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…
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.