The International Steam Pages
The Penang Hill Railway, 2010, Part 2
For convenience I have now grouped lifestyle illustrated features by topic:
This is the second of two reports - click here for Part 1 which covers my investigation into changes necessitated by conversion of the railway into a single section. There is also a 2012 update.
In 2009, I travelled on the Penang Hill Railway for the first time in at least 22 years. I can't remember if the 1987 revisit featured a ride, if not it will have been 30 years. Back then, I was still a little sore that the management had replaced the original wooden bodied coaches with modern steel replacements, now they were also considered life expired and the whole railway was due to be rebuilt. I reported on our journey 'Up Memory Lane' at the time and when I had to go back to Penang to complete purchase of a second home, I took time out to film the railway's operation in its closing weeks - it is available as our Funiculi Funicula DVD.
On Christmas Day 2010, I had visited the area of the railway above the former Middle Station, a few days later I had checked out the area above the Chinese temple near the Bottom Station. The grapevine indicated that the first of the new cars would be put on the rails shortly and would soon after be transferred to the Top Station, but equally outsiders would not be welcome. I took the hint and stayed away but later after the main action was over, I slipped into the bushes above the Lower Station where the car was being checked out prior to being joined to the main cable, which was still slack as can be seen.
I'm not an early riser by nature any more, especially in Penang's laid back atmosphere and it's rather more than an hour by bus from our place to the hill railway. So by the time I got there around 10.30 next day, I discovered that the car had left around 09.00 but that progress was extremely slow owing to the need to check for clearances along the way. There was no time to take 'the pretty route' and again the railway itself was not an option so I shot off up the road past the Chinese temple and took the path up through the smallholdings. And when that finished, I took to the jungle where it was just possible to make out where a long disused path had been before. In what seemed like no time, I was near the Middle Station and struck another decent path. Dripping with sweat, I got to Claremont Station an hour or so after I had left the bottom, a few minutes before the train and just about got my breath back before taking out the camera. The train had to halt completely while the clearance was checked and the fit was such that it went through at a snail's pace.
Once this obstacle was cleared, the train ran on to the adjacent viaduct ('ran' is perhaps not the right word as it was preceded by one Malaysian and one Swiss engineer who were only lacking the famous 19th century 'red flag'). Some of the accompanying engineers were on motorbikes and tipped me off that the normally 'private' path through the Claremont Estate was available and a brisk walk brought me just in time to the Moniot Road Station where once again the train had to proceed with the utmost caution. Skipping round to above Viaduct Station, I stood on the route of the original abortive Penang Hill Railway project, while the cameras clicked.
I didn't expect to make Lower Tunnel Station but again I was just in time and afterwards I got the picture I really wanted.
Upper Tunnel Station was out of the question and I completed the climb and headed for the Top Station. Here, it seemed that word of the new arrival had got around and the world and his wife were here, hence one more camera was never going to be a problem. The train stopped just inside the platform which would leave room for the remaining works to be done without risk to the shiny new paintwork.
Everyone involved vanished off for lunch and afterwards I successfully begged a lift down in one of the jeeps - otherwise I would have ended up a cripple with my lousy knee AND missed the afternoon's entertainment. Someone had conveniently put a half completed multi-storey car park right next to the secure area and if anybody objected to my presence, they didn't tell me. It offered a superb view of the proceedings, behind the enormous crane is the railway itself. Once the second car had been lifted off the ground, it was clearly time for a group photograph. At this point, another slightly less large crane parked itself right in front of me and prepared to lift buckets of wet concrete.
I could hardly object to this, but it did mean a rather hasty change of position / angle which I have to say was no bad thing the way the lift eventually took place. Once the car had started to dip into the bowels of the station there was no point in staying on, Yuehong would be waiting for her dinner after giving me my little boy's freedom for the day.
It had been an absolutely fascinating day being able to watch the activities from a distance. For those involved it must have been immensely satisfying after months of preparation work. Of course, it will be some time before the railway re-opens for business. A lot of safety work remains to be completed at the stations to make them suitable for the new cars and extensive testing of the cars and their new safety systems will have to be carried out too.
Rob and Yuehong Dickinson