IF historical value takes priority over the safety, comfort and efficiency of public transport, then consider the history of the Penang Hill funicular railway and this may add a perspective on the latest changes in the Penang ferry service.
Penang MCA liaison committee secretary Yeoh Chin Kah said that on March 19,2011, the then Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Ng Yen Yen launched the third upgrade of the funicular railway.
Though the white-and-blue railway car that exists now looks nothing like the vintage wooden car first used in 1923, it surpassed the old one in terms of capacity, comfort, safety and efficiency.
“The Federal Government spent RM73mil to install the Swiss-made funicular railway system.
“When Lim first became chief minister in 2008, he repeatedly called for the funicular railway to be upgraded to solve the problem of frequent breakdowns.
“The old funicular railway was historic just like the old Penang ferries. So why is Lim opposing the upgrading of the ferry service?” Yeoh asked.
He was speaking in a press conference held next to a display of the previous funicular railway car model at Penang Museum in Macalister Road yesterday.
The Penang Hill funicular railway system began in 1923 and till today, it is among the steepest railways in the world, offering a panoramic view of the island and mainland Penang on the way up.
The old wooden car was replaced in 1977 with a red-and-white car that had small fans for ventilation.
The blue-and-white car in use today is air-conditioned and much more capacious.
“It is only natural and practical to replace the old ferries due to safety concerns, ” said Yeoh.
He said he was puzzled by Lim’s opposition of the Transport Ministry’s allocation of RM64mil to upgrade the two ferry terminals and replace the aged double-deck ferries with water buses for pedestrians and vehicle transporters for two-wheelers.
“Why did Lim not reject funds to revamp the Penang Hill funicular railway? Why is he now opposing the ferry upgrade?
“Lim, as Air Putih assemblyman, should remember that before the launch of the new cable car in 2011, we attracted only 500,000 visitors to Penang Hill a year.
“After the upgrade, the number of visitors increased to 1.6mil in 2016 and even reached 1.8mil by 2019, ” he said.
Yeoh added that just as the old funicular railway cars were never scrapped but were instead put on display for posterity, so too will the old ferries remain in public sight as Penang’s icons.
“One will be reserved for tourists to visit after 18 months and the other one will be moored at the terminal as a ferry museum.
Yeoh added that in 2019 alone, the ferry maintenance costs were amazingly high and operators made a loss of RM24mil.
“As such, it is not right for the Federal Government to continue to pay the bill as the money is from taxpayers.”