Why spend only RM4 million on trams when you can spend billions on mega projects



The old tram tracks of George Town, freshly uncovered and preserved on Penang Road. Getting a basic tram service up and running will cost only RM4 million, says a consultant.

George Town once had a remarkable public transport system. It had these fascinating trams, which were affordable and people friendly.

Cities across the world, especially heritage cities, have found trams to be a cost-effective and reliable mode of transport. Some of the trams look really futuristic like those in Nottingham (please click this link to see what a modern tram looks like). Others blend in easily with the historical backdrop like some of those in Milan. Then there are variations such as the O-bahn in Adelaide.

Who says trams are old fashioned. This is a modern tram in Istanbul:

Now, imagine if we had this on the streets of Penang. The major advantage of trams is that they stop at street level, making it more accessible for passengers to hop on and off. Trams are suitable even in cities with narrow streets.

The Penang state government should speak to tram expert Ric Francis, who has been passionately advocating trams in Penang instead of a monorail. I attended a talk by Ric once and he was telling us how easy and inexpensive it was to get a tram system going in George Town. When the Jelutong Expressway was being constructed, he said it would be so easy to incorporate tram tracks along the highway.

It’s a real pity that no one who mattered was interested in listening to Ric. I wonder why – but then again, why build an inexpensive RM4 million tram system when you can spend billions building a monorail or a subway system. You know-lah why they like all those mega projects…

The Star
Thursday, 9 November 2006
by Emmeline Tan

Bring back trams

Keep the monorail out of George Town and bring back the trams for the sake of the environment and heritage.

Engineer Ric Francis, who has been in the tram industry for 38 years, said there were many pitfalls to the proposed RM1.2bil monorail system that would connect the entire Penang island.

“Once the huge monorail structures are built in George Town, the heritage buildings will be totally eclipsed.

“Trams on the other hand, provide a nice, quiet, scenic journey,” said Francis, co-author of Penang Trams, Trolleybuses and Railways – Municipal Transport History 1880s-1963.

COLONIAL TRANSPORT SYSTEM:Francis showing his book on Penang trams.

Giving a lecture at the Penang Heritage Trust at Church Street recently, Francis said George Town Municipal electrical trams used from 1905 to 1936 reaped high profits until World War I when the supply of replacement parts was hampered.

He estimated that less than RM3.8mil (US$1mil) was needed to get an electrical tram system up and running in George Town.

“Old tramlines such as from Prangin Mall to Weld Quay still exists underneath the bitumen road and can be restored for use,” he said.

A 50m tramline was unearthed at the Chulia Street-Penang Road junction in 2004 during road works and was preserved by the Penang Municipal Council.

“There are many second- hand trams in other countries that are for purchase.”

Existing street poles could be used to support the one-cable electrical wiring for trams, he added.

“Trams are pollution-free and are being used in cities with narrow roads such as Amsterdam and Lisbon.

“There would not be the high cost of diesel to pay, and very little maintenance of parts compared to buses.”

To me, a tram system is much more cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing than a monorail network, especially for a heritage city like George Town and surrounding areas and even in Butterworth and Prai. The tram system could link up to a cross-channel light rail service alongside the Penang Bridge. Together with an expanded ferry service, an improved bus system, safe cycling paths and more pedestrian walkways, trams could transform Penang into a model city for sustainable public transport, besides enhancing George Town’s heritage setting and its quality of life.

Let me sign off with a lovely song (‘Peace Train’) by Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), who was inspired to write this while on a train.

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3 Sep 2008 9.46pm

Looking so impressive I do not see why trams can’t be used on Penang streets. In fact trams would be better choice as it would not cause a lot of environmental destruction unlike its’ competitor.

I’m sure Penangites will say yes!

17 Apr 2008 9.21am

yeah i agree penang should bring back the tram.

i know ric personally and had attended one of his talk too. he was in penang a couple of times already talking about trams. he was invited by the council (all expenses paid!), it seemed to give the last talk i attended at the penang heritage trust office.

say this just came into my mind. the penang government had said they will pick reps from NGOs in the council – how about we propose your name, anil?

ghenjis khan
ghenjis khan
17 Apr 2008 7.37am

I remember there was a Tram line also in Kuala Lumpur along the Mounbatten Road with a Robinson’s shop !

