Long may trams have a place in HK

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 May, 2008, 12:00am

Perhaps even more than the Star Ferry, the Peak Tram has a special place in our collective memory. Long the exclusive neighbourhood of the rich, The Peak has, nevertheless, been accessible to all, thanks to the tram.

From the hustle and bustle of Central, people can just hop on the tram and take a steep ride through the flora and luxury residences up the hill. With pressure slowly building on the ear drums, all of a sudden an extraordinary vista opens up, revealing the city and Victoria Harbour in full glory. The ride remains a must-have experience for tourists, and the view it offers is the iconic image of Hong Kong around the world.

It is, therefore, not surprising that thousands of people were willing to wait up to seven hours yesterday to take a ride down memory lane. Yesterday, Hong Kong's first rail system celebrated its 120th anniversary. It was not just that the ride was reduced to 30 cents, the original price when the tramway opened at the end of May in 1888. People were making the trip, many with their whole families, to celebrate an act of remembrance. For a city that is in danger of losing many of its heritage sites, the tram holds a special significance. The Star Ferry, for example, is no longer the same now that it has been relocated and its clock tower taken down.

Like Hong Kong, the Peak Tram has gone through many changes. The first tramway ran on steam, but switched to electricity in 1926 and was modernised in 1989. Today, the automated system is run by computer, as befits our modern city. But from the first, it was a success. Its very popularity led Hong Kong to take the plunge and build tram tracks running east to west along Hong Kong Island. The first electric tram went into service in July 1904 and the system remains a key part of our public transport system.

The original trams have been replaced and revamped, but those in use still resemble the originals. Locals use it for its cheap fares and efficiency, and visitors are enamoured of it. But without the success of the Peak Tram, this century-old system might not have existed. Let us hope that these trams will run for as long as there is this special place called Hong Kong.