Penang Hill proposes setting up funicular railway museum and gallery

Penang Hill's funicular railway is the longest in Asia. ― Picture by KE Ooi
Penang Hill's funicular railway is the longest in Asia. ― Picture by KE Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, June 4 — Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) today proposed the setting up of a funicular railway museum and gallery on the hilltop.

PHC General Manager Cheok Lay Leng said the corporation has historical records and pictures of the funicular railway service that takes visitors up the hill on a daily basis.

“We are proposing to set up a funicular railway museum and gallery so that visitors can learn more about the history of the service throughout the years,” he told reporters today.

He said PHC will propose the idea to the state government for approval first.

“We have to look for a site to set up the museum and gallery so this is still in the planning stage,” he said.

The Penang Hill funicular railway can be traced back to the 1890s when visitors and residents used ponies, horse carriages and doolies to go up the hill.

The first attempt in building a railway up the hill was in 1905.

It was a system which used the Pelton water wheel to drive the turbine but the railway failed and it never took off.

After that, a Federated Malay States Railway resident engineer, Arnold Robert Johnson, proposed building a funicular railway in 1909 which was cost effective and energy efficient.

The second railway system is a two-section funicular system of trams that was completed in 1923. It was the first of its kind in South-east Asia.

The wooden coaches were in operation from 1923 until 1977, and were thereafter replaced by Swiss-fabricated cars.

The Swiss-fabricated cars were used from 1977 until 2010 when the funicular system was given an upgrade to speed it up.

The new system saw the old cars, together with the two-section system, replaced with a single section system.

Now, the funicular railway takes 100 passengers up the hill for some four and a half minutes per trip, compared to the 30 to 40-minute trip previously.

The system is now powered by an AC main drive motor with two cars connected by haulage rope.

The funicular railway is the longest in Asia as it stretches 1.9km from the lower to the upper stations of the hill and has 11 viaducts constructed to overcome the extreme irregularity of the slopes of the hill.

The funicular railway also runs through a tunnel and is the steepest tunnel track in the world at 27.9 degrees.

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