Hong Kong Tramways (Chinese: 香港電車) is a tram system in Hong Kong and one of the earliest forms of public transport in the metropolis. Owned and operated by Veolia Transport RATP Asia, the tramway runs on Hong Kong Island between Shau Kei Wan and Kennedy Town, with a branch circulating through Happy Valley.
Trams in Hong Kong have not only been a form of commuter transport for over 110 years, but also a major tourist attraction and one of the most environmentally friendly ways of travelling in Hong Kong. The tram system is the only one in the world operated exclusively with double-decker trams, and is one of only three non-heritage tram systems in the world that use double-deck cars.
The tram is the cheapest mode of public transport on the island. The comparatively affordable fare is highlighted by Hong Kong Tramways’ advertising slogan: "Hop on 1. $2.3. Tram so easy!"
Hong Kong’s tram system was inaugurated using electric trams. It has never used horse or steam power.
1881: Tramway system is proposed for Hong Kong.
1901: Proposal is accepted by Hong Kong Government.
1902: Hong Kong Tramway Electric Company Limited founded.
1902: Name changed to Electric Traction Company of Hong Kong Limited.
1903: Construction of a single-track system began, from Kennedy Town to Causeway Bay. The route was later extended to Shau Kei Wan.
1904: Bodies of the first fleet of 26 tramcars were built in the United Kingdom. They were then shipped in pieces Hung Hom to be assembled. The tramcars were all single-deck. Ten tramcars were designed for first class passengers and the others were for third class passengers. The first-class compartment was enclosed in the centre with two long benches on both sides, with both the front and back ends open. Seating capacity was 32 passengers. The third-class tramcars were open-sided, with six sets of benches running crossways, back to back, seating 48 passengers. Tram fares for the first and the third class were 10 cents and 5 cents respectively. Initially, the company planned to divide the trams into 3 classes, but subsequently only first and third class were chosen for ease of operation.
1910: Name of the company changed to The Hong Kong Tramway Company Limited.
1912: Owing to strong passenger demand, the first double-deck tramcar was introduced in 1912. The tramcar had an open top design, fitted with garden-type seats. The first class occupied the upper deck and one-third of the lower deck. Ten brand new tramcars were constructed.
1922: Electricity was contracted and supplied by Hong Kong Electric Co. Ltd (HEC). Company name changed to Hong Kong Tramways Limited.
1925: Enclosed double-decker trams replaced open-top trams.
1932: North Point Depot came into service.
1941: Japanese Occupation took place. Very limited tram service was provided. Only 12 tramcars were in operation daily from Causeway Bay to Western Market. One single-decker tram was used as freight transport.
1945: After three years and eight months of Japanese Occupation, all 109 tramcars still remained, but only 15 were operational. By October 1945, 40 tramcars were back in service.
1949: Single-track system was replaced by double-track system in August.
1950: Tramways undertook an extensive re-design and started building its own trams. Tram bodies adopted a "modern" design.
1954: North Point Depot closed and Russell Street Depot expanded and renamed Sharp Street Depot.
1964: Three locally made trams added, including the first single-deck trailer.
1965: Due to passenger demand, 10 single-deck trailers was introduced. The trailer was attached to the back of ordinary tramcar and designed to serve first class passengers only. The maximum capacity was 36 persons for each trailer.
1966: As trailers were well accepted by passengers, 22 single deck trailers were deployed in the fleet during 1966–67. Although trailers played a significant role in the tramways, they were finally withdrawn from the service in 1982.
1967: The last trailer built by the company.
1972: Class distinction abolished and flat fare introduced.
1974: The Hong Kong Tramways Limited acquired by Wharf Holdings
1976 – Drop-in coin boxes were installed on trams. A coin-box was fitted at the front exit, near the driver. Passengers had to drop in the exact fare on leaving the tram. Rotating turnstiles were fitted at the entrance, which is located at the rear of a tram. Conductors were no longer needed and most of them retrained to become motormen.
1986: Tram refurbishment has begun.
1989: Sharp Street Depot closed and terminus function split between Sai Wan Ho and the Whitty Street depots.
1992: Two double-deck trams made by Tramways were exported to the Wirral Tramway, Birkenhead, in the UK.
1992: Point Automation System deployed and points man system for altering the direction of tram manually was abolished.
2000: Coloured destination blinds had begun.
2000: Tramways launched the brand new "Millennium" tram on 24 October 2000, which was designed and manufactured by its own engineering team. The success of this tramcar marked an important milestone in the history of Hong Kong Tramways.
2001: The Octopus electronic smart card payment system introduced on trams.
2004: Hong Kong Tramways celebrates 100 years of service.
2007: Route map was re-installed on each tram stop. brand new driving panels were introduced in November.
2008: Air-conditioning was installed on antique tram #128.
2009: 50% stake and operating rights obtained by Veolia Transport RATP Asia; followed by full ownership by Veolia Transport RATP Asia.
2011: Hong Kong Tramways launched the seventh-generation tram on November 28, 2011. It is a combination of modern interior design with traditional tram body exterior. The face-lift allows tram’s iconic image to be maintained.
