A Buried Cable Car Project in Penang

A scenic cable car due to link Georgetown to Butterworth on Malaysia’s mainland has been rejected by the Federal Government.

Are politics to be blamed over the aborted Penang Sky Cab? Last year, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan En unveiled to the public a proposal of building a three-km cable car system connecting the future transportation hub “Penang Sentral” in Butterworth (Mainland) to Gat Lebuh Noordin on Penang island. According to the Chief Minister, Penang Sky Cab was an initiative of the state government to be integrated into Penang Sentral to provide a reliable alternative mean of transportation from mainland to the island.

The project was due to be operational by 2018 or 2019 latest and would have taken 15 minutes to complete the journey with a capacity of 1,000 passengers per hour in each direction. According to Lim Guan En, the cable car was also an environmental friendly transportation solution able to reduce car traffic.

The Sky Cab was one of the projects under the RM27 billion (US$6.5 billion) Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), which also includes  in  the construction of a 6.5km stretch of undersea tunnel, three expressways as well as a 17.5 km LRT line finally linking Komtar -Georgetown only large skyscraper- to Penang Inter­national Airport.

The cable car was seen as a complementary mean of transportation to link the Northern part of the island to the mainland. The southern part of the island is already connected by two bridges. However, many Penangites were also rather opposed to the development of the cable car considering that a priority would first to improve existing ferry services as well as intra-island public transports to diminish traffic congestion.

But the Federal Government finally vetoed the construction of the cable car after listening the opposition of Penang Port Authority. The decision was announced by Federal Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai who declared that the decision was made as the proposed project would affect the passage of vessels operating at the North Butterworth Container Terminal (NBCT). The state government has been informed of the decision. “We have stated our stand, if they want to go through with the project, they need to comply with specific conditions set by the Marine Department,” he told news agency Bernama after a working visit to Penang Port on Monday.

Meanwhile, some would wonder if politics did not play a role in the government’s decision. Transportation is in fact a prerogative of the federal government with state governments only enticed to propose projects and waiting for the federation approval. Penang is under the opposition and is generally not considered as a priority for the federal government. Polemics in the past already emerged over the construction of a new airport in Kedah to compete with Penang international airport or over the possible setting of water taxis to link the historical centre to Batu Ferringhi along the former Millionaires’ Row…