Bukit Bendera is a famous holiday destination in Penang. It not only attracts tourists but also serves as an exclusive home for the wealthy. Bukit Bendera has its own unique history and enduring legacy that has made it renown to this day.
Bukit Bendera, formerly known as Penang Hill, is 830 metres above sea level. It was developed by Francis Light using convicts from India as well as local workers.
In 1897, J. Hein and A. Wilson submitted an official application to J.K. Birch, Resident Counsellor of Penang, to operate a funicular train with cables to the peak of Bukit Bendera. This was due to communication difficulties in reaching Bukit Bendera at the time.
Following several negotiations, a bill on trains at Bukit Bendera was drafted and after being presented for a third reading at the Straits Settlements Territory Meeting Council in Singapore, it was passed on 21 November 1899.
For this purpose, a company called named the Bukit Bendera Railway Company was established by Kogan, Heim and Wilson with capital totalling $50,000. A. Alan Wilson was appointed as the Consulting Engineer and Charles Paterson was given a contract to build the railway tracks.
The early railway service had 2 trains that travelled between the lower station and the peak of Bukit Bendera. The railway tracks had a converging point with 4 tracks. Each train could accommodate 10 passengers and a railway guard.
Steam power was used to move the trains with a machinery house built at Bukit Bendera's lower station. This was later replaced with a Pelton Wheel that was turned by water via a stream from a dam built at the Air Itam River.
The original Bukit Bendera Railway Company eventually closed down due to damage and financial problems. However, its early efforts to provide such a service represented a brave attempt in the direction of advancing railway links.
Ensuing World War I, the Straits Settlements Government planned to revive the Bukit Bendera railway as it was more cost effective than road transport. Thus, Arnold R. Johnson, a local engineer, was sent to Switzerland to learn the technology of funicular railway which was operated by electric power. After 2 years there, he returned to Penang in 1920 to begin the task of building a new train.