hundreds of other manufacturers. do penangites still want to see cars roaming georgetown in the future.… Read more »

Moaz Yusuf Ahmad


A very interesting commentary about trams and tram cities

Cheers, mya

[email protected]


Corrupt practices spoil everything in Malaysia.Just take a look at the existing ‘dreams’ that has turned into nightmare! Get to the root of the problem and solve them one by one.This country is seriously lacking in integrity and uprightness.

Solve these problems and then we can dream again!


Many of us just been to cities with trams as TOURISTS but not those living and working. So to them trams are a novel – fun thing but do not realise like buses, if they are not performing, the public will abandon the system. I study in a uni in a suburb where there is tram and train to the city. IF I am a tourist, I will take a tram to see the streets and people along the way. But otherwise I will take a train (express) to the city and back home as we wanted to create time… Read more »


Sammmyyyyy velooooooooo cannot take TUNship… he has to resign from MIC than only BN goverment will award him TUNship…like Mr L.K.Yeik……Kah…Kah…Kah…padan muka.

MIC re-branding heh heh heh.. same old folk in MIC… there is no party re-branding!!!!!


Though sounds good but frankly speaking, due to the narrow and hectic road in most part of Penang, Trams is not a good idea.
It would only create more chaos in an already congested and accidents prone roads, furthermore with so many speed demon ,i.e.motorbikes on the road.

Hence, to me it’s not practical for a place like Penang to
have Trams.


just look at hong kong.


In principal yes – am all for good public transport, but I’d also like to see more – this one hugs the pavement edge – oops I think we need to do some upgrading there – and just how long will it be – this one looks as if it would have a weee problem negotiating the Penang Road, Chulia Street junction. Would need to have a great public education drive to stop double parking, motorbikes and the like from blocking the roads – now that would be good. Wonder how the cables are fixed – we still have one… Read more »

Sivin Kit

I’ve been on the Trams in Geneva and it’s really good! If Penang will take the lead, it’s going to be really exciting for the rest of us! 🙂


Propose to incorporate a pedal-drive power generation unit within the trams. This way, people will be encouraged to keep fit, while helping generate some power for the trams. I am sure tourists would take to this overwhelmingly and it is certainly a novelty. Also to incorporate solar panels on roof to generate as much power as possible. i am sure the major solar panel producers would be willing to sponsor some part of this green effort while claiming some form of advertisement recognition. The going has been tough for the new Penang government. Implementing such a project will certainly go… Read more »

Edwin SJ Ng  PJK

Dear Anil Netto, You are absolutely right that modern tram tarnsport as one of the best in our cities, besides Penang. Inner city transport must be fast and efficient, Trams do not take up a lot of space as they can be placed at road centers and need not undergo the hassle of jams like buses. I have seem Taskent using the system very effectively and they certainly cut down traffic jams. You should start an NGO – ‘TRAMS for OUR CITIES’ and get Lim Eng Guan to endorse it. We can then go outside the country to source the… Read more »


might i add,
samy vellooooooooo – not happy. no tun-ship (yet??).


bring back the trams. let public transport fluorish. stop hiways/byways/what-ever ways. it’s really as simple as that. let’s have more public buses, trams, ferries, parks, greenlungs, etc…

environment happy (less pollution).
current vehicle owners happy (less jam).
non-vehicle owners happy (less headaches).
future generations, happy.
in short, everybody happy….EXCEPT

bloodsuckers toll/hiway concessionaires – not happy. no more unethical income.
oil companies – not happy. cant hold you by the b*lls anymore.
BN – not happy. no more “unethical income”


The photograph is indeed appealing and impressive….but is it cost effective and implementable….if it is…then no time should be wasted and implementation should be fast…..but most cities at least in this region such as Singapore, Hong Kong have explored this before and Singapore’s MRT has come out shining but investment costs can be prohibitive for a place like Penang….. Penang should just grab the affordable 10 million per kilometer offer and start connecting most parts of the city with the tram…perhaps in future an integrated MRT to tram station composite could be worked out to connect places like Prai, Butterworth,etc… Read more »


Hi Moaz,
Thank you for pointing this out.
This is what I have been trying to alert the lvoers of trams also.
For an urban environment like Penang and the greater Penang including Butterworth and the surroundings, you’ll be taling about at least a medium capacity transit system, i.e. up from 20,000p/h/d.
Trams – nice to look at, nostalic, but can hardly provide the capacity to take cars away from the roads.
You will need a grade separated transit system.

Moaz Yusuf Ahmad

Anil Good luck with your promotion of the tram campaign. It is good to see that some people are thinking about alternatives to the traditional approaches to public transportation – slow, unreliable buses or costly, elevated LRT/monorail. Yes, trams are somewhere in between, and with their flexibility they can offer service in a range that covers what the bus and the LRT/monorail offer. For the cost, I do believe that the tram (and rapid tram) are the best alternative. But I would like to remind you that it is time to get realistic with the campaign and start adding up… Read more »