Penang Hill Railway breakdown: An insider’s view


The recent flurry of comments in the press following an incident that temporarily knocked out the Penang Hill railway has prompted its operations manager, Ahmad Chik, to respond.

As the Operations Manager of the Penang Hill funicular railway, I have noted with dismay misleading press comments made by some politicians following the much publicised breakdown on 3 May. I feel that in my position, I am obliged to put the record straight.

Before condemning the present operators, it is important to know the difficult circumstances under which the project was handed over to the PHC. Among them were

  • the inordinate delay in delivering operating manuals, just about 15 days before the actual handover,
  • the failure to supply a list of essential spare parts and
  • insufficient spare parts handed over when we took possession

It is standard practice for major engineering projects for the operating manuals and the list of essential spare parts to be given to the operator well in advance and to give at least six months’ spares. On account of these circumstances, PHC was handicapped from the beginning and the staff had to work doubly hard over the five weeks they were given to prepare to open the train services to the public.

The actual breakdown caused by a collision between a stray dog and an exposed part of the undercarriage raises the question of a serious design flaw, a matter on which the operators had no part. Only the lack of spare parts, which should have been on hand but were not, had caused the delays in resuming the service.

Finally, a word must be said about the competence of the staff. All the staff sent for training in Switzerland are presently employed by PHC except for one engineer whom the interview board rejected. As for my appointment as Operations Manager, some comments have suggested that I was merely given the position due to the support of NGOs. I have to put on record that I am also a qualified engineer with almost 50 years experience and have accepted this temporary position without salary as my contribution to the state.

Ir Ahmad Chik, B Sc, PE, MIEM is Operations Manager of PHC Penang.

We need to have clear answers as to why the operating manuals were delivered so late, why there was no list of essential spare parts and why actual spare parts are insufficient.

Ahmad raises the question of a “serious design flaw”. This has to be looked into.

In particular, the inability to evacuate passengers should the train break down in the tunnel is definitely worrying.

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Penang Hill Railway train ride of the 60’s. The old, steady and trusty way up to the top of Penang’s hill haven covered in Swiss-like mist was my childhood great anticipation of riding a hill climbing wooden train. I could still visualize the unforgettable moments of ‘touching the cloud’ in 10-foot visibility of misty chills at the top station while breathing in super refreshing cool mist liken to an open fridge’s drafts, and exhaling heavy vapor imitating John Wayne smoking Rough Rider cigarettes. And to see and touch abundantly grown ‘queen-sized’ flowers half my face was truly amazing. With so… Read more »

Sick n Tired

You should have heard what Ng Yen Yen said in her disgusting speech during the ‘management transfer’ ceremony. How she kept on emphasizing ‘the is a project from the federal and how the federal takes care of the Penang ppl’. As somebody stayed just behind the new parking structure, our lives are very disrupted in the past one year. The ground where the parking structure sits on was full of big boulders (rocks) so for the first 10 months or so, no construction except continuous pounding on the rocks. But the progress was very slow and the workers were hardly… Read more »

Christine Yong

Pull out the file on this and make the Leader in charge of this project be responsible. Fire him/her then get the Federal Government out of the way for ALL FUTURE projects!!

Moaz Yusuf Ahmad


2 Questions:

1. Is the activist Ahmad Chik described in your post here (with his alternative plan for the Penang Hill Railway) the same as the Ir Ahmad Chik who is Operations Manager of PHC Penang?

2. Was Ahmad Chik (the Operations Manager) appointed by the Federal Government or the State Government?

Regards, Moaz Yusuf Ahmad


My comment will be short and simple.
The entire episode is to taint the PR State govt.


We will see more unscrupulous tactics being used as a response to the BN leader’s call to recapture Selangor and Penang by all means with all kinds of ‘weapons’. Very sad indeed as it has diverted attention of rakyat from the real issue of price hike in petrol and sugar.


… Satu Lagi Projek serves 2 malicious purposes: enriching the cronies and creating messes for LGE to ‘clean up’ or annoy the not so discerning people who are fed lies by MSM against the state gomen.

SLP should be marked with big red flags for public knowledge in future.

Ong Eu Soon

Ahmad Chik should not take the post in the first place. The whole idea of this project go against his advices. First, it ignore the carrying capacity of the hill. Second, it insist to travel all the way up disregard of the extreme loading issue. This two problems along will caused great trouble to PHC. What Ahmad Chik try to achieve? He only end up given benefit of doubt to a badly designed train. Was he tried to bodek LGe?

tan, tanjung bungah

Hi Ir Ahmad Chik,

Thanks for making the records straight. A very professional approach by a true professional. Penangites in particular are thankful for the social service you’re rendering!

