Due to continuous growth in population and economy in Hong Kong, demand for a comprehensive transport system began in 1881. England sanctioned the building of a tramway system on Hong Kong Island on 29 August 1901.
The Hongkong Tramway Electric Company Limited was established in England, responsible for building and operating the tramway system for Hong Kong.
At the end of the same year, the Electric Traction Company of Hongkong Limited was founded and took control of the Hongkong Tramway Electric Company Limited. In 1910, the name of the Electric Traction Company was changed to Hong Kong Tramways Company Limited.
The construction of a single-track system began and it ran from Kennedy Town to Causeway Bay. The route was later extended to Shau Kei Wan.
Bodies of the first fleet of 26 tramcars were built in the United Kingdom. They were then shipped in pieces to and assembled in Hong Kong. The first-generation tramcars were all single-deck, of which 10 tramcars were designed for first class passengers and the others were for third class passengers. The first class tramcar was enclosed in the center with two long benches...
Bodies of the first fleet of 26 tramcars were built in the United Kingdom. They were then shipped in pieces to and assembled in Hong Kong. The first-generation tramcars were all single-deck, of which 10 tramcars were designed for first class passengers and the others were for third class passengers. The first class tramcar was enclosed in the center with two long benches on both sides and both the front and the back ends were 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 the first and the third class were chosen for ease of operation.
On 2 July 1904, tramcar no. 16 left the depot for its first test run. Mr. Jones, the Director of Public Works, rode on and announced that the tram was fit for service after inspecting the system.
At 10am on 30 July 1904, the first tramcar being driven by the wife of the Director of Public Works with her son on board ringing the bell continuously appeared on the streets. The tramcar was driven from the Tram Depot to Arsenal Street and returned with a party of dignitaries on board, after which normal service commenced.
Difficulty arose when some people could not get used to the idea of a fixed path vehicles in the beginning days of tram. Some of them were standing in the way of oncoming trams but did not realize to give way while some curious onlookers would board the tram whenever they wished without paying the fee.
Besides, some coolies discovered that it was much easier to haul their carts along the tram track than on the road and they tried to haul their carts on the track. This caused many delays and nuisances for the tram service. Offenders were deterred by a $20 fine or imprisonment for one month and a further legislation in 1911 was enacted to stop the illegal use of tram track.
Owing to strong passenger demand, the first double-deck tramcar was introduced. The tramcar was open-top with garden seats design. The first class occupied the upper deck and one-third of the main deck while the rest served third class passengers. This kind of tram was categorized as the second-generation tram and 10 tramcars were constructed.
The open-top upper deck was not popular during rainy weather. Light canvas roof covers were then added. This kind of tram was categorized as the third-generation tram.
Tram service was extended to the Race Course in Happy Valley.
Hong Kong Tramways ceased generating its own electricity and started purchasing power from the Hongkong Electric Company, Limited. Also, in the same year, tramcars were fitted with permanent wooden roofs and roll-down blinds.
Hong Kong Tramways began to build a double track between Causeway Bay and Shau Kei Wan.
Newly designed tramcars with fully enclosed upperdeck were in service. The new tramcars were improved further by giving more rooms for passengers and the upper deck carried first class passengers while the main deck carried the third class passengers. This kind of tram was categorized as the fourth-generation tram.
The new double track between Shau Kei Wan and Quarry Bay was in use with the completion of the new wide road.
Hong Kong Tramways was allowed to operate bus services plying between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon side.
Banner-like tram body advertisement made its first appearance.
Hong Kong Tramways lost the franchise to run the bus operation in Government's open tender and the buses were eventually sold to the China Motor Bus Company.
Air brake system was introduced to improve the tram's on-road performance, which was also used to operate the turnstile afterward.
Japanese Occupation took place and very limited tram service was provided. Only 12 tramcars were in operation from Causeway Bay to Western Market.
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 into service.
There were 63 tramcars in service by August 1946.
Single-track system was substituted by double track system in August 1949.
Hong Kong Tramways had undertaken extensive re-designing and started building its own trams. The appearance of the tram body was similar to the fourth-generation but streamlined and the tram no. 120 with 1950s’ design is still in service today. This kind of tram was categorized as the fifth-generation tram.
Hong Kong Tramways rebuilt the Russell Street Depot (renamed Sharp Street Depot) in Causeway Bay.
One more route was introduced - North Point to Whitty Street in order to ease the traffic congestion in Shau Kei Wan.
The number of tramcars increased to 146.
Due to increasing demand, single deck trailer 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.
As trailers were well accepted by passengers, 22 single deck trailers were deployed in the fleet. Although trailers played a significant role in the tramways, they were finally withdrawn from the service in 1982.
8 panels on each tram body were rented out for advertising purpose. Different advertisements could be found on a tram body.
Hong Kong Tramways began to employ female conductors and drivers.
Class distinction was abolished.
Hong Kong Tramways Limited was acquired by The Wharf (Holdings) Limited.
Drop-in coin boxes were installed on trams. A coin box was fitted near the driver at the front exit. Passengers were required to drop in the exact fare on leaving the tram. Rotating turnstiles were fitted at the entrance which was located at the rear of the tram. Conductors were no longer needed and most of them were trained to become drivers.
Trailers and the conductor system were abolished.
Tram cabin was re-designed with a new look and this kind of tram was categorized as the sixth-generation tram:
The antique tram no. 28 was built for tram tours, private parties and promotional purposes. The tram is an open-balcony design with sofas and equipped with light bulbs which make it glitter at night.
The antique tram no.128 was built.
Sharp Street Depot was re-developed into a modern office/ shopping complex - Times Square. Two new depots were built - Whitty Street Depot (West Depot) and Sai Wan Ho Depot (East Depot).
Fully painted ad could be found on tram bodies.
Two double-deck trams made by Hong Kong Tramways were exported to Birkenhead in the United Kingdom.
Point Automation System was deployed and Pointsman system for altering the direction of tram manually was abolished.
In 1990s, Hong Kong Tramways carried out various improvements on tram service including:
To improve tram facilities, the height of the upper deck on passenger trams was increased by 1.5 inches.
Hong Kong Tramways launched the “Millennium Tram” on 24 October 2000, which was designed and manufactured by its own engineering team. Aluminum alloy tram body provided both strength and durability in a more rigid structure.
Hong Kong Tramways celebrated 100 years in service.
Hong Kong Tramways launched the seventh-generation tram on 28 November 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.
Hong Kong Tramways’ real-time positioning system choosing RFID technology was launched, which is the first ground level real-time positioning system in Hong Kong. The system enables dispatch to increase tram efficiency and avoid bundling of trams.
To make capital out of the real-time positioning system, “Next Tram” function was introduced on mobile and desktop versions of Hong Kong Tramways’ website and QR codes were also installed at all tram stops. Passengers could know up to 3 approaching trams with destinations and countdown to arrival as well as special advices on real-time travel disruptions. “Next Tram” definitely facilitates passengers in easier journey planning.
Hong Kong Tramways celebrated its milestone: 110 years in service.
It was the first time Hong Kong Tramways was honoured to receive the “Certificate of Excellence 2014” awarded by TripAdvisor, a world-famous travel website. Awardees consistently achieve outstanding traveller reviews on TripAdvisor within the last 12 months and are recognized by travellers worldwide for providing quality service and enthralling travel experience.