ultramarinus – beyond the sea

PEAK TRAM (山頂纜車): The Oldest Public Transportation in Hong Kong

On 27th of June 2021, the fifth generation Peak Tram made its last trip up the Victoria Peak. The service would then be shut down for an extensive upgrade, laying new tracks and introducing larger funicular trains in the next six months. From the 30-seat wooden train operated by a steam engineer in 1888, to the upcoming 210-seat fully computerized and universally accessible aluminium train, the Peak Tram is about to enter its sixth generation in 133 years. The Peak Tram is, in fact, the oldest funicular system in Asia, and the first public transportation system in Hong Kong. We would occasionally hike up the Peak via Lung Fu Shan Country Park and descend by taking the Peak Tram to Kennedy Road Stop, where we would walk through the Botanical Gardens to return home. It was a 7-minute treat of lovely scenery from 28m to 368m above sea level every time we hopped onto the peak tram and sat on those inclined seats at the maximum of about 27 degrees. Before the pandemic, riding the peak tram was almost a compulsory activity for all foreign tourists. Today, the funicular is popular with local visitors during weekends.

The Peak Tram has always been a means of transportation for leisure. At 552m above sea level, the Peak is the perfect retreat from the summer heat. In 1881, Alexander Findlay Smith, who worked for the Scottish Highway Railway before, convinced Governor John Pope-Hennessy to operate a funicular route between the south of Murray Barracks (now Admiralty) and Victoria Gap on the Peak. He hoped the new transportation system would boost visitor numbers to his prestige Peak Hotel. Apart from hotel visitors and tourists, the Peak Tram also served the wealthy expatriates who lived on the Peak. Findlay Smith soon put the Peak Hotel and Peak Tram onto the market. At the end, the hotel and funicular landed in the hands of Hongkong Hotel Company, the current owner of Peninsula Hotel Group. Before 1920, the funicular was the only means of transportation connecting the Peak with Central, the downtown of Hong Kong. It has been 83 years since the Peak Hotel was burnt down in 1938. Its former site is now occupied by the shopping centre Peak Galleria (山頂廣場). Opposite to Peak Galleria now stands the Peak Tower (凌霄閣), another eye-catching retail complex that also doubles as the Upper Peak Tram Terminus. Below the Peak, the city’s skyline has changed dramatically in the past century. Perhaps the only thing that stays recognizable in the past 130 years is the funicular system itself.

The Peak Tram is the oldest public transportation in Hong Kong. Replacing the steam engineer of the first generation, the second generation Peak Tram was powered by an electric system. [Photo: Hagger F. Collection, University of Bristol, (CC BY_NC_ND 4.0), 1930’s]
The first generation Lower Peak Tram Terminus at Garden Road (花園道) appeared like an European Alpine resort. [Photo taken in 1920’s, public domain]
Built in 1983, the ground floor of St. John’s Building (聖約翰大廈) has been serving as the Lower Peak Tram Terminus in the past 38 years. The 22-storey commercial tower is the fourth generation funicular terminus. [2020]
Adjacent to the funicular terminus, St. Joseph’s College (聖若瑟書院) is the earliest Roman Catholic school in Hong Kong. [2020]
In Hong Kong, buildings are always cramped together with roads and transportation infrastructures. In the case of Garden Road Peak Tram Terminus, the train platform is sandwiched between several historical buildings (St. Joseph’s College at the back, Visitor Centre of World Wildlife Fund, The Helena May main building in front right) and the flyover of Red Cotton Road. [2020]
Some say the Visitor Centre of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) at No. 1 Tramway Path was once a parking depot of funicular trams. [1 Tramway Path, 2019]
The WWF Visitor Centre is home to a coffee shop, a souvenir shop and a small interpretation/ activity space. [1 Tramway Path, 2020]
Further up Tramway Path, peaceful Tram View Cafe is tranquil retreat to enjoy afternoon tea while watching funicular trams arriving and leaving the Garden Road Terminus. [Tram View Cafe, 2 Tramway Path, 2020]
Tram View Cafe is a pleasant retreat just a stone throw away from the financial district. [Tram View Cafe, 2 Tramway Path, 2020]
The Tram View Cafe present a vintage decor to engage customers. [Tram View Cafe, 2 Tramway Path, 2021]
Beyond MacDonnell Road Station (麥當勞道站), the Peak Tram climbed towards the bridges of Magazine Gap Road and May Road. [Photo taken in 1897, public domain]
Beyond May Road Station (梅道站), the funicular route continues to climb towards the Peak. [May Road Station, 2020]
The track angle varies from 4 to 27 degrees, climbing an elevation of 368m. [2020]
Where the Peak Tram bridges over Barker Road is a popular spot for filming local movies. [Barker Road, 2020]
Opened in 1888, Barker Road Station (白加道) is the only covered station between Garden Road and the Peak. The roof was added in 1919. [Barker Road Station, 2020]
Baker Road Station is a popular spot for visitors taking selfies. [Barker Road Station, 2020]
At an elevation of 363m, Barker Road Station is the second last stop before reaching the Peak. [Barker Road Station, 2020]
Taking the Peak Tram is always a pleasant way to reach the Victoria Peak. [2019]
The fourth generation Peak Trams have been retired. The next generation funicular trains will arrive in a few months’ time. Due to the increasing demand, the new trains will significantly increase the passenger capacity. [inside the Peak Tram, 2019]
The Peak Tram on the slope of Victoria Peak has been an icon of Hong Kong for decades. [Peak Tram arriving at The Peak, 2020]
At 398m, the retail complex Peak Tower (凌霄閣) now serves as the upper terminus of Peak Tram. [The Peak, 2020]
Where the former Peak Hotel stood a century ago, the shopping centre Peak Galleria (山頂廣場) now welcomes visitors arriving on the Peak. [The Peak, 2020]
The third generation Peak Tram is now on display in front of Peak Galleria in commemoration of the centennial of the Peak Tram. [The Peak, 2020]

One response

  1. I remember taking this on my first trip to Hong Kong back in 2012. Despite the long line, the ride was worth the wait. Not a lot of cities in the world have this kind of funicular, so it was a very unique experience for me.

    August 8, 2021 at 11:08 pm

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