I remember you were the one who stated that at least one of Yen Yen’s erections at the Botanical Gardens was tilting. Brickbats were hurled at you then, but in the end you were proved right! Thanks again for being an exemplary citizen!


You should see how well Ahmad Chik and his wife tend to his floral garden. His caring personality shows in the well nurtured greenery around his beautiful English cottage in Penang Hill. Every time I walked past his cottage, I could sense absolute serenity and harmony in the natural surrounding.
We need more of such genuine Nature lover in our midst.

James Cameron

If Guiness has a record for best excuses, I’m sure Malaysia will grab the 1st prize for the past 10 years and the next 10 to come.

Penang Voter

If DNA is a transformer, he would have transformed into an EXCUSE

Robert Teh

It amazes me that in this country with its abundance in capital resources and capable men and women, the Federal Govt can’t even trust the State Govt to plan, implement and manage an infrastructure project sited well within the boundaries of the State. For projects like this and the one at Botanic Gardens – the Federal Govt should just allocate and hand over the funds to the State Govt or Agencies to carry out the project. Let the State Govt be fully responsible and answerable for the utilization of the funds, contracts negotiations and project implementation. If anything goes wrong… Read more »

Ric Francis

I would like to find out why the Federal government excepted only three weeks for tenders to submit.
Come on any company would like a little more time to tender a costings, I smell a rat loose here
Ric Francis


2 dogs caused damages in one week – one stray dog and one ‘big dog’.


Who is the middleman, the so called local partner in this project? This can answer a lot of the questions.


This Alam Langkawi seems to be an anonymous company. It dont give me a good feeling.

Ric Francis

Yes I would like to know how the costings for this was worked out. One item I saw and made enquires found out the cost the contractor was charging for part replacement was over 120% more than obtain. How much more material was overcharge for the project
Ric Francis


From my experience of assisting people with the IT side of trading in Malaysia, I’d say 120% is a pretty normal markup in Malaysia for just about anything. I believe it’s a symptom of inadequate regulation of anti-competitive practises. I know one supplier of electrical equipment to the engineering industry who cries poverty whenever his markup is forced below 100% – on 5-6 figure trades for which he is never personally at financial risk (he’s a middle man). His normal markup is around 250%.


based on the given report,the contract seems to be a turnkey on upgrading the control system. Therefore the changes to the railway tracks is minimal and may not fulfill today’s emergency escape safety.
The contractor is really inexpereience and just follow the Swiss model and put the train into malaysian climate. Of course it is UMNO/gerakan government project and one will not expect and input from Ah Soon Khor and Gerakan K.


What nonsense is this. An investment of over RM40Million (some claim around RM70M) is entrusted to an engineer who is doing charity work without pay? Im shocked! Of course, I respect Ir Ahmad Chik’s contribution. His contribution is to be applauded. But, we must not loose sight of the ridiculous situation. There is an underlying “can of worms” waiting to be exposed.


Ya, I’m equally shock and disgusted!!
And why is it a temporary position?


A problematic project needs a prone-to-problem engineer to take care.
So for show, for the time being an over-qualified engineer is given the tasks to ‘kautim’ a few initial messes before getting a p2p engineer for more expensive messes along the way.
So more ‘bleeding’ can take place without the stray dogs howling and pointing paws.
It will be the ‘stray’ monkeys on the next ‘accident’ scene with more ‘rail’ monkey business.

Andrew I

There are several stretches which are particularly steep. What kind of evacuation plans are in place for those areas?

Personally, I give “new” technology the “benefit of the miss” until it has been proven over time, especially those that I have no control over, like large planes and anything to do with cables.


Very reasonable and acceptable response. We have been quick to fire at PHC without hearing the other side.
Hopefully PHC can work thru’ the issues in the next few months, including design modifications & changes to the current coaches.
Best to give them some breathing space to get things organized


This is what Satu Lagi Projek entails when we accept the hand over responsibility from the Feds – messes to clear. With engineering project of this scale that requires engineering precision, safety measures, sufficient backups and reliability of long term running, we should at least question the suitability of this Swiss train before embarking on the upgrading process of Penang Hill Railway. But sad to say no in-depth scrutiny of any sort was given to the public especially Penangites who have no qualms of the old reliable trains. It was rushed and the upgrading works hidden from the public. Now… Read more »