The RM40m Penang Hill railway “upgrading” controversy


The federal government is planning a RM40 million project to “upgrade” the historical Penang Hill funciular railway. See theSun’s report here.

What exactly does this entail? Few know for sure as there’s been a dearth of information on the scope of the work.

According to activist Ahmad Chik, his understanding is that the federally funded project would involve:

  • RM40 million in federal funds;
  • a 10-month complete shutdown. During this time, the residents around the present Middle Station would have no easy access up or down the hill, while hawkers and other traders would lose their source of income;
  • the elimination of Middle Station; instead, there would be just a stop;
  • the trains crossing somewhere around the middle of the hill;
  • some realignment of the track route with about 80 per cent of the existing track still being used;
  • a complete change in the machinery at the stations. (Ahmad feels that this is not necessary.)
  • new coaches;
  • possibly some environmental damage, perhaps resulting in some delays in project completion;
  • a four-fold increase in capacity;
  • a 10-fold increase in speed: it would take four minutes to get from the bottom to the top;  that’s too fast, no chance to enjoy the scenery;

An alternative proposal put up by Ahmad and other Friends of Penang Hill would involve:

  • only half the cost i.e. RM20 million;
  • only 20 per cent of the time for the upgrading work (compared to the federal project);
  • work being carried out on each half of the track at a time so that the other half would still remain open. This would mean residents near the Middle Station would not be completely cut off at any time;
  • the Middle Station continuing operations;
  • only a change of motors for the machinery (and not a complete replacement of all the machinery);
  • use of the same coaches;
  • no environmental damage;
  • a three-fold increase in speed because of the bigger motors; therefore,
  • a three-fold increase in capacity.

Of course, I prefer the alternative proposal. What about you?

Please help to support this blog if you can.

Read the commenting guidlelines for this blog.
Notify of

Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

They should also redevelop facilities, accomodations and new attractions on top of the hill also.. Faster and bigger coach is useless if you reach up there and got nothing to do except standing like a statue here and there watching the scenery of good old George Town. So frustating..


Just went up yesterday … update eveyyone … they are breaking up the boulders along the old line, heard they will ‘widen’ it … guess the tunnel will have to go to … so sad, other countries preserve their history, we bury / change it … also wonder why we cant retain the same coaches, add more, make it into 1 line, upgrade / mod the existing machinery?

Ian Coton

To speed up the hill railway as much as is being talked about will destroy much of it’s value in tourist terms. Slow means time to take in the scenery and environment, just what many tourists want to do. I know the limited cpacity is insufficient at peak times so cannot changes be made to allow faster running at peak times, every 10 minutes and accept the increased wear and tear for short periods. Bigger vehicles with 50% more capacity would also help and if of lightweight construction may not mean too much civil engineering or change to the winding… Read more »

Ah Pang

A malaysian tired of working in Singapore. Wish to go Penang and have a short break. Would like to know Penang Hill Tram, whether is under renovation now?

Garth Johnson

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?


Sorry for second posting.. the type of cable car system used are called- Gondola Lift (not to be confused with cable car). I doubt the environment impact will be too big, as only area to be cleared are for those to build support structure (more like Pylon). We have existing road, just some smaller access road to it to enable construction works. The beauty about this kind of system, is visible from very far, it can even become Penang Hill future icon, rather than eye sore now – due to its frequent breakdown of the transport system. I just… Read more »


How about this ? Leave the current railway track as intact, convert it into stairway for those interested to walk up along old train trail road. Keep the nice old train sitting there for photo session of tourist. Convert the transport system into those like Langkawi , Genting, Sentosa type cable car, route it along the area to allow tourist to see a glimpse of farming area , encourage the farming folks to open their house for visitor for tea & break. In that way, we still keep a piece of heritage (old rail system), and we encourage more eco-tourism,… Read more »

Dr. No

Ahmad and his friend`s suggestion is very practical. No hardship caused to anybody. Cost saving. For sentimental feeling aned value the old coaches should be retained. Go look at Switzerland, there is one hill railway near the lake in Luzene, the coaches, the mechanism etc are all more than 70 years and still functioning with excellence. You`ll have a nice feeling when you on it. Moreover the people are very proud of it. So my dear Federal Officers, before you propose anything please do a paper work. Respect the Rakyat and get their opinions etc.etc.etc. Do not propose anything with… Read more »

Andrew I

They could, of course, give the 20 million to the people of Penang to spend and help stimulate the economy. How about it, Naj?


Ya lor, one million for you, 30 million for me. If only 20 million cannot be enough meh.

Leong Yook Kong



Hi Anil; I was in Penang for 4 days during the previous school holiday. I visited Penang Hill for the first time and I found the train ride very draggggy. I am agreeable with upgrading project. I would suggest that the corporation in charge of it to change the trains as I think they are obsolete. Visitors pay RM4(adult)and RM2 (child) and the seats are too limited and making the ride very uncomfortable. Make it slightly faster and not like a tortoise ride, okay. However, do not change the route as at the top of the hill is a place… Read more »


Dear Anil

Count me in for alternative option.


Come on lah Anil, don’t you know that if 40 million is allocated, it would actualy mean only 10 million.

Just like any project, the bulk of the money is siphoned off.

That is why projects happens here and there.

Of if 40 million is allocated, the final price will balloon to 400 million.

It is like the PKFZ.

But the PKFZ 12 billion is no big deal. There are countless of other PKFZs in Malaysia.