After I highlighted Ric Francis’ and Dr Choong Sim Poey’s letters to the press on the Penang Hill Railway issue, a reader, Garth Johnson, sent in this comment:
I was very interested to read this. The railway was designed by my great uncle Arnold R Johnson and opened in 1923. His very clever design involved carving the hillside taking into account the weight of the cable. That was why he divided the track into two sections with a central station. Maybe modern cables can be thinner and lighter than the old ones making it possible to use a single stretch of track without a central station?
When it was first opened, the Penang Hill Railway was described as “one of the finest hill railways in the world”.
Forest Explorers provides some brief background:
The construction of Penang Hill Funicular Railway begun with the first attempts by Mr. D. Logan, Mr Joseph Heim and Mr. Alan Wilson in the years 1897-1905. However, it met with failures.
The project was then taken over by Penang Municipality, George Town in the years 1907-1923 (16 years). Mr. Arnold R. Johnson, as Senior Engineer, Administration of Railway for Federated Malay States was assigned the task to plan the construction and produced the Master Plan of the railway.
The plan was inspected by Municipal Engineering Department and approved by the Governor of Municipal Council under Section 21 (2) and 57, Ordinance No. 90 (Railway). An order to build four cable cars was made with L. De Roll-Iron Works Company Berne Foundry Engineering Words in Switzerland.
This cable train is pulled by steel cable electrically driven with 500 volts power. On each side of the railway is a staircase rising from the foot to the top of the hill at an altitude of 2381 feet above sea level. There is a tunnel which measures 258 feet long and 10 feet wide starting at steepness of 35 feet high. This is the steepest tunnel in the world.
On January 1, 1924, Governor of Straits Settlement, Sir Laurence Nunn Guillemard officially declared open the Penang Hill Railway service. An extract from his speech, “….it is one of the finest Hill Railways in the world today and it is to be hoped that Penang now become the recognized “Sanitarium” of the Far east”. Since the official opening, the Penang Municipality, Geoge Town managed and maintained the railway until February 1, 1977, when it was taken over by the Penang state Government.