And a good local train from Ampang ending at Petaling Street.

In many modern developed cuntries Trams and Trolley buses still ply the urban areas and they make more sense to reduce PERSONAL car with just single occupancy rides!

raj raman
raj raman
17 Apr 2008 7.01am


As you said,correct.MORE MEGA THE PROJECT THE MOVE COMMISSION BARISAN (ALLEGEDLY) MAKE.why waste their time when small money involve.


Jeffrey Chew
17 Apr 2008 6.11am

I am enthusiastic by this idea.

17 Apr 2008 5.37am

Hey! My gramps was a Tram Driver in the old days in Penang! I still have his pic with the really smart uniform on. Anil, it would be great to have it back on Penang streets.

I would definitely move my business back to Penang in that case.

17 Apr 2008 3.29am

It seems to me a bit fishy that price tag. Just $4 million? I don’t believe that second-hand trams are that cheap! Anyways, in order to have an efficient tram system, is it enough using the same old tracks or do we have to invest in new ones… Anyways, it’s quite cheap nevertheless, according to this link http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-110728270.html Bombardier supplies 12 of the trams that are used in Adelaide (and very modern) for US47.6 million. Note however, this is simply the cost of purchasing the trams, but what about the installation of the system? The electrification of the tram system?… Read more »

17 Apr 2008 2.58am

Dear Freedom Fighters, both Online & Offline… I have been supporting the boycott the newspapers initiative for sometime & I have done my push & pull marketing rather we’ll around my circle of family, friends & contacts. A few have stopped buying, some don’t already. A lot whom still want to purchase the papers, I passed on the info – which was the worst in all mediums & urged them to switch to the least worst. For English papers, the worst was the The Star (Spinning & BN coverage). Data can be found on the People’s Parliament. Now, the story.… Read more »

Hasbullah Pit
17 Apr 2008 1.33am

I dont know why BN since 50 year ago doesnt like train alike transportation. except in Klang Valley.

most of all railways in Malaysia was build by british.

17 Apr 2008 1.11am

We’ll said bro,

I appoint you as my rep in Penang on this environment & transport issue. Hope more will do the same. Maybe we can set up an online petition thing with email for verfication. For this time, I know we have Guan Eng, whom is a People’s Champion. That’s on the people’s side.

For Science, get Experts called in asap to conduct proper research & cone up with what’s best, supported by evidence.


19 Apr 2008 10.11am

Yeah Yeoh, all things considered about the tram, I say let’s start a petition for it. What you say?

By the way Transit Expert, who are your clients?

18 Apr 2008 10.22pm

Hmmm the thing they are doing digging up the tram rails have no significant meaning at all. Other then causing massive congestion during rush hours while they are “digging”.

It would make more sense if a tram is used other then using it as a “tourist attraction”. Its better we could ride on that old tram. Scrap the SUBWAY nonsense!! SCRAP THE MONORAIL!

Build the tram! bring it back.. should we start a petition on building a tram?

19 Apr 2008 2.27am

hi tzarina

I do agree Holland may have more bicycles than any other major cities in Europe.But, I don’t think they have more motorbikes per capita. The speed matters very much beside a trams track. As you have mentioned the Europeans have dedicated bicycle lanes for bicycles. This dedicated lanes were one reason bicycles became popular.

Moaz Yusuf Ahmad
Moaz Yusuf Ahmad
17 Apr 2008 10.04am


Another great point. I have always believed that anything the LRT or monorail can do, the tram can also do…and it would be faster, better, and cheaper.

With the use of tram technology we can turn Malaysia’s cities into places where public transport actually works for the interests of the people.

All that is needed is the political will.

Anytime you need info, please let me know. Also, please invite your readers to send their views, opinions and ideas about public transportation to [email protected]

Cheers, mya

17 Apr 2008 9.56am

Dear Anil,

It was an eye opener for the history to come alive in Penang.Most of tourist would prefer to see the trams in Penang and the economy will boom by this simple transport system and the cost is only $4M.

