Penang Hill Railway shut down for ‘upgrade’ (Update #9)

TRANSIT takes note that the Penang Hill Funicular Railway was closed for upgrading on the 22nd of February 2010.

Note: see the Wikipedia entry on the Penang Hill Railway here.

The 2-stage railway will be replaced by a continuous railway with larger, air-conditioned carriages with a glass-roof.

[TRANSIT: Hopefully the glass roof will be tinted!]

Passenger capacity on the new train is said to be 80 passengers, and the complete trip will take 10 minutes as opposed to the current 30 minutes.

Image of the current Penang Hill Railway carriage courtesy of The Sun

As you can imagine, a project like this is not without controversy or wariness, especially in Penang. The Penang Heritage Trust has already come out with their objection to the project.

The main justification for destroying the old funicular railway seems to be that it takes too long for passengers to reach the top of Penang Hill because of the necessity of changing trains at Middle Station. This makes no sense as nobody takes the train up Penang Hill because they want to get to the top in a hurry. Replacing the present double system with a single system that would do away with Middle Station would reduce the current half-hour travel time by only about ten minutes while denying passengers the chance to pause at Middle Station to admire the view and marvel at close hand as to how the funicular works.

It is also argued that the old system needs to be replaced because it breaks down from time to time – twice in the past four years. These breakdowns have been caused by worn or broken cables that have taken months to replace – at great inconvenience to Hill residents and at the opportunity cost of lost tourism revenues. The problem of breakdowns, however, will not be resolved by building a new railway. What is required is proper planned maintenance of the tracks, cables and support structures (e.g., viaducts) and prompt attention to any faults that are identified. This would cost far less than the projected cost of RM40 million to build a new railway.

You can also see comments posted to the website of Penang Activist & Blogger Anil Netto

Image of the Penang Hill Funicular Railway from Wikimedia commons.

The importance of the Penang Hill Railway cannot be underestimated and this is why TRANSIT hopes to follow the plans for the Penang Hill Railway over the next few months with this posting. Look for updates to the articles & letter below.




The Penang Hill Railway system is a very important part of the public transport and railway history of Malaysia.

The railway is an icon of Penang and represents a lot of different things to different people. It is a connection to Penang’s colonial history & cultural practices of Europeans living in Asia. The Railway and the Hill also represent a section of Penang’s identity to the world, which makes it a beacon for tourism and a talking point for the many outspoken social activists who make the community an interesting place to live.

TRANSIT notes that the Federal Government and Penang State Government are working together to rejuvenate and revive Penang Hill, improving the railway and amenities on the Hill.

We will do our best to find additional information on the project.

TRANSIT also invites everyone to share images or stories about Penang Hill. Please post them in the space below or email to!

Thanks for sharing!

4 replies on “Penang Hill Railway shut down for ‘upgrade’ (Update #9)”

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