2014: Hong Kong Tramways celebrates 110 years of service.
2015: Following the opening of the West Island Line, daily tramway ridership drops 10% to 180,000.
Hong Kong Tramway Electric Company Limited 1904-1974
The Wharf (Holdings) 1974-2009; retained 50% stake from 2009 to 2010
Veolia Transport RATP Asia 2010–present
The trams run on a double track tramline built parallel to the northern coastline of Hong Kong Island from Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan, with a single clockwise-running track of about 3 km around the Happy Valley Racecourse.
There are 7 tram termini located along the tram line, namely, from west to east, Kennedy Town, Shek Tong Tsui (a.k.a. Whitty Street), Sheung Wan (Western Market), Happy Valley, Causeway Bay, North Point and Shau Kei Wan; some intermediate stops such as Sai Ying Pun, Admiralty MTR Station, Wan Chai, and Victoria Park are also equipped with crossovers so that they can be used as makeshift termini in emergency situations, such as en-route traffic accidents.
There are seven major overlapping routes:
Shau Kei Wan ↔ Western Market
Shau Kei Wan ↔ Happy Valley
Shau Kei Wan ↔ Kennedy Town
North Point ↔ Whitty Street
Happy Valley ↔ Kennedy Town
Causeway Bay ↔ Whitty Street
Western Market ↔ Kennedy Town
Total length – 13 km (with a total track length of 30 km)
Operating Hours – 5:30 am to 12:30 am
Fare – HKD 2.3
On average, the headway between each tram departure is approximately 1.5 minutes during peak hours. In the past, trams had a maximum speed of 40 km/h. However, since early 2008, the maximum speed of some trams was increased, with a maximum speed of 50 km/h currently enabled on most trams – a few of them even have a maximum speed of 60 km/h. The maximum capacity of each tramcar is 115 people.
The current fare is HK$2.30 for adults, HK$1.20 for children under 12, and HK$1.10 for senior citizens 65 and above. Unlike most other forms of public transport in Hong Kong, fare charged is uniform regardless of the distance travelled. Monthly tickets are also available at the cost of HK$200, sold at Shek Tong Tsui, Causeway Bay, and North Point Terminus at the end of each month.
Passengers pay upon alighting by either depositing the exact fare in coins into the farebox, or by tapping the Octopus card on the processor. The turnstile at the tram entrance and closed circuit television prevent fare evasion by passengers.
Ordinary and antique trams are available for private hire. The open-balcony antique trams are often used for parties and promotional events. Tourists can also travel on the open-top trams through tours organised by the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
Hong Kong Tramways currently owns 163 double axle double-decker trams, including two open-balcony dim-sum tourist trams (Vehicle numbers 28 and 128) for tourist trips and private hire. There are three maintenance-only trams (Vehicle numbers 200, 300 and 400) which operate after tram service has stopped.
The trams themselves are sometimes called the "Ding Ding" (Chinese: 叮叮) by Hong Kong people, being the onomatopoeia of the iconic double bell ring trams use to warn pedestrians of their approach. The term "ding ding" is currently often used to refer to the whole tram system, e.g. "travel by tram" (Chinese: 搭電車) as "take ding ding" (搭叮叮).
Hong Kong has the only fully double-decker tram fleet in the world. Most of the trams in operation were rebodied between 1987 to 1992. They are equipped with sliding windows. Since the early 2000s, these trams have been upgraded to provide better operating performance and safety. Almost all trams have full-body advertisements.
The tram fleet first consisted of 26 single-deck trams, with bodies 8.8 m long and 1.9 m wide, imported from England. However, they were quickly removed because of the rapid modernisation programmes. These tramcars were replaced by open-top double-deck tramcars from 1912 onwards. The introduction of permanent roofs for trams in 1923 was a big improvement to the system. In 1960s, adding trailers was proposed due to the increasing population and demands. In 1964, after testing a prototype built by Taikoo Dockyard in Hong Kong, 10 trailers were ordered from the UK and were added to the trams in Hong Kong in early 1965. Ten additional trailers were ordered from England in 1967, bringing the total number of trailers to 22. They were all withdrawn and scrapped by the end of 1982, since they used to derail frequently and were not economical to run – requiring a separate conductor for only 36 extra passengers.
Trams 12 and 50 are the only two trams still maintaining the original 1950s design, being restored at a railway museum in the United States and at a museum in Hong Kong, respectively. The cabins are varnished with their original light-green colour with teak-lined windows and rattan seats.
In 2000, three brand new aluminium alloy metal-bodied trams (officially called "Millennium trams"), #168 – 170, started operation. These trams have proven quite unpopular due to the poor ventilation in the summer – unlike on previous models, the front screen window cannot be opened to improve air-flow to passengers. A prototype air-conditioned tram, number 171, is under testing.
In 2007, a brand new maintenance tram was constructed, number 300, which is used to move trams in the depot. Besides electric power, it also uses a diesel motor.
Starting 7 November, brand new driving panels has been installed on trams after refurbishment. The first tram on the program was number 38.
