Railways & Ropeways | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

Railways & Ropeways

A question for you - how many railways and ropeways have there been in Hong Kong?

For 'railway' I'll include any place where there were wheeled vehicles running on metal tracks. A 'ropeway' is what we call a cable-car today. And let's say they had to have been built before 1950, to exclude more recent constructions like the MTR, or the Tung Chung cable car.

How many did you count?

I came up with eight railways, and three ropeways. Railways first:

  • The Peak Tram. An obvious first choice, with public service starting on 30 May 1888. More...
  • Hong Kong Tramways. The trams along the north shore of Hong Kong island started public service in 1904. More...
  • The Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR). This opened a few years later, in 1910, though services to Canton didn't begin until the following year. More...
  • The Fan Ling-Sha Tau Kok Railway. You might say this was just part of the KCR, but since it used a different width of railway tracks (it was a narrow-gauge railway), I'll count it separately. It was relatively short-lived, only running from 1912 until 1928. More...
  • Kowloon Wharves. These tracks were laid along the wharves, and used by the labourers to move goods around on small wagons.
    1900s Kowloon Wharves

    1930s Kowloon Wharves (looking east)
    1920s Wheeled Wagon and Dockyard Worker

    Moddsey notes there was also permission granted for lines to extend onto nearby roads, but so far we haven't seen any photographic evidence of them.
  • Hong Kong and Whampoa Docks, and
  • Dockyards at HMS Tamar. Maps from the 1940s show tracks running through both sites. I imagine there would be shunting engines to move heavy items around, but I haven't seen any photos as proof.
  • Victoria Barracks. The book, " VICTORIA BARRACKS 1842 - 1979" published by: Headquarters British Forces, Hong Kong describes a railway used to move material between the magazine up near Kennedy Road, and the Wellington Barracks (though as we'll see later, its destination may have been the Navy's land, rather than the army barracks.)
    The first mention is on pg 56: [...], the steep lane by the side of the 'A' Block, known as "Six and Sevenpenny Hill", down which ran the railway from the arsenal at the top of the Barracks, [...]. Then on pg 102 is a caption to a photograph: Inside the old magazine yard. The trucks were pulled by a winding engine on lines which ran down through Victoria Barracks across Queen's Road into Wellington Barracks.
    You can see there were still some tracks remaining in the magazine yard in 1977 - scroll down to the black & white photos in the 'Magazine' section of this article.

Now on to the ropeways:

  • Victoria Barracks. The full quote from pg 102 of the Victoria Barracks is: Inside the old magazine yard. The trucks were pulled by a winding engine on lines which ran down through Victoria Barracks across Queen's Road into Wellington Barracks. When traffic increased, an aerial ropeway was used instead to connect with Wellington Barracks.
    There's also a map of the Victoria Cantonment dated 'c.1924', which shows the aerial ropeway extending from the shoreline, through the Arsenal yard (ie not through Wellington Barracks), across Queen's Road, then up the hill to the magazine. The path of the ropeway forks at one point, with a second branch leading up to a building marked 'Laboratory', roughly where 'Regent on the Park' stands today.
    The map shows both of these southern areas to be Naval lots. It makes me wonder whether one reason for the aerial ropeway was to allow materials to pass between these naval lots and the Arsenal Yard (another naval lot), without touching the army's land that divided them.
  • Taikoo Sanitarium. Maps from the 1930s and 40s show an aerial ropeway connecting the TaiKoo factory area near the sea with the TaiKoo Sanitarium up on the hill. Geoff also found this photo of the Taikoo ropeway, so at last we can get an idea what to be looking for.
  • Dairy Farm. A 1957 map shows an Aerial Ropeway running from the Dairy Farm buildings near Pok Fu Lam Road, down the hillside and ending near a pier on the seafront, roughly where Bel-Air in Cyberport is today.

As you can see, I haven't got much background information on several of these. If you know any more about them, and especially if you find any photographs that show them, please leave a comment below.

And if I've missed any, let me know!

