Breakdown no excuse for cable car up Penang Hill, say CAP and SAM

On Dec 21, the Penang Hill railway experienced a breakdown, leaving some 900 people stranded on the hill, including some 100 in the train itself. (Bernama pic)

GEORGE TOWN: Penang Hill railway’s recent breakdowns are no excuse for the state to embark on a cable car project, said two NGOs.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow had said in an interview with The Star that the funicular railway’s breakdown recently was proof that an alternative way was sorely needed.

On Dec 21, the hill railway experienced a breakdown, leaving some 900 people stranded on the hill, including some 100 in the train, mid-way.

The trains had come to a halt after brake seal damage and is the first major breakdown in the 10 years the new Swiss-made carriages were installed.

In a statement, Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) president Mohideen Abdul Kader and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president Meenakshi Raman said Chow’s argument was weak.

They said the cable car would not only adversely affect the fragile ecosystem of Penang Hill, but would also overload the hilltop resort with more people than it could take.

They said instead of going for a cable car, the funicular train could be more regularly serviced. Maintenance is now carried out once a year.

“With the overuse of the railway and infrequent maintenance, there is bound to be a breakdown.

“What must now happen is more frequent maintenance work. This could be done once in nine months instead.

“The cable car project is not environmentally sustainable, both to Penang Hill and the Botanic Gardens below.

“If the cable car is installed, it will cause irreparable damage as it would spur the building of more hotels and bungalows, along with cafes, amusement joints and roads,” they said.

They said since a study was being carried out to see if the cable car was needed, the state government must reveal how it was being done.

“Such studies must ensure that the environmental and social impact, both to the hill and the gardens, is not viewed lightly, given the characteristics and nature of both these special ecosystems,” they said.

They called for these details of the study to be made public, including the terms of reference, environmental and social impact, and the party conducting the study.

“We also want the state to clarify which companies are vying for the project,” they said.

In the 2020 Budget, it was announced that the federal government would partly subsidise the Penang Hill cable car project with an allocation of RM100 million, with the remainder to be borne by the state government.

Penang would also have another cable car project connecting the island and Seberang Perai soon, through the “SkyCab”.

The 5km SkyCab project, with 40 cabins transporting 1,000 people every hour, was proposed to connect the ferry terminal in George Town to Penang Sentral in Butterworth.