Timothy Tye
Wisma Kastam (Malayan Railway Building)

Wisma Kastam (Malayan Railway Building) (4 April, 2010)

Wisma Kastam (GPS: 5.41565, 100.34244), originally known as the Federated Malay States Railway Station, and later the Malayan Railway Building, is one of the most prominent heritage buildings along the Weld Quay waterfront of George Town. It was built at the turn of the 20th century following land reclamation that extended the shoreline outward.

Before Wisma Kastam was built, the shoreline was somewhere between Beach Street and what is today Victoria Street, depending on the tide. There would be piers going out into the sea, and steps (called ghauts) extending down into the water. China Street makes a straight line from the Kuan Yin Teng Temple, allowing for an uninterrupted view of the sea from the temple.

Features of Wisma Kastam

The main feature of Wisma Kastam is its clocktower, which was built for the then Malayan Railway Building.

Malayan Railway Building Clocktower


Malayan Railway Building, George Town, Penang (25 July, 2012)

360° View of the Malayan Railway Building on Google Maps Street View

View of Wisma Kastam (Malayan Railway Building).

Where China Street meets the shore, a ghaut led downwards into the sea, allowing for goods to be easily unloaded from boats into bullock carts and brought inland. The layout of China Street was regarded as good feng shui by the Chinese community, and it certainly helped to propel their prosperity. The late 19th century land reclamation put an end to all that.

With the land reclamation, China Street was extended out. However, the extension, called China Street Ghaut (Gat Lebuh China) was not a straight line from China Street. It bends to the left where George Town Dispensary is located. This change in orientation of China Street means that the Kuan Yin Teng no longer enjoyed the seaview.

Wisma Kastam (20 March 2004)

To add further insult to injury, the British authorities built the Malayan Railway Building. Although the rationale given was that Penang was experiencing an economic boom due largely to the growth of tin ore exports necessitating an administrative building for the newly laid railway, the decision to place the Malayan Railway Building in such a spot as to block any seaview from the temple is again taken by the superstitious Chinese community as a way by the British to halt their prosperity, via disrupting their feng shui. And as if to confirm the British intention, the Malayan Railway Building was topped with a clock tower, with the clock facing the Kuan Yin Temple. This, to the chagrin of the Chinese community, was a very inauspicious sign, like the white men telling them that "their time is up".

Wisma Kastam as seen from Weld Quay (30 January 2006)

Getting there

Wisma Kastam is only about 700 feet from the Weld Quay Ferry & Bus Terminal. To get there, cross Pengkalan Weld using the pedestrian bridge, and then turn right, walk along Pengkalan Weld until you arrive at the junction of Gat Lebuh China. Wisma Kastam is right in front of you.

You can also reach Wisma Kastam by taking the Rapid Penang Free Shuttle Bus.

Wisma Kastam (30 January 2006)

What to see

Wisma Kastam serves as the offices of the Customs Department. It is not a tourist destination. Nevertheless, it is significant for its role in the development of the tin mining industry in Malaya. Completed in 1907, it was often called the "only railway station in the world without a railway". Passengers buying train tickets are ushered onto the railway ferry to cross the channel, where they board the train in Butterworth.

Interior of the Malayan Railway Building (4 April, 2010)

Visit to the Malayan Railway Building

On 4 April, 2010, the Penang Heritage Trust organized a Site Visit to the Malayan Railway Building. As the Council Member of the Trust, I welcomed the guests into the building. A briefing was given by Dato' Anwar Faizal, the conservation architect Gwynn Jenkins as well as officers of the Customs Department.

Wisma Kastam / Malayan Railway is on the map of China Street Ghaut

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