Concern over impact of new hill railway on environment

Himanshu Bhatt

GEORGE TOWN (Feb 24, 2010): Two days after the 87-year-old Penang Hill funicular railway was permanently closed to allow a RM63 million modern line to be built in its place, the alarm has been sounded out over the secrecy surrounding the new project and its impact on the hill’s environment and heritage.

The Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) today expressed concern that very little information has been made available about the project, and how it will be implemented without unduly affecting the slopes and destroying the engineering legacy.

Describing the closure as "an event of great sadness in the rich history of Penang", PHT president Khoo Salma Nasution said the old system, built by the British in 1923, had been hailed as an engineering marvel.

She pointed out that the railway had been meticulously built with respect to the natural terrain, negotiating many curves and bends, and using viaducts to circumvent drainage flows.

"The new project, which proposes a quick journey on a straight one-section railway, raises a lot of questions," she said in a statement.

"Will the project require new hill cutting on steep slopes?" she asked.

"Will the new railway involve unacceptable levels of stress on the infrastructure and environment, and prove difficult and costly to maintain after the handover date?"

The project, whose budget was channelled through the Tourism Ministry, will take passengers from bottom to top in only 10 minutes, compared with about half hour under the old service. It is also touted to increase passenger capacity from 280 persons an hour to 1,000.

Khoo urged the authorities, project managers and contractors to consider the hill’s heritage value in every decision, and said PHT was willing to provide advice in this regard if called upon. - theSun

Source: The Sun

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