Regards, David

Comments

Hi there,

I have a faint recollection of such a system in Silvermine Bay when the mine was still active long time ago.  However the didn't seem to be anything left, not even the pilars.  I'll try to look up documentations for this.

Best Regards,

T

ps   Did you mean the former HK & W dockyard in Hunghum only?  I remember there are tracks in the Taikoo dockyard back then, before the two dockyards merged to become HK United dockyards.

Hi T,

Was the Silvermine Bay system using rail or a ropeway? That's one I hadn't heard of.

It's common for mines to use trucks on rails, and there were several mines around Hong Kong. Maybe some of them should be included too?

And for the docks, yes I was only counting the docks at Hung Hom. If there were rails at the Taikoo dockyard too, that's an extra one to add to the list.

Regards, David

Hi there,

My impression was that, there was a ropeway/cable system going from the mine down to the village.  Not a trace of it could be seen now, I'm afraid.

I Googled for a while and found a Chinese link to RTHK for a previous show.  There are some clips there too.  It mentioned there had been some common tracks inside the mines.  It also mentioned the mine had had four entrances.  Two lower entrances had already been blocked by the Government and the other two had been buried by previous landslides.

Best Regards,

Thomas

Reader IDJ has sent in a very interesting collection of photos and notes related to the 'Railways & Ropeways' topic. Here's the first, showing a temporary railway laid along the western side of Bowrington Canal. IDJ points out that these temporary railways were quite commonly seen at large construction sites.

1920s Bowrington Canal

The reason for the rails is given in the 'City of Victoria' book, which says they 'were laid to transport sand and soil removed from Morrison Hill to the waterfront for land reclamation furing the Pray East Reclamation project.'

May 30, 1988? Just wanted to point out the 100 year typo lol ;) Great article :)

Thanks for catching that - corrected now.

Here's another photo from IDJ, dated to the 1900s, but location unknown:

Aerial ropeway - location in HK unknown

Does anyone recognise the location?

I've found a mention of another ropeway in C. Michael Guildford's 'A LOOK BACK : CIVIL ENGINEERING IN HONG KONG 1841-1941':

A further 850m-long cableway was also built about 1907 to transport foremen and miners, at that time constructing the Kowloon-Canton Railway Beacon Hill tunnel, to bungalows on a hill the other side of the valley from the north portal (most probably at Sha Tin Heights).

Could that be the subject of the photo?

Hi there,

I think the paragraph had been the description of the photo.  BTW, the URL to the book didn't work.

Best Regards,

T

Thanks T,  the link is fixed now.

I don't really know the Sha Tin Heights area. Do you recognise the view in the photo?

Regards, David

Hi there,

I did not recognize anything in the photo, but the descriptions laid out by the paragraph seemed to fit the photo alright.  I could not make up the orientation of the photo either.  I don't know which direction the photographer was facing.  However if the knoll was Shatin Heights the tunnel was behind the photographer.

You should be able to locate Shatin Heights using a most recent street map of the Shatin/Tai Wai area, including the electronic version around.  It is slightly north of Beacon Hill and not far from the Northern portal of the then KCRC tunnel.  The old tunnel was only single track  I believe the old tunnel is still there, serving other purposes today.

Pity, the photo was too small an the landmark in it is most likely destroyed over the years.

Best Regards,

T

Thanks T. The Chinese building in the foreground looks large and well-established - hopefully someone else will recognise it.

Regards, David

IDJ found this photo (click the thumbnail for larger view), which confirms there was at least one steam engine in use at the dockyard.

It's possible the engine in the above photo later moved to Brunei:

[...] British Borneo Timber Company (BBTC) brought in the American built Shay locomotive to their Bettotan Camp in 1920. It is also believed that BBTC later added a second steam locomotive of unidentified manufacture Taikoo No 1, purchased second hand from Hong Kong, presumably from the Whampoa-Taikoo Dockyard, to this operation. This was an 0-4-2 side tank with outside motion and Salter valves.

