Old Penang tram photos give us a peek into colonial history

When we think of trams today, images of San Francisco’s charming, old-school cable cars or Melbourne’s modern tram system come to mind.

But old photos being shared online are revealing that Penang‘s local transport system in the 1880s and 1890s consisted of a network of steam trams, electric trams, trolley buses, and horse carriages that was advanced for its time as well.

George Town was one of the first cities in SEA to introduce trams

Unbeknownst to many Malaysians, Penang actually had an impressive and comprehensive public transport system in days gone by. In fact, George Town was the first city in Malaya to incorporate a tram system.

old photo of penang's trams
Image credit: u/DayDry7629

Reddit user u/DayDry7629 decided to share a slice of Penang’s history on the discussion platform when they posted two threads (Part 1 and Part 2) yesterday, detailing the history of trams in Penang.

old photo of penang's trams
Image credit: u/DayDry7629

In a separate report by The Star published all the way back in 2006, it was revealed that the first Penang steam trams emerged in the 1880s. A tram line connected Weld Quay and Ayer Itam, and was intended for both commercial and industrial service. The trams picked up and dropped off passengers, and were also used to transport farm produce to the docks for export.

Penang’s trams ceased operation to make way for faster vehicles

The Star also disclosed that after steam trams were deemed hazardous on the road, horse-drawn trams and electric trams came into the picture to replace them.

Penang's trolley buses
Image credit: u/DayDry7629

However, both went out of popularity after 1925 when trolley buses and mini-buses emerged. These buses were much preferred as their schedules were more flexible and their speeds were comparable to that of cars.

The buses’ routes covered Weld Quay, Pulau Tikus, Bagan Jermal, Ayer Itam, Penang Hill, Sungai Pinang, and Jelutong.

Penang's mini buses
Image credit: u/DayDry7629

Eventually, trolley buses also stopped operating by 1961 when the Transport Department gradually switched them out with diesel vehicles.

penang tram line remains today
Image credit: u/DayDry7629

Today, you can still see signs of the trams that once plied Penang’s streets, such as in a photo taken on a road near Penang Kayu Nasi Kandar shared by DayDry7629.

Old historical photos of Penang’s trams and buses

Many of us may not even be aware that Penang had trams and trolley buses back then, but old photos of these classic forms of transportation still strike a sense of nostalgia we catch a sight of what our homeland used to look like all those years ago.

Even with Malaysia having undergone so many monumental events and transformations, we look forward to learning something new and interesting about our country every now and then.

Read more stories of old and mysterious Malaysian discoveries here:

Cover image adapted from: u/DayDry7629 and u/DayDry7629

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