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
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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…