(IDJ, thank you for all the photos and information you've sent. Currently my emails to you are all bouncing back.)

IDJ again:

Now seeing the locomotive picture in the Taikoo dockyards I have further concerns. The track gauge in the dockyard definitely appears to be standard gauge as used on the KCR and the like, whereas the article talks about 2 and 3 foot narrow gauge in the timber concessions. Plus the locomotive is described as having side tanks, while that in the Taikoo image is definitely a saddle tank loco. The saddle water tank straddling over the top the boiler.

There is another mention of a possible Hong Kong - Brunei link here, but as you can see it is just a suggestion:

Bettotan River Camp, the largest one managed by the Company (BRITISH BORNEO TIMBER COMPANY LIMITED), had two locomotives, TAIKOO, an old 0−4−2 side tank with outside motion and Salter safety valves (from its name, possibly from Hong Kong), and No.1. a Shay geared locomotive (0−6−0 + 0−4−0) built by the Lima Locomotive Company, which seemed to do all the work.

IDJ also introduces yet another railway that used to exist in Hong Kong - a miniature railway for model steam engine enthusiasts:

The Hong Kong Society of Model & Experimental Engineers had between them about five completed steam locomotives, some built in home workshops in HK, and a portable track built and donated by the KCR. This society was wound up in late 1996 when so many members had left or were leaving on retirement, contract's ending or just generally just moving on. I am not aware of any attempts to resurrect a similar society.

Hi there,

I remember the Kai Tak Amusement Park had had a small monorail system running around the mound.  It folded in the late 1970's or the early 1980's, but the mound still exist today.

In this respect...... I have never been to the local Disneyland.  From Google Earth I zoomed in and it appeared to have a small rail system surroounding.  Could somebody confirm?  Should this one be counted as well?

Best Regards,

T

There was a later monorail circulating around the Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park adjacent to the Mei Foo estates that lasted until at least 1990. It was on opposite side of the road to the Lai Chi Kok Park swimming pools. The amusement park area has now been redeveloped as apartment blocks.

IDJ

 

The dockyard had tracks laid out for a rail system as well as the wider tracks for the cranes to run on.  These rail track sometime interected each other and where an interesting feature to follow round the dock when I was a kid. The picture added by IDJ shows the tracks running around the outside of the dry dock.  There may also have been rails laid out for the trams as I believe that they used to be made at the dockyard (Hence the name Taikoo Dockyard and Engineering Company Ltd.  The also helped to build the two big satellite dishes at Stanley but that's another subject). 

T, yes there is a small rail system at Disneyland that circumnavigates the park. Only worth going on if you have kids though.

Also, another one that I am not sure if it counts or not is the lift at Po Fook Shan columbarium behind Shatin East Rail station (just below 10000 Buddha Monastery). It's basically an old, single lift system that travels up and down the hillside on a track. The track angle is quite close to 45°. I'll try and hunt down a photo.

Cheers

Phil

 

Wow, the list keeps growing!

T, I'd heard of the Lai Chi Kok park before, but didn't know there was one at Kai Tak too - thanks for that.

Anon, I haven't noticed tracks connecting the tramlines to the dockyard, but will keep an eye out for them in future.

Phil, yes we'll include that - the more the merrier!

And thanks to IDJ for sending in more photos:

First, a view of the small funicular that Phil mentioned

Mini funicular railway at Shatin

And second a photo of the Lai Chi Kok monorail: "Not a very good image but it does show the monorail's proximity to Mei Foo in the background". You can see one of Mei Foo towers in the lower right corner of the photo.

Lai Chi Kok amusement park monorail

1950s Tai Koo Docks

Taikoo Dockyard & Engineering Company of Hong Kong Ltd to give its full title did indeed build Tramcars for the tramway company and just about anything else.

