THE PEAK TRAM HISTORY
The Peak Tram is arguably the most enduring emblem of Hong Kong's unique past. It has seen war, been featured on films and television and played host to numerous dignitaries.
Planning the First Tram
By 1883 Hong Kong's population had reached 173,475 with some 30-40 families calling the Peak their home. Although the Peak Hotel had opened in 1873 and was attracting an eager clientele, reaching the Peak was wholly dependent on the use of the sedan chair. In May of 1881, the enterprising Scotsman Alexander Findlay Smith devised a plan to speed the development of new residences in the hill districts with the introduction of a new tram system that would connect Murray Barracks to Victoria Gap. In 1882 approval was granted and the Hong Kong High Level Tramways Company was born. With the commencement of service on 30 May 1888, the Peak Tram became the first cable funicular in Asia, extending 1,350 metres and connecting five intermediate stations.
The original carriages were made of varnished timber and consisted of open rows of slatted seats at the front and rear, with an enclosed compartment in the centre. The carriage seated 30 passengers in three classes, with the centre compartment reserved for first class travel. Between 1908 and 1949 a brass plaque was affixed to the back of the first two seats which read, "This seat is reserved for His Excellency, the Governor". These seats could not be occupied until two minutes before departure time in the event the Governor might appear unannounced.
At that time, a ride in the first-class section up to the Peak cost 30 cents. The charge was 20 cents for second class and 10 cents for third class. The return trip was half the price. The Peak Tram, which was operated by coal-fired steam boilers then, ended up serving 600 passengers on its first day and about 150,000 in its first year.
In 1926, an electrically powered system replaced the coal-fired steam boilers. However, following the Japanese occupation of Kowloon on December 11, 1941, the Peak Tram engine room was damaged in an attack. On Christmas Day in 1945, the Peak Tram service resumed but part of a Japanese shell was lodged under the main base plate of the two haulage drums.
Hollywood soon came knocking and the Peak Tram was featured in the 1950s movie, Soldier of Fortune, starring Clark Gable. The opening and closing scenes were shot inside the tramcar. The Peak Tram was also included in an episode of the Love Boat.
A 72-seat, lightweight all-metal tramcar was introduced in 1959 before the Peak Tram began service in its present form in 1989 following a HK$60-million overhaul to upgrade it to a microprocessor-controlled electric drive system. Governor Sir David Wilson officiated at the reopening on September 20, 1989.
Commemorative stamps were issued by the General Post Office to mark the Peak Tram's centenary anniversary in May 1988.
From its earliest days of operation, the Peak Tram has been the focus of artists and photographers who have tried to capture its spirit while simultaneously documenting its service. From amateur shots meant to preserve a personal memory, to professionally prepared views intended for commercial sale, the Peak Tram has proven itself a particularly compelling subject. The early years of operation seem to have produced the most varied scenes, with shots taken not only at both the upper and lower stations, but also at many points along the way. These views were reproduced by a small number of Hong Kong printing companies as black and white postcards which were then hand-coloured to enhance their beauty. From all evidence they were highly popular, with elegantly handwritten notes sent around the world commenting on the remarkable views and surprisingly efficient and comfortable service.
By the end of the Second World War, photographers seemed less enthralled with the tram as subject matter. Perhaps its novelty was wearing thin in the face of new advances in transportation, or was overshadowed by Hong Kong's rapidly changing skyline. Cards from the late 1960s and 1970s focussed more on the newly built Peak Tower and the panoramic vistas that some visitors claimed yielded views as distant as Macau.
Throughout its long history, the Peak Tram has remained one of the most visited and photographed sights in Hong Kong by offering not only an enviable view, but also a quiet respite from the city below.
FIVE GENERATIONS OF PEAK TRAM
1888 - 1926
In May 1888, the Tramway was officially opened by the Governor, Sir William Des Voeux. The wooden tram's haulage system was powered by coal fired steam boilers.
1926 - 1948
An electrically-powered haulage gear system replaced steam power and the tramcar could carry 52 passengers
1948 - 1959
After the war, a 62 seat, all-metal tramcar was introduced to meet the increasing demand of the local population.
1959 - 1989
To protect passengers from the weather, a fully enclosed, lightweight, all-aluminum tramcar with 72 seats was put in service.
1989 - 2021
The Peak Tram 5th generation was introduced in 1989. A significant modernisation of the system was undertaken, introducing microprocessor-control technology and 5th generation tramcars carrying 120 passengers.
PEAK TRAM TECHNICAL INFORMATION
Ever since the opening in 1888, the Peak Tram has undergone various phases of modernisation, evolving from coal-fired steam boilers to today's microprocessor-controlled electric drive system.
The Peak Tram, a double reversible funicular system, still runs on its original railway track but it has undergone a complete modernisation programme to upgrade its operating system and machinery. Today, the Peak Tram uses a microprocessor-controlled electric motor that automatically manages the tramcar speed, accelerating and braking accordingly at each of the tram stations.
With a maximum speed of six metres per second, the tramcar operating system is equipped with three separate braking systems: Normal Stop Mode, Service Stop Mode and Emergency Stop Mode. Normal Stop is achieved by allowing gentle deceleration which is controlled through the microprocessor. Service Stop uses regulated braking, for a constant deceleration rate, to avoid a potential hazard in situations where it would be too late to use Normal Stop. If safety is endangered, the emergency stop is used to stop the tramcar in the shortest possible time by braking the haulage drum at full force.
Two haulage ropes are used which have a diameter of 44 millimetres and can hold up to 139 tonnes. The steepest part of the route, where the tracks cross-over on May Road, is 25.7 degrees to the horizontal. The track is 1,365 metres long and the tramcar takes approximately seven minutes to complete a one way trip. The Tramcar carries up to 120 passengers: 95 seated and 25 standing. Two tramcars run in opposite directions for over 90 trips each day. The unique waveform floor is specially designed for the safety and comfort of standing passengers. Both tramcars start to operate simultaneously after an automatic safety device check is carried out before each journey.
The latest upgrade was initiated in mid-1986, when companies were invited to bid for the project which stipulated that passenger numbers must increase from 560 to 1,400 per hour one way. The Peak Tram also demanded modern state-of-the-art equipment that was safe and easy to maintain. On May 18, 1988, the project was awarded to Von Roll Transport System of Switzerland.
The new plant and equipment was designed to be located underground, beneath the existing upper terminus platform. A total of 1,650 cubic metres of material was excavated and the surrounding area on Findlay Road was reinforced with 236 micropiles, measuring a combined depth of 2,943 metres.
To allow for the installation of the new equipment, the tram service ceased on June 20, 1989 and resumed on August 5, 1989.
•Double reversible funicular system
•Lower Terminus - 28 metres above sea level
•Upper Terminus - 396 metres above sea level
•Length of Track - 1,365 metres
•Track Gradient - From 4 degrees to 25.7 degrees