This was a ferry shuttling to and from the Malayan Railway jetty along Weld Quay on the island and the railway station at Prai Junction on the mainland.
Passengers could buy a rail ticket from the Malayan Railway office along Weld Quay and then board a ferry at the Malayan Railway jetty for a 25-minute ride to the Prye Harbour, where they would alight and then board a train at the Prai (previously spelt as Pry or Prye) Railway Station. (The Butterworth Railway Station was only opened in 1967 after the construction of a swing bridge across the Prai River allowed the track to be extended from Prai to Butterworth.)
Blog visitor Joseph Manuel recalls:
I used to use the rail ferry from Prai to Penang to attend St Xavier’s. The rail steam boats we used in 1945-47 were SS Elizabeth and SS Mary. SS Violet was not in service then as it was damaged during the Japanese occupation of Malaya. I can remember seeing it in the dry dock in Prai around 1946.
Back then, in the post-war years, there were three ferries – the SS Violet, Elizabeth and a smaller vessel Pelangi – plying this route, according to a former Malayan Railway employee, now in his eighties.
The SS Violet could take a couple of cars – but only those belonging to railway officers were allowed – on the lower deck. This ferry was also involved in the evacuation of British personnel and their families when the Japanese were advancing on Penang Island from the north.
There may have been another ferry, Ibrahim, before the war.
Blog visitor Frank recalls:
The special thing about those railway ferries was their warming up period. I used to fish next to the Prai terminal until early morning; they started warming up at 3.00am. No wonder those ferries sailed without you knowing it, hundred times smoother with little vibration or noise as compared to their newer cousins…
The Prai jetty continued to serve the area in the 1950s and 1960s, even after the Sultan Abdul Halim Terminal, Butterworth was built in 1956. This new terminal on the mainland provided a ferry service to the Raja Tun Uda Terminal, next to the Railway Jetty along Weld Quay on Penang Island.
he Sultan Abdul Halim Terminal in Butterworth, collapsed on 31 July 1988 as a result of overcrowding on the upper deck during the St Anne’s and Kwan Yin festivities. (The collapsed terminal was never rebuilt, forcing more commuters to use the Penang Bridge, which had opened in 1985, as the number of ferries was halved.)
Blog visitor Old Penang Guy says:
The photo of the ferry jetty (above) is that on the island ie. Raja Uda Terminal as you can see the ticketing booth. On the mainland terminal, you should only see a wall panel for the customs check point and a central outlet for people to move out from the terminal. Over on the mainland terminal, the ticketing booth is at the side of the building, currently the location of the present terminal.
A senior citizen tells me there was an even older small pre-war jetty at Bagan in Butterworth town, at the Old Jetty Road, near the Sree Maha Mariamman Devasthanam Temple. But this was probably only as a landing place for goods, shipped by tongkang.
In addition, a sampan service provided rides across the mouth of the Prai River from the Prai jetty to Ujung Batu along Jalan Assumption in Butterworth. Prai residents used this mode of transport to get to the Nativity Church in Butterworth.
A chain (later wire) ferry also carried commuters across from Prai to Chain Ferry Road in Butterworth before the Tunku Abdul Rahman Bridge was opened in 1966.
If you have any old photos that might be of interest, please submit them here.