Penang Escape: The History of Bukit Bendera aka "Penang Hill"

Bukit Bendera or Penang Hill is one of the famous tourist attraction in Penang Island, Malaysia. During old time, this Penang Hill is an exclusive residence of rich people in Penang too. This Penang Hill  is located 830 meters above the sea level and it was developed by Sir Francis Light with the energy of wrong-doer from India and the locals.

The view of Penang from the Penang Hill

On 1897, J.Jien and A.Wilson was officially applied to J.K Birch, the Caunselor Resident of Penang to build a cable car services to the peak of Penang Hill. This is due to the difficulties to connect to Penang Hill on that time. After few meetings, one policy for Penang Hill's cable train was created and after 3 times trial, the project proposal was approved on 21th November 1899.

The entrance to Penang Hill
The Owl Museum on top of the Penang Hill
A company with name Bukit Bendera Train Company was organized by Kogan, Heim and Wilson with capital USD50,000 to support the project. A.Alan Wilson was assigned as engineer consultant  and Charles Paterson was given with a contract to construct the railways. 

Inside the new train. Its air conditioned with electric power

This is the Johnson's old train
At early years, the were 2 trains in between the down hill station and the peak station. Each train can transit 10 passenger and 1 train officer at one time. Steam power was used to move the train which the machine house was built at the down hill of the Bukit Bendera. Next, the steam power was replaced by Pelton Wheel power which turned by water from the vessels from the dam at Air Itam river. 

However, the Bukit Bendera Train Company have to shut down the operation after some operation and financial problems. After the World War I, the Straits Government planned to redevelop the Bukit Bendera Train Station because it is more saving to the hill compared to using road. Therefore, Arnold R. Johnson, a local engineer was sent to Switzerland to learn the technique of funicular train which operated by using electric power. After 2 years in Switzerland, he came back to Penang on 1920 and start the work to built new train.  

We were at Penang Hill. From left, Nanthan, Joseph, Jezter,
BongBong and me

On 1921, A.R. Johnson built 4 coaches with cost USD1573 and the train was launched by Sir Lawrence Nunns Gulilemard, the Governor of Straits States on 1st January 1924. The train designed by Johnson was used for nearly 55 years before replaced by a Swiss made coach on 1977. On 21st November 1977, the coach ordered from Swiss Engineering Work Hubegger Limited with price RM2,300,000 was arrived to Penang. It was more modern compared to Johnson's old design. The Swiss made coaches was made from aluminium instead of wood as per Johnson's coach. Besides, this train also can bring 80 passengers at one time, which is 30 more than old coach. The new train also faster and the distance from down hill to the peak is only 25 minutes. 

Thanks to my travel mate BongBong Wang for the photos. 


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