89 and still going strong – Former station master visits Penang Hill on his birthday

ANG Sim Boo, a former station master of the Penang Hill Railway, turned 89 today.


It was a memorable day for Sim Boo when he visited Penang Hill and shared his stories with the Buletin Mutiara team.


“This visit brought back memories of when I was a station master for 33 years and eight months from 1955 to 1988.


“I served with the Penang Hill Railway under the management of the Penang Municipal Council (1955 to 1973) and the Keretapi Bukit Bendera Unit under the Penang State Secretary Office (1973 to 1988).


Sim Boo and the photos of the three generations of Penang Hill funiculars.


“I had the privilege to serve as a station master for the first-generation and second-generation funiculars,” Sim Boo said today. He is the son of the late Ang Iok Hun – the first station master of the Penang Hill Railway.


While boarding the funicular this morning, Sim Boo shared that the first-generation wooden train could only cater to an average of 35 passengers per coach.


Sim Boo checking out a newspaper article about his late father Iok Hun at the Penang Hill Gallery @ Edgecliff.


“Back then, each coach was divided into four compartments – two compartments for first-class passengers and the remaining two compartments for second-class passengers.


“The ticket price for the first-class ticket (one-way) was $1.20 and 80 cents for the second-class ticket. That was way back in the 1950s.


“Residents who were staying on Penang Hill were given a discount when they used the train services,” he said.

An old photo (above) and a scale model (below) of the first-generation funicular on display at Penang Hill Gallery @ Edgecliff.


Sim Boo said the division of classes was abolished with the introduction of the second-generation funicular.


“The funiculars (first and second generations) would stop at the three main stations – lower, middle, and upper – as well as five substations along the track.


“The five substations were Claremont Station, Moniot Station, Viaduct Station, Lower Tunnel Station, and Upper Tunnel Station. Usually, residents would embark and disembark at the substations.


It is learnt that the current funicular service is still providing stops at the substations for residents and workers but on a scheduled basis.


Recalling his duty as a station master, Sim Boo said he had to operate the signal box which sent signals to the control operator when the funicular arrived at the station.


Sim Boo showing the signal box (below) to the Buletin Mutiara team.


“The station masters had two working shifts – from 6am to 2pm, and from 2pm to 10pm – after which we must be on standby at our quarters until our next shift.


“One of my most unforgettable experiences was welcoming Queen Elizabeth II when the Queen visited the hill in 1972.


“The security was very tight, and my team could not get a nice photo of us welcoming the Queen when she visited. It was one of my most memorable experiences, and one of the saddest as well.


“The Queen visited The Crag which was reopened as Uplands School in 1955 and remained as ‘The School on the Hill’ until 1977,” he said.


The Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) will be organising a series of interesting activities to mark the centenary celebration of the Penang Hill Funicular system.


PHC general manager Datuk Cheok Lay Leng had said that the corporation would be holding interesting activities to celebrate the momentous milestone.


The theme of the celebration is ‘Penang Hill Railway: A Centenary Celebration (1923-2023)’.


“We will host a series of exciting events in 2023 to share with people from all walks of life, especially Penangites. We want to share the milestones and challenges of the last 100 years while looking forward to future opportunities,” he said.


Sim Boo said he looked forward to the centenary celebration.


“I have mixed feelings – feeling sad and honoured at the same time.


“I made many friends during my service, and some have passed on. A friend of mine, Neoh Teik Hock, who was also a station master for the second-generation funicular, passed on last week.


“The people, especially the residents on Penang Hill are very friendly and kind. I have known them for many years, and I have watched their children grow to become adults.


“They remember me and appreciate my services.


“All these are happy memories which I cherished,” he said.


On a separate note, PHC welcomes former staff members who had served the first, second or current funiculars to contact the corporation at 04-828 8880.



Story by Christopher Tan

Pix by Noor Siti Nabilah Noorazis