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Is the old Penang tram track causing problems?

TRANSIT took note of this article from Penang, where motorcyclists are apparently facing risk of injury because of ‘slippery’ tram tracks.

These tram tracks were unearthed during roadwork on Penang Road which began in 2004. The tram tracks were maintained and interlocking brickwork was placed on the outside of the tracks, with a concrete base in between the rails.

The presence of the concrete section, combined with the rails, can cause motorcyclists (probably turning from Chulia St.) to skid.

Slippery ride on tramway track
Wednesday March 17, 2010
Photos by NG AH BAK

THE obsolete slippery tramway track along Penang Road has caused many a motorcyclist to fall ever since the completion of the RM4.4mil Upper Penang Road federal upgrading project in May 2008.

Colonial legacy: A file photo of the unearthed tramway track at the Chulia Street-Penang Road junction in 2004.

According to traders along Penang Road, numerous motorcyclists have skidded and toppled over because of the concrete filled in between the metal rails.

Sio Lye Hock, 50, who operates a general goods store near the Phee Choon Road and Penang Road junction, said he had seen more than 20 motorcyclists falling over.

“And that is only in front of my shop. I heard that there had been many other instances further down the road where there is less traffic congestion,” he said.

Yeoh Guat Choo, 75, who runs a stall at the Chowrasta market, said the stretch was especially slippery when it rained and even the buses would screech to a halt when they hit the stretch.

“Oh, I have seen motorcycles falling in front of my stall many, many times.

Road hazard: (From right) Ng, Foo and Sio examining cracks that appeared on the tramway track.

[TRANSIT: If you take a look at the image above, you can see why the area would be slippery when wet. There are three different surfaces (interlocking brickwork, the rails and the concrete in between the rails) which all can become slippery with rain.]

“If the tracks can be tarred up, that would be best,” she said.

Chowrasta Market Area Tua Peh Kong Devotees Association secretary Foo Wah Choong, 62, said he had seen many motorcyclists skid and fall at night.

“There is less traffic along this part of the road at night and motorcycles tend to go faster,” he said, adding that the area was brightly lit at night.

The tracks were first discovered at the junction of Chulia Street and Penang Road in September 2004 during digging works to facilitate the replacement of old public utility cables and pipes under Phase 1B of the Upper Penang Road (UPR) upgrading project.

The Penang Municipal Council decided to preserve the tracks and by the time Phase 2 of the project was completed in May 2008, about 1km of the tramline running along Penang Road from the junction of Chulia Street to the junction of Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong had been preserved.

Komtar assemblyman Ng Wei Aik said he had received many complaints from traders and residents about frequent accidents at the tracks.

He said he was writing to the council’s engineering department to ask the council to get its consultant and contractor to review the situation and come up with a solution for the safety of road users.

“The tracks serve no purpose, they are not attracting any tourists. Nobody is coming all the way here just to look at them,” said Ng.

“We don’t need to preserve something just for the sake of heritage if the feature is not practical.

“In this case, the safety of road users is more important.”

He said that even if the state decided one day to re-introduce a tram system, not all trams needed rails to run.

[TRANSIT: ‘Trams’ that run on tyres that are used for tourist areas are not real trams – they are buses.]

“Besides, the unearthed tramline is only a short stretch. Even if trams are re-introduced, it’s not feasible to dig up many more kilometres of old tracks,” he added.


It is a bit disappointing to read this story. The tram tracks, having been unearthed, have been preserved and can be seen when walking along Penang Road.

However, the Penang Island Council & Penang government have not really done much beyond that. The concrete base between the rails is seeing damage caused by water seepage, and then there is the safety issue caused by the multiple surfaces.

The local council cannot do much to improve safety here because the track track is a part of the roadway and there is a curve at this location.  The combination of the curve, plus the different vectors at the curve, plus the merging traffic plus the rails is not good for those who drive fast.

The best way to reduce the number of accidents would be to remind motorcyclists to cross the track at 90 degrees (perpendicular) rather than at a shallower angle, and to cross at a slower speed.

In the long term, it is very likely that something will have to be done about the tram tracks. They are a part of Penang’s heritage but cannot be used by modern trams or replica trams.  The concrete base & the brickwork would shift as a result of vibrations from the tram, which would result in damage.

Covering the tracks with tar will probably not be effective because the tar would wear down, and the tracks would eventually become exposed.

2 replies on “Is the old Penang tram track causing problems?”

Hi Florian

Thanks for the link. Aside from GLT in France, there is also one operating in an industrial area in Tianjin, China (near Beijing).

There is some debate about whether or not the Guided Light Tram can really be considered a rail vehicle.

The weight of the vehicle is supported by rubber tires rather than steel wheels, and the function of the rail is to transfer power and guide the vehicle.

It might be possible to introduce a GLT into the streets of Penang for a small people mover – it could even be crafted to look like a ‘heritage’ vehicle.

However, the issues with motorcyclists would still be present.

Sincerely, Moaz for TRANSIT

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