Timothy Tye
Penang Hill Funicular Train

Penang Hill coaches passing each otherPenang Hill coaches passing each other (26 April 2011)

Penang Hill Funicular Train is the railway connecting Air Itam to Penang Hill. The present system was contructed in 2010-2011, when the existing funicular trains were dismantled and new, improved carriages installed.

The new Penang Hill Funicular TrainThe new Penang Hill Funicular Train (26 April 2011)

The rolling stock or train carriages were manufactured by Doppelmayr-Garaventa of Switzerland, a company specializing in the carriages of cable cars, ski lifts, mass rapid transit and trams. Its other projects included the Liner Shuttle of Las Vegas and the San Francisco Bay Rapid Transit. Each of the coaches of the Penang Hill Funicular Train weighs 14,500 kg and can accommodate 100 passengers with a maximum payload of 7,500 kg (in other words, each passenger may weigh an average of 75 kg, which is expected to be sufficient given that most people, including children, are expected to weigh less than that).

Unlike the previous system with two sets of coaches (totalling four carriages), the present system has only one set of coaches in the funicular system, totalling two carriages, with one going up while the other coming down. The two coaches are connected by a haul rope with a diameter of 38 mm.

In order to install the new coaches, some parts of the existing track have to be realigned, particularly at the Mid-Level Station. The entire length of the track is close to 2 km (to be exact, 1,996 m). The gradient ranges from 10.7° to 27.9° over a vertical rise of 691 meters.

Old Penang Hill Coach at the Penang State MuseumOld Penang Hill Coach at the Penang State Museum (17 April 2011)

The history of the Penang Hill Railway goes back to the late 19th century, when it was proposed by three British residents, Logan, Heim and Wilson. With funding from the administration, the Penang Hill railway was constructed between 1897 and 1906. The earliest attempt was to use steam engines, not funicular. This proved to be a failure.

The Colonial Government revisited the Penang Hill Funicular Train project after World War I. Considering Switzerland has enormous experience in hill transport, they sent an engineer there to study the design. This led to the construction of the first incarnation of the Penang Hill Funicular Train system, which was built between 1920 and 1923, at a cost of 1.6 million Straits dollars. 750 labourers from the Federal Malay States Railway were employed in the construction.

After a successful trial run beginning on 21 October, 1923, the Penang Hill Funicular Train was launched by Sir Lawrence Nums Gulliemard, then Governor of the Straits Settlements, on 1 January 1924. The original train employed four wooden coaches with different seating for First Class and Second Class.

The old wooden coaches at Penang HillThe old wooden coaches at Penang Hill (26 April 2011)

By 1977, the original coaches were deemed to have past their prime and were replaced by new coaches from Switzerland. These were painted red, and became the iconic coaches of Penang Hill for the next four decades. The old wooden coaches were put on display at Penang Hill itself as well as at the Penang State Museum, where it served for a while as a kiosk for the Penang Heritage Trust.

By 2009, the red coaches were also deemed to have over-reached their capacity, resulting in long waits to go up the hill. Moreover, the system suffered frequent breakdowns over the past years. After much deliberation, the Federal Government decided to install a new set of coaches. As part of the revamp, the two-set system was replaced with a single-set system. Despite local objection to the termination of the red-coaches, the project went ahead with costs the Federal Government RM63 million. The existing system made its final run on 21 February, 2010.

The new coaches for the Penang Funicular Railway arrived in August 2010. An unveiling ceremony was held on 6 November, 2010, in the presence of Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen. The new coaches are painted blue, with a yellow line across. They resemble modern trams.

Unveiling of the new Penang Hill coachesUnveiling of the new Penang Hill coaches (6 November 2010)

The new Penang Hill Funicular Train system was only ready in April 2011, a delay of half a year from the initial schedule. On 20 April, 2011, selected guests and representatives from various non-governmental organisations were invited to a test run. This was followed by the soft-opening of the system on a charity run from 25 April, 2011. During the charity period, the fare was set at RM10 per person.

The Penang Hill Funicular Train is went into regular operations on 1 May, 2011. It initially operated daily from 6:30 am to 9:00 pm. From 10 March, 2012, the train timetable is as follows:

Weekdays: 6:30 am - 10:00* pm
Weekends/Public Holidays/School Holidays: 6:30 am - 11:00* pm
* Departure of last train from top station. Ticket counter closes 1 hour before the last train down.

Penang Hill Train Ticket Fare

As of 1 January, 2018, the ticket fare for the Penang Hill Train is as follows:

Penang Hill Train Ticket FarePenang Hill Train Ticket Fare (6 January, 2018)

Passengers in the new funicular coachesPassengers in the new funicular coaches (26 April 2011)

Train Schedule
From 7 June, 2011, the train schedule is as follows:
Weekdays: 6:30 am to 8:00 pm
Weekends, Public Holidays & School Holidays: 6:30 am to 9:00 pm

The ticketing system of the Penang Hill Funicular Train is similar to that of subways and mass rapid transit. Passengers simply tap the bar-code of the ticket to the sensor of the turnstile to enable passage. The coaches are fully air-conditioned, providing respite to the tropical heat.

Updates on the Penang Hill Funicular Train

15 June 2012: The train will not be operating on 2-3 July 2012 for half yearly preventive maintenance works. During these two days, visitors have to take the alternative route via the Jeep Track from the Penang Botanic Gardens or the existing hiking routes. Operations to resume on 4 July 2012.

Penang Hill Funicular Train turnstilePenang Hill Funicular Train turnstile (26 April 2011)

Penang Hill Train Tickets, front sidePenang Hill Train Tickets, front side (26 April 2011)

Penang Hill Train Tickets, reverse sidePenang Hill Train Tickets, reverse side (26 April 2011)

With the installation of the new coaches, the four old red coaches are taken out of service. Two of these coaches are displayed along the trains tracks, one at the Mid-Level station and another at a layby near the Top Station.

Update 5 May 2011
After a run of only 8 days, the Penang Hill Funicular Train broke down, causing some 300 awaiting passengers to take an alternative transport down from the hill. The cause of the disruption to the service has not been confirmed yet. According to Datuk Lee Kah Choon, general manager of Penang Hill Corporation (PHC), there was a mechanical failure caused by a "collision with an object" at 4:30 pm on Tuesday. It is not confirmed whether the "object" is a stray dog. At time of writing, sabotage has not been ruled out. The services were stopped from 7:00 pm on that day.

Penang Hill Corporation has put up signages informing the public of the closure. The repair to the trains is expected to be delayed due to lack of spare parts from the train supplier.

Penang Hill main page

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