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

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trams

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…

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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.

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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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Richy
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Richy

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!

Lee Wei Lian
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Lee Wei Lian

Dear Anil,
was wondering if you could contact me? I would like to write a story based on this blog entry of yours. I did interview you last year for World Info Society Day – not sure if you remember me. However, I can’t locate your contact anymore.

Hope to hear from you soon.
Wei Lian

Moaz Yusuf Ahmad
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Moaz Yusuf Ahmad

To Transit Expert: I’d very much love to see a monorail that carries 20,000 passengers per direction per hour. Currently the best that we have in Malaysia is about 5,000 p/dir/hr in the KL Monorail. Sure, it ought to be able to carry about 20,000 p/dir/hr…so why isnt it doing? Oh, and did you forget that the KL Monorail was built at a cost of about 2/3 that of the LRT. For that much money we should be getting much better transit, shouldnt we? You point out that trams can carry 15/dir/hr which I take means 15,000. Well, 15,000 p/dir/hr… Read more »

Lee Wei Lian
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Lee Wei Lian

Transit Expert,
could you please e-mail me at:
[email protected]? I am a journalist with special interest in urban planning and transport.

Would love to exchange views with you.

This goes to all of you here who have expertise in public transport and urban planning.
Please e-mail me!

Thank you
Lee Wei Lian
Writer
The Edge

Lee Wei Lian
Guest
Lee Wei Lian

Hi Anil, here is something I wrote on the subject of Penang public transport. Keep in touch. Cheers! Wei Lian http://www.theedgedaily.com/cms/content.jsp?id=com.tms.cms.article.Article_2bd8a63c-cb73c03a-a010ba00-4efb2817 read with huge relief recently that the new Penang state government had indicated that it would prefer a subway over a monorail to ease Georgetown’s traffic woes. When I was in Boston last year for a conference, I had expressed my concerns about building a monorial to former chief minister Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon but he was non-committal. While I had no chance to speak with new chief minister Lim Guan Eng, fortunately, the new Penang government seems… Read more »

rhino
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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?

Ijjaz
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Ijjaz

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.

Yeoh
Guest

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?

tzarina
Guest

Ijjaz on bicycles.

Do you know that Holland has more bicycles than people? And they also use trams extensively in Amsterdam. We should learn from the Dutch how to implement a safe cycle route for cyclists, whether with or without tram tracks.

tzarina
Guest

The Penang government should just do a feasibility study. Which they should publish publicly. Then everything will be clearer on which public transport is the best choice. However, instead of talking about less space on the roads for cars, we should also think about trams as a solution to REDUCE cars on the roads. After all, what is the point of building millions of ringgit worth of public transport system if the whole point is not to give a different transport option to the public! With the cost of petrol going up, and the headaches of traffic jam, an EFFECTIVELY… Read more »

Pigeon
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Pigeon

If one reads the aforementioned book on Penang trams and trolleybuses, it’s stated Penang trams could not be sustained during the early 20th century due to poor track maintenance, clogging in track wells, and frequent derailments, which led to a switchover to trolleybuses during the 1920s, followed by diesel buses beginning the 1950s. If one compares the situation then with now, it’s really no different with the mentality in parts of the population. Not to say trams are a bad idea, but it’s something worth considering.

Ijjaz
Guest
Ijjaz

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
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Ivan Ho

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.

Ijjaz
Guest
Ijjaz

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 are!

Transit expert
Guest
Transit expert

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

Ivan Ho
Guest
Ivan Ho

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!!!!!

Transit expert
Guest
Transit expert

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
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John Keadilan Borneo

hey guys….

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

WHY?

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

jughead
Guest
jughead

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

Gregory
Guest
Gregory

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.

tzarina
Guest

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.

moaz yusuf ahmad
Guest
moaz yusuf ahmad

To Billy Yap

I have always supported the tram option because it:

*has the same or similar capacity to LRT (for the longer trains)
*can be used at street level, elevated, underground
*can operate in mixed traffic or exclusive lanes
*has more frequent stops than LRT which encourages users
*costs less per km than LRT/monorail because there is little need for elevated stations, lifts, staircases, etc.
*has a lower cost which means we can spend the same money and build more lines
*gives us far more options (more than 20 companies producing trams) than monorail (3 companies)…which means lower overall costs.

cheers, mya

anak_perelih
Guest

My suggestion is to follow what San Fransisco is having… trams that is not modern can also be a tourist attraction.

Problem… role as a public transport vs tourist attraction…

Maybe we can have a mix between monorail and tram running in the same time and complete one another….

grace
Guest
grace

I love Hong Kong with its trams, buses & taxis, especially the “old” trams which are full of character. They’re also touristy ! What’s the current Chief Minister waiting for if it’s only around RM 4 million just to set up the tram lines cum system ? Of course there’ll be more millions required to acquire the physical trams BUT the expenditure would be far less than that of a monorail’s !

djambu
Guest
djambu

on the contrary, istanbul trams are speedy unlike old fashion ones. i’ve been there but didn’t have the chance to ride it. and ppl wit neckties and suits rode them.

🙂