Wonder how many tourist did we get by sending malaysian to space??????.Hope CM Lim Guan Heng can digest the above and do the needful for the Penagites.

17 Apr 2008 11.45pm

oops…. i forgot to mention something else in my earlier comment. The number of bicyles and motorbikes on the streets of Penang simply doesn’t add up here. I mean road accidents that is going to shoot up thru the charts for these two wheelers, will be innumerable! Particularly, during rainy season they will fall like ten pins if they are on the wrong angle passing the tract.

Ivan Ho
Ivan Ho
17 Apr 2008 11.16pm

Transit Expert
Why not? You are a transit expert while I am not an engineer at all. But the fact is, you need to build the infrastructure for the monorail from the ground up. So you will still take up space on the road. Either way also takes up space on the road but the tram tracks are there already – use able or not I cannot say. If my knowledge is shallow I apologize.

17 Apr 2008 11.11pm

Hi Anil, I am not an expert in transit issues but my two cents worth on this tram matter. The City of Toronto (Canada) has four major thoroughfares with trams or street cars as they call it here. They are majestic, beautiful and neat to see in operation. But, to maintain these trams and its tracts is something else. You will need to do serious study trips to some of the cities that still operates trams before decisions are made. The 4 million Ringgit may buy 2 used trams built by Bombardier. They are one costly beasts but majestic they… Read more »

Transit expert
Transit expert
17 Apr 2008 10.48pm

Ivan Ho
We do not need sarcasm to build the new Malaysia.
We’d do better with knowledge, facts, and rationale debates.

Ivan Ho
Ivan Ho
17 Apr 2008 9.29pm

Transit Expert.
Trams takes up road space. There will be less space for other vehicles, hence worsening congestions.

As if monorail flies in the air!!!!!

17 Apr 2008 6.39pm

The photo only shows 1 track and if there are 2 tracks, it will take up a major portion of Penang Road.

Penang is ideal for trams because the land is quite flat and it cuts down the petrol pollution. Why not have the park and ride? The price of the car park just outside the fringes to include return public tranport ride and impose higher parking charges in the CBD Area and up to 7pm to cut down the number of cars in the CBD Area

17 Apr 2008 5.21pm

Enjoyed the piece abt the trams. I remember travelling on the trolley buses in the early 60s. They were pollution free and they were on time. I sokong the move to bring back the trams. Try to convince the state govt to move in this direction and abandon the dependence on the federal govt to solve the bus problem.

Oh yes I enjoyed the song. I have always been a fan of the Cat. Glad he has come back. I have his latest “Another Cup” by Yusuf. Beautiful songs.

17 Apr 2008 4.24pm

I have been to Amsterdam, Helsinki, Brussels, Rome, Manchester and some cities in Germany, where trams are used very efficiently. They are cheap, accommodate more passengers than buses, and eco friendly. People prefer to use these than cars, because their network is extensive, going to almost every part of the cities.

I was impressed, and wondered why Malaysia had not come up with such a solution.

Transit expert
Transit expert
17 Apr 2008 7.42pm

Bringing tram back to Penang is amateurish not substantiated with facts. Please talk professional, not pure emotions. Please consider: – Trams takes up road space. There will be less space for other vehicles, hence worsening congestions. – Please compare the capacity of trams vs LRT(15/dir/hr), Monorails (20,000/dir/hr), heavy rails (45,000/dir/hr). Due to the slow speed and conflicts in traffic, capacity of trams cannot even match buses. – The RM4mil price tag is not only fishy. It is totally out of the world. – Francis talks about Penang of the past. We need to build Penang for the future, our children… Read more »

John Keadilan Borneo
John Keadilan Borneo
17 Apr 2008 7.25pm

hey guys….

WHETHER its trams, taxis, buses, monorails, monoaeroplanes… etc… . it will always be expensive…..


becos direct NEGO mah…

1. Tram cost: 4 million ex factory
2. Tram transportation to penang: 500,000
3. Installation, workers etc: 300,000
4. Overheads and profits: 1 million
5. Kick back…: 5 million (he he more than tram cost)

5. Lobbyiest fee: 1 million…

get the picture?

figures are eggxample only.. the (actual) figures would be 10 times higher, he he he he