A book titled Fifty Years of Shipbuilding and Repairing in the Far East published by the company shows household furniture, marine and land boilers, steam and diesel engines, sugar refining machinery, tall wireless masts and aircraft hangers at Kai Tak are just few items illustrated in the general engineering section. In the 1950s, 4500 people were employed at Quarry Bay.The company also operated a large steam powered salvage tug named the Tai Koo which was a familiar sight around the harbour. When it was scrapped one of its triple expansion engines was donated to I think the Hong Kong Polytechnic Engineering Dept.

The exploits of this tug and its crew are told in a book titled “No Cure No Pay-memoirs of a China Sea salvage captain” by Captain William Worrall published by the SCMP in 1981.

 

IDJ

 

1940s Tai Koo Tug Boat

I was trawling through GoogleEarth the other day and found some photos relating to an old ore mine in Ma On Shan. Seems there was a railway there for transporting the ore back down the hill and judging from this picture

http://www.panoramio.com/photo/9369635

remnants are still in situ.

We were down by the sea at Tai tam on Saturday, where I noticed these tracks:

Rails at Tai Tam

We're looking towards the Tai Tam Tuk Raw Water Pumping Station. The rails are clearest in the concrete, but you can see they lead back under the asphalt too. They head along the road, with breaks in places, and then turn to the left as though they were going around the side of the building:

Rails at Tai Tam

Then they just stop.

The tracks are about 2-feet / 60cm wide, so I guess they were for push carts, similar to the ones shown on the Kowloon Wharves in the article above.

Does anyone know any more about what they were used for?

Regards, David

As seen at HK Museum of Coastal Defense. Remnant of narrow gauge rail tracks used for transporting Brennan torpedo to and from the torpedo testing station.

I noticed these tracks about 15 years ago when preparing an item on the area  for Fragrant Harbour Magazine. There was also a large davit, apparently for lifting stores from ship to shore. I think it likely that the reservoir site was supplied, at least in part, by sea, in its early days. Also, Tai Tam was a busy fishing port up until the 1950s, and was for long used by the RN as well, in order to transfer stores and personnel  to and from patrolling warships.

best regards

Ho Lim-peng 

Thanks for the extra info. I've seen a photo of those tracks at the Museum of Coastal Defence, but can't find it now. From memory there was only a short section remaining?

The Tai Tam pumping station used coal to power its boilers, so that would have arrived by sea. I don't know if there was any connection between the coal and the rails though. Interesting to read about the area's use by fishermen and the RN - it's not a part of Hong Kong I know much about.

Regards, David

Hedda Morrison's beautiful collection of 1945-46 B&W photos of HK includes a shot of Tai Tam Harbour busy with fishing boats.

regards

Ho Lim-peng

The following is a list I compiled three years ago for a website that I never had time to construct. I was at the time visiting the Kwun Tong Public Archives every two weeks - the maps and files are still on my shelf but I've never had the time to write anything more than the three articles which I eventually did, one on the Wo Hop Shek railway, the other two on the Taikoo and Dairy Farm ropeway systems.

Structure of the website

“A Study of Lost Railways & Guided Transport in Hong Kong”

Figures:
A total of 37 railways and stations were built and abandoned.

46 abandoned proposals

A total of 83 railway schemes, built, or only proposed, will be featured on the site

A minimum of 92 pages will be included in the website.

Kowloon Canton Railway

  • Sha Tau Kok Branch & stations
  • Wo Hop Shek Branch and Hung Hom Parlours
  • Tai Po Market Station
  • Tai Po Kau Station
  • former route north of Ma Liu Shui
  • Tai Wan Temporary Station
  • Beacon Hill Tunnel
  • Kowloon Area
    - Ho Man Tin depot
    - Whampoa link
    - Hung Hom station
    - Chatham Road yards
    - Sidings for reclamation projects c. 1964 in Hung Hom Bay
    - Holts Wharf sidings
    - Tsim Sha Tsui terminus
    - Kowloon Wharf Siding
  • Lost architecture and names
  • Proposals
    - 1906 alternative route via Castle Peak
    - 1912 proposals for Fanling - Castle Peak light railway
    - 1914 plan to connect Ma Tau Wai cement works
    - 22/41 city planning proposals for - Yau Ma Tei Yard on site of typhoon shelter
    -Kwun Tong Branch
    - Victoria Harbour Bridge (rlys involved?)
    - 1948 proposals by Abercrombie
    - 1949 Deep Bay Airport railway link
    - 1970s – Yuen Long electric line
    - Tai Po Industrial Estate branch line
    - 1980s Sha Tin – Kwai Chung Container Port
    - Hong Lok Yuen station
    - 1990s city planning proposals