In 2008, an air-conditioner was installed on the ‘antique’ tram #128.
Tram RefurbishmentIn October 2010, Veolia Transport showcased a prototype for the brand new style of trams. It plans to renovate the whole fleet at a cost of HKD 75 Million. The trams would keep their original exterior design, but the outer structure would be aluminium rather than teak as it is more durable. The benches on the lower deck would be replaced with single seats as well as a more modern look. Digital broadcasts would be placed inside trams to inform passengers of the next station, and LED lighting will be installed. AC motors and a brand new eddy current emergency braking system would be installed.
ALIGNMENT AND INTERCHANGES
In many places, trams shares route along with other vehicles.
Most of the tram stop locations have remained unchanged since their establishment. However, some have had their names changed, e.g. "Shu Shun Kwun" (Chinese 書信館), referring to the then General Post Office building in the 1940s, is currently called "Pedder Street" – the GPO building was demolished in the 1970s, and World-Wide House currently stands on its site. In 1934, Hong Kong Tramways introduced loading islands (waiting areas) at some busy tram stops to ensure the safety of passengers. Today, there are 123 tram stops in total, most of them are sheltered refuge islands.
Just like buses, trams in Hong Kong can be very crowded. During the busier periods of the day, trams often line up since there are many tramcars running at the same time. In 2002, the trams recorded an average of 240,000 passenger trips daily.
Tram stops are densely located in an average interval of 250 metres. Most of them are located in the middle of the road, connected by pedestrian crossings or footbridges. Major stops include Yee Wo Street stop at Causeway Bay, Pacific Place stop at Admiralty, and Prince’s Building / The Landmark stop at Central.
Many termini of the Hong Kong Tramways are in the form of balloon loops, enabling the trams to reverse its travel direction efficiently.
The Island Line of the MTR is roughly parallel to the tramway line between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan stations. Some sections of MTR tunnels are built directly under roads with tram tracks.
PUBLIC RECEPTION AND CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE
The trams have not only been a form of transportation for over a century, but also a major tourist attraction. The well-preserved tram lines still serve as a crucial means of transport in Hong Kong. Travelling in the lower deck of the tram allows travellers to have a close up view of the local street life, while occupying the front seats of the upper deck gives not bad views of the town as the tram rattles by.
Hong Kong’s tram system is an icon of the city, like other Asian trams in Kolkata, Dalian and Sapporo.
As they run through the urban area of Hong Kong Island, the tram tracks have become an important icon of urban Hong Kong. Since the tracks were originally built along the waterfront before further land reclamation pushed the coastline northwards, the tracks can be used to identify directions and locations throughout urban Hong Kong Island.
RED LIGHT MEALS
In the old days, the duration of meal breaks allocated to tram drivers were far from adequate. Most drivers would therefore take advantage of the time their trams are waiting at a red light to gulp down a portion of their meal before the signal turns to green, continuing this practice whenever the tram comes to a red light until the meal is finished. This kind of hurried, impromptu meal is commonly referred as "red light meals" (Chinese: 紅燈飯).
MODERN TRAMWAY AT KAI TAK DEVELOPMENT
Hong Kong Tramways Limited announced its interest in constructing a 12-km modern tramway system in the Kai Tak Development, built on the vacated site of the former Kai Tak Airport, in place of the "Environmentally Friendly Linkage System" (monorail system) proposed by the Hong Kong Government. Possible extensions to neighbouring places such as To Kwa Wan, Kowloon City and Kwun Tong were suggested. The company appointed a consultancy firm to investigate on the feasibility of building such a modern tram system in 2010, and submitted a proposal to the Development Bureau on April 29, 2013.
The company pointed out that the cost of constructing the proposed tram system is HK$2.8 billion. which is comparatively low as compared to the cost of $12 billion needed for a monorail system. Bruno Charrade, Managing Director of HKT, said the design of tramcars can be in connection with their Hong Kong Island counterparts or in a totally brand new shape, depending on the Government’s discretion.
There have previously been two separate extensions planned that were subsequently modified to be developed as light rail and metro systems.
brand new TERRITORIES REAM SYSTEM
During the development of Tuen Mun brand new Town in the 1970s, the Government had reserved space for the construction of a rail transportation system to serve the area. In 1982, the Government invited the Hong Kong Tramways to construct and operate a tram system in the area. The company initially expressed interest in the construction of the railway and intended to operate with double-decker trams, but later withdrew. The government then invited KCRC to construct and operate a light rail way. The system opened to the public on 18 September 1988. Since 2007, it is currently known as the Light Rail.
CHAI WAN LINE
In 1970, Chai Wan on eastern Hong Kong Island was developed into a residential and industrial area, which greatly increased the traffic demand to Central. Extending the tram line from Shau Kei Wan to Chai Wan was considered, but was ultimately rejected due to low cost-effectiveness, as hills exist between Chai Wan and Shau Kei Wan, and difficulties arise from tunneling through the hills to make level track. It was replaced by the Island Line service – linking Chai Wan and Admiralty – which was opened to the public on 31 May 1985.