Penang Hill is the oldest hill station in Malaysia and also the only one with a funicular railway. Completed in I923, the Penang Hill Funicular Railway was the ﬁrst of its kind in Southeast Asia, and its tunnel is one of the steepest in the world.
The story of Penang Hill’s railway began with an ambitious enterprise which started in 1892. Despite suffering several setbacks, its completion marked the culmination of a long-held dream of Penang residents. It’s all here in this new book from Ric Francis, Penang Hill Funicular Railway – Remembering an engineering feat 1923-2010. While also serving as an introduction to the hill station, it describes the various ways in which people have ascended the hill over the years – by foot, pony, doolie and other means of transport. The main focus of the book, however, is on the historic Penang Hill Railway, designed by Arnold Robert Johnson and built by the Federated Malay States Railways.
The funicular railway, which takes the visitor from Air Itam to the upper station at Strawberry Hill, operated from 1923 until 2010, when it was completely overhauled, but retaining the same route and incorporating some of the infrastructure of the older hill railway. Instead of two sections, the railway was modified into a single section system with a more powerful engine. Two blue coaches called Pinang and Mutiara, each with five compartments, weighing 16 tons and measuring 16 metres in length replaced the Swiss red coaches. The two new trains have a carrying capacity of up to 100 passengers and can reach the top in four and a half minutes. A new middle station stop was created, but as a changeover is now unnecessary, the trains completely bypass the old middle station. With the fast new service, millions of visitors will continue to enjoy the Penang Hills for years to come.
The remarkable heritage of the Penang Hill Railway is presently housed in a museum at the lower station.
‘Penang Hill’ actually refers to a cluster of peaks located in the centre of Penang island called the Penang Hills, which reach the highest point of 833 metres (2,732 feet) at Western Hill. The Malay name, Bukit Bendera, as well as the Hokkien name, refers to the important Flagstaff Hill, upon which a flag hoist signal was erected to communicate with Fort Cornwallis in George Town. Along the crest of Flagstaff Hill and Government Hill runs the Summit Road (now called Jalan Tuanku Yahya Petra), connecting the hill station to Bukit Laksamana, Tiger Hill and Western Hill nearby.
The construction of Penang Hill’s iconic railway is nothing less than an amazing feat of engineering, with an equally fascinating history behind it. (From our newsletter)
Ric Francis excavated…many stories associated with the Great Hill, including the emergence of the smallest trolleybuses in the world, that the reader will find continuously fascinating. Thank you, Ric, for giving Penang and the world this second treasure of a book, with its many historic pictures and graphics that also speak out thousands of their own words. – Dato’ (Dr.) Anwar Fazal, Chairperson of Think City and Director of the Right Livelihood College
About the Author
Ric Francis started his career at Western Australian Government Tramways in Tramway Engineering. Since then, he has co-founded the Perth Electric Tramways and supervised the laying of the Perway & Overhead line wiring of the system. He is currently a member of Electric Trolleybus Group. Ric’s other books include Penang Trams, Trolleybuses and Railways (2006) and Kalgoorlie Transport History 1901-2001 (Goldenlines). He aims to research and record the histories of tramways in Asia.