Mass Transit Railway

  • North Point yard
  • Mei Foo yard
  • Proposals
    - Kowloon Tong KCR – Shek Kip Mei link curve
    - Cheung Kwan O loop
    - Sha Tin Line
    - East Kowloon Line (2 proposals 1) via TST 2) via Jordan Road)
    - Tsuen Wan West / Lap Sap Wan & other proposed stations
    - Kwai Chung Depot
    - West Island section
  • Lost names

Tramways

  • Electric Road (pre-1937, replaced by King's Road)
  • North Point Depot
  • Sharp Street Depot & approaches
  • Arsenal Street bend
  • Proposals
    – 1904 Kowloon Tramway to Shum Chun, by Alfred Dickenson & Co.
    - 1881 / 1893 proposals for north shore tramway systems: cable haulage, evolving eventually into the Peak Tram.
    - 1910 Central - Aberdeen Electric Rly
    - Apr 1912 proposals for Wong Nei Chong gap tramway extension
    - 1913/4/6/8 Kowloon Tramway proposals
    - 1980s/ 90s extension proposals
    - reverse loop plans, Wanchai and Central, 1950-70s
    - Light Rail : Tuen Mun – Tsuen Wan line

Funiculars

  • Magazine Gap Road station
  • Proposals
    - 1903 / 08 Peak tramway proposals
    - 1912 Wong Nei Chung – Cidade Camoes proposal

Aerial Ropeways

  • Douglas Castle system
  • Pokfulam Dairy Farm system (2 proposals??)
  • Mount Parker – Taikoo Dockyards
  • Proposals – 1970s
    1) Lion Rock – Sha Tin Pass Road
    2) Shek Pik – Ngong Ping
    3) Sai Kung

Dockyards

  • Taikoo
  • Whampoa
  • Navy (Tamar)
  • Aberdeen

Wharfs

  • Holts Wharf (internal 2ft gauge railway)
  • Kowloon Wharf

Industrial

  • To Kwa Wan cement works
  • Ma On Shan Mines
  • Shing Mun Mines
  • Davis Street Rope Factory to Praya, 1897
  • Whitfield Station to Blue Buildings, Wanchai, 1887

Temporary systems for construction works

  • 1920s Kai Tak reclamation
  • 1929 Johnston Road reclamation / removal of Lee Gardens Hill using light rly track laid on Bowrington Canal

Military

  • Torpedo Depot, Yau Ma Tei
  • Whitfield Barracks
  • Justice Road magazine
  • Torpedo Depot, Lyemun Battery
  • Internal system between north and south Stonecutters island, proven by a 1937 map.

Monorails

  • Kai Tak Amusement Park system
  • Lai Yuen Amusement Park system
  • Proposals: 1975
    – Monorail from Tsim Sha Tsui to Kwun Tong

Articles on local history

- A history of Kowloon Tong & Kowloon City, from 1895 to the present.

- Victoria and Murray Barracks, a history

David,

Please check your e-mail for the article on the Wo Hop Shek Railway. The file is in docx format. Tell me if you can't open it and I will have it converted back into doc.

Cheers

Thanks Ernest, I can open the document ok. I'll be in touch by email.

regards, David

I've received this email from Joseph Tse, introducing his blog with lots of interesting historical facts and photos about Hong Kong's trams:

Dear David,

I am Hong Kong tram enthusiast. It's very nice on your sharing of the past tram photos on your website.

I have been recording on trams especially those with old style which has gone in/abt 1991.

Even though I am not a professional photographer, I am glad to see a new era on the tramways by the new firm Veolia. Under the fever of heritage preservation, the combination of new and old trams together with a musuem would definitely be a great picture.

This is my blog with photos and some database record on trams. Please have a look.

http://hkgtrams.wordpress.com/

I am very much looking forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards,

Joseph from Hong Kong

Joseph points to this page on his website, which lists when each tram was built. Since tram numbers are usually clear to see, this could be a useful tool to help narrow down the date of old photos that show trams.

Reviewing my film grabs (as I am doing at the moment), I noticed that there looks to be a ropeway string between the Ap Lei Chau power station and somewhere on the opposite side of the harbour. You have to look closely though - I wonder if it was a system for transporting coal across to the power station?

Aberdeen Harbour - Enter The Dragon

Hi Phil,

That was not ropeways of any kind at all.  That's the high voltage power lines linking up the power plant and the towers on Hong Kong Island.  That was before HKE constructed the tunnels for power transmission.

Best Regards,

T

oh I see. Thanks for pointing that out T. Did those lines ever come down during storms?

Hi Phil,

I have not heard of any High Voltage Power Cables being damaged and dropped into the Aberdeen Channel so far.  Since they have moved to Lamma Island slightly more than two decades ago part of the Power Cables became submerged.  I am not aware of where they land on HK Island now.  But I guess HEC's website might have something about the tunnels as well as their power grid.

As for the towers and Power Lines you could still see them starting from the water front in Aberdeen right on top of the ice house and storage, then fanning out along the slopes eastward.  Street view should be able to give you some idea.  I believe you should also be able to trace the power lines by Google Earth.

Best Regards,

T

According to the London And China Telegraph, Tuesday, May 22, 1888, the wire rope way was 3,000-foot long. It went from the mine to the smelting works on the seashore.

 

David,

Your post of 2010-11-22 above mentioned the railway leading from the Tai Tam Tuk Pumping Station. Pages 51 & 52 of the 1927 Report of the Director of Public Works mention its construction within that year and describe it as follows;

"A light railway from Tai Tam Tuk Pumping Station to the Ash Dump to reduce cost of transportation."

The Pumping Station pumps were steam powered (Director of PWD's Report, 1917) so the ash to be transported on the railway was probably the residue from burning the fuel used to power the pumps. I don't know where the "Ash Dump" was located.    

That's a good find, thanks. I wonder if the ash dump could form some of the flat land north from this building and in front of the dam wall, that looks to have been reclaimed from the sea?

Regards, David

Hi David,

Your post above asks if the Ash Dump could have formed some of the flat land near the dam at the head of Tai Tam Bay.

I have a copy of a map entitled "Tytam Tuk Scheme Second Section. Plan of Reservoir Site". It's undated, but I guess it was drawn in about 1908 to 1912 as the Tai Tam Intermediate Reservoir (finished in 1908) is shown as already completed, but the soon to be submerged Tai Tam Tuk Valley is still land. Just on the sea side of the dam wall are three areas of land, each labelled "Spoil Site", extending out from the original coastline. Two are the areas occupied today by the village houses, bbq sites and water sports operators that the road from the Pumping Station passes on the way to the dam wall. The third is on the opposite side of the Bay near its head.

The 1913 Report of the Director of PWD mentions that excavations for the foundations of the Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir dam wall were started on 7th Dec.1912. The 1914 & 1917 editions of the same Report explain that a trench, 380 feet long and up to 30 feet deep was dug down to the bed-rock. A tongue was then cut into the bed-rock and the dam wall built in and ontop of it. A total of 62,980 cubic yards of "soft excavations" and 23,838 cubic yards of "rock excavations" were produced.

I think the areas marked "Spoil Site" on the old map were originally the dumping grounds for the waste from the dam excavation and formed the low, flat, reclaimed areas still there today. That doesn't rule out the possibility of the reclamation being used later for the Ash Dump. 

 

Thanks again. The spoil from the dam site certainly sounds more likely than ash as material to reclaim land.

Regards, David