It has been 126 years since the Peak Tram opened in Hong Kong though, technically, it is not even a tram but a ‘cable-hauled funicular railway’. Below is a brief, visual history of one of the city’s most iconic treasures…
The son of Queen Victoria, Alfred, became, the first royal visitor to make a ritual trip to The Peak in 1869. It was noted how His Highness expressed “surprise that the wealthy merchant princes of the colony had not yet availed themselves of the opportunity of the presence in the vicinity of their city of a position offering so bracing a climate, in the hottest time of the year.” Quite.
The ‘Rush to The Peak’ had commenced with Hong Kong’s population rising to 173,475 by 1883. Several dozen of the city’s elite families were now living on The Peak and it was also home to The Peak Hotel. The area remained accessible only by horse or sedan chair. (One local eccentric, E R Belilios, preferred to travel the winding paths by camel, though none of these options were comfortable, especially in HK’s heat).
Thus, Peak Hotel owner and Scotsman Alexander Findlay Smith, planned to open up the area with a new tram system to connect Victoria Gap to Murray Barracks…
The Hong Kong High Level Tramways Company was born on May 30th, 1888 and the line was opened by HK’s Governor and Lady des Voeux.
Little is known of how the tram lines were constructed – but – with each piece of rail weighing over 136kg, and each measuring around 7 metres, it was presumably very difficult…
On its opening day, a local journalist wrote that “there is nothing to cause the least of nervousness and the car rises smoothly and steadily to the Victoria Gap.”
The first carriages were made of timber and seated 30 in 3 classes. The first two seats could not be occupied until two minutes before departure, as they had brass plaques which read ‘This seat is reserved for His Excellency, the Governor’…
A ride cost 30 cents in first class, 20 cents in second and 10 cents in third class – return trips were half price. The tram was operated by coal-fired steam boiler until 1926 when an electrical system took over.
It served 150,000 people in its first year alone…
The tram rose from 18 metres to 396 metres (about 1,300 feet) above sea level…
Between 1904 and 1930, the Peak Reservation Ordinance had designated The Peak as an exclusive residential area reserved for non-Chinese. In 1924, the first road to The Peak was constructed – many wrongly believed this would signal the end of the tram service…
The tram was suspended during the WWII occupation of Hong Kong as the engine room was damaged in an attack. The Japanese pummelled the barracks on the Peak during the initial invasion whilst Jack Chubb, the superintendent engineer at that time, spent hours cutting essential wiring to make the system unusable to the invaders.
The system reopened after the war on Christmas Day, 1945…
In 1959, a 72-seat metal tramcar was introduced…
…and in 1989, a HK$60-million upgrade included a computer-controlled electric drive system.
Earlier this year, researchers explained the ‘Peak Tram Optical Illusion’ – a curious phenomenon whereby it appears the skyscappers are falling or slanting forwards. They concluded that the apparent 30-degree ‘slant’ was caused by pressure exerted on the body, information the eye takes in, the sense of balance created by the inner-ear and the tilt of the head. They also believed the illusion to be enhanced by the window frames and other details in the tram carriage.
1962, via MichaelRogge on YouTube…
The Peak itself has developed in line with the rest of the city – today, more than 7 million people visit it each year…
It was Asia’s first funicular cable tram and remains one of the safest methods of transport in the world.
A house at Barker Road was recently sold for HK$1.8 billion to billionaire, Lee Shau-kee. At $68,228 per square foot, it is the most expensive location in the world.
A video of the Peak Tram today from National Geographic…
Pictorial histories of local landmarks and events…
- A Brief Visual History: HK Police Vehicles & Uniforms
- A Brief Visual History: HK’s Old Airport, Kai Tak
- A Brief Visual History: Kowloon Walled City
- A Brief Visual History: The Evolution of the Hong Kong Skyline.
- A Brief Visual History: Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower
- A Brief Visual History: Yau Ma Tei Theatre
Blog posts charting Hong Kong’s colourful past…
- 1000+ ‘Before and After’ Photos of Old & New Hong Kong.
- Cool Vintage Hong Kong Tourism Posters.
- Execution of Namoa Pirates in Kowloon, 1891.
- HK’s Boom Years: The Best of Fan Ho.
- Mainland Refugees Fleeing Famine Rejected by HK.
- Margaret Thatcher in Hong Kong.
- More Vintage Photos of Old Hong Kong.
- Newly Unearthed Photos of 1950s Hong Kong.
- Pictures of Hong Kong in 1972.
- Rare Shots from Inside the Old Kowloon Walled City.
- Shing Mun Redoubt, HK’s Secret WWII Tunnels.
- Street Scenes in Dreamy Colour 1954-2004.
- The ‘Great Chinese Takeaway’ – the 1997 Handover.
- The 1958 Hong Kong Cha Cha Championship Winner (Bruce Lee).
- The 1967 Hong Kong Riots.
- The Bombing of Hong Kong by the U.S. 14th Air Force.
- The Day a Cargo Ship Washed up on Cheung Chau Beach.
- The Hakka Walled Village of Tsang Tai Uk, Sha Tin.
- The Iconic ‘Two Girls’ Kwong Sang Hong Cosmetics Brand
- The Luxury British Liner at the Bottom of Victoria Harbour.
- Unseen Royal Geographic Photos.
- When the MTR Was New.