The International Steam Pages

The Penang Hill Railway, 2012 - Introduction

For convenience I have now grouped lifestyle illustrated features by topic:

Back in 2009, I returned to Penang for the first time in over 20 years (Going Back, Penang 2009), a visit which resulted in our buying a flat above the coast between Tanjung Bunga and Batu Ferringhi. At the same time I renewed acquaintance with the Penang Hill Railway, it was indeed fortuitous that the period since then has been one of momentous change which I have covered in the following pages: 

I have uploaded a 10 minute video of the new railway to YouTube (16th April 2012) -

While I was filming Funiculi, Funicula, I got to know some of the people working on the Penang Hill Railway upgrade and I asked for a piece of the original rail. No problem, but I was expecting a small rusty length and this is what I got! The name is the same as on the original coaches, a quick search reveals that they are a major Swiss company, better known as Ludwig von Roll of Bern which once specialised in funiculars and cable ways (they sold their interest to Doppelmayr of Austria in 1996). It's a wonderful souvenir and either the contractors had the same idea or adopted mine as a number of these have been prepared for those involved in the project.

Also while I did the filming for Funiculi, Funicula, I promised myself (and the staff on the railway) that I would come back and shoot the new operation. The railway reopened in early 2011 and when we visited Penang in November 2011, I was overwhelmed by total lethargy, it was the first lengthy real holiday that Yuehong and I had enjoyed in 8 years together. Our other trips have always been varying degrees of working holiday whether filming or running Java tours, although some might argue that our whole existence is some kind of extended holiday, since we have juggled our limited financial resources so we don't have to 'go to the office'.

Finally, half way through our February 2012 visit, the procrastination was over and we took the 101 and 204 buses to the Bottom Station. This was to be an easy start, we were to walk up to the former first passing loop, the way the paths work going further to the Middle Station involves a jungle trek which would be no fun while carrying camera and tripod. We originally had no plans to travel on the train, for foreigners the price is a budget breaking RM 30 (GBP 6); what irritates most is that the locals pay only a small fraction of this, fortunately selective charging like this is almost unknown in Penang. However, as you will read later, we had a 'work around'...

At the Bottom Station, surprisingly little has changed at first glance. The multi-story car park (second picture, background) from which I observed the new coach being lifted onto the railway has been declared 'unfit for purpose' and the car park for the nearby Chinese temple has been pressed into use instead. This is linked to the station by a walkway (first picture, foreground) which uses some of the old rails, a really nice touch this.

This is the view looking up from the Chinese temple's 'halt'. The old passing loop is clearly visible as is the new diversionary line just below the Middle Station. Also visible on the left is one of many safety installations (CCTV and loud speaker) to try to reduce dangerous trespass as the train speeds are now high.

Viewed from the side, you could be forgiven for thinking that the railway had simply swapped tired, old red and white coaches for shiny, new, blue and white ones - a fact that is a tribute to the way the work has been done:

For all sorts of reasons we had decided to use just one camera for the filming, so Yuehong amused herself by photographing her husband at work and getting some still shots: 

It was extremely 'warm' and the fluid loss was enormous, two large green bottles were not enough to slake my thirst, Yuehong sank three watermelon juices in the blink of an eye.

Click here for Part 2.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson