HISTORY – A Brief Visual History of The Peak Tram

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…

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Click to enlarge, via richardwonghk6 on Flickr

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).

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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…

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1883, via The Peak Tram

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.

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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…

Peak Tram in 1908

1908 -a familiar scene yet devoid of skyscrapers. Copyright RGS-IBG / A. S. Waley.

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.”

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The Old Peak Tram Station and a first generation tram, 1930s, via ‘Aspiration + Creativity’ on Flickr.

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’…

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1st and 2nd generation tram, via The Peak Tram – click to enlarge

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…

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3rd and 4th generation trams, via The Peak Tram

The tram rose from 18 metres to 396 metres (about 1,300 feet) above sea level…

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Barker Road Station, 1921, via arrigonline.ch

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…

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The Old Peak Tram Station, 1930s, via ‘Aspiration + Creativity’ on Flickr.

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.

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First generation tram, via The Peak Tram

The system reopened after the war on Christmas Day, 1945…

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Peak Tram station in 1948, via ‘eternal1966b’ on Flickr

In 1959, a 72-seat metal tramcar was introduced…

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1950s, via Gwulo.com

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via Andy Yeung on Pinterest, date unknown.

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…and in 1989, a HK$60-million upgrade included a computer-controlled electric drive system.

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Barker Road – HK’s oldest tram station. Click to enlarge, via ‘richardwonghk 2’ on Flickr

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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.

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via livescience.com

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…

Peak Tram

Via richardwonghk6 on Flickr – click to enlarge

It was Asia’s first funicular cable tram and remains one of the safest methods of transport in the world.

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via ‘Thirsty in LA’ on Flickr.

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via ‘Ricardo Ko’ on Flickr

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via Hayley Zara Chadwick on Pinterest

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.

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The station viewed from Garden Road, via richardwonghk6 on Flickr

A video of the Peak Tram today from National Geographic…

Pictorial histories of local landmarks and events…

Blog posts charting Hong Kong’s colourful past…