Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The last day the funicular train at Penang Hill

ONE would expect a large rush of local visitors to the Penang Hill railway station yesterday, the last day the funicular train would do its rounds. But that was not the case.

Starting today, the station will fall silent to allow upgrading works to the railway as part of a RM63mil upgrading project undertaken by the Tourism Ministry.

Last ride: A funicular train coach heading up Penang Hill yesterday amidst widening works along the track.

Anticipating a strong crowd as it was also a weekend, I was at the ticket counter at 8.30am to ensure train tickets for a photographer and myself.

My early trip was successful but unnecessary as there were only a few people around and just one person ahead of me at the ticket booth.

And although things picked up approaching lunch hour, the crowd was nothing out of the ordinary for a weekend at Penang Hill.

Positive outlook: Mohamad Salim and his wife FAiruzzah Ghazali are looking forward to the completion of the railway upgrade.

As trains left every half an hour, I was soon on my way up the hill.

Indeed, it was a beautiful day to travel with not too much sun but no hint of rain as we slowly made the half-hour journey to the top.

But I have to admit that much of the excitement of my first trip up the hill over 10 years ago had faded over the years, even though I still appreciated the beautiful scenery the ride provided.

And standing elbow to elbow with the other passengers in the coach’s compartment, I had to concur with the sentiments of young American tourist Justin Jiang, 9, who said “I hope next time, the coaches will be bigger, the ride will be faster and it’ll be air-conditioned.”

At the top, traders and hawkers on the hill were understandably concerned with the projected seven-month closure but they were surprisingly positive about the new project.

“Things won’t be the same, especially during these seven months that the train will be down.

“Even though they are offering jeep services up the hill, we don’t expect many visitors to come with the RM70 to RM90 they are charging,” said snack stall seller Mohamad Salim Salleh, 34, who had been trading on the hill for the last 19 years.

“However, we are looking forward to after they finish the upgrading.

“We’ve heard that each trip can bring about 150 passengers, up from the current 50 passengers.

“Also, more people may come to Penang Hill as the trips will be faster and they won’t have to wait so long,” he added.

Meanwhile, some hawkers at Sri Bendera, the hill’s food court, echoed similar comments and pledged to stay open during some hours on the coming weekends for the convenience of hikers and riders who regularly ply the hiking trails.

Taking my time, I took a good look at Penang island (and a bit of the mainland) spread out in front of me from Komtar on my far left, to the sights of Jelutong and Gelugor to the high rises of Paya Terubong and over to the beautiful pavilion of the Kek Lok Si on my extreme right.

And when the train arrived and it was time to bid farewell to middle station and its truly spectacular view, I, like the hawkers and visitors I had talked to, could not help but wonder what it will be like the next time around.

Source : STAR
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