Peak Tram back on track in tourist-devoid Hong Kong

The Peak Tram, Hong Kong's famed public transport and a popular tourist draw, reopened Saturday after a year-long $102 million facelift even as the city's coronavirus curbs continue to keep overseas visitors at bay.

The historic funicular, which dates back to 1888 and offers panoramic views of Hong Kong Island's famous skyline as it ascends to Victoria Peak, used to draw over six million visitors a year, according to its operator.

The latest makeover brought more spacious tramcars that accommodate 210 passengers, a full overhaul of its rail systems and a redesigned terminus at the heart of Hong Kong's central business district.

The Peak Tram closed for upgrades in June 2021, a period when the Chinese finance hub's strict border controls -- in line with Beijing's zero-Covid strategy -- all but wiped out its tourism industry.

The redevelopment went overbudget by around $15 million, which its operator attributed to supply chain difficulties during the pandemic, such as bringing the custom Switzerland-made tramcars to Hong Kong.

An adult return ticket now costs HK$88 ($11.20), a nearly 70 percent jump from before the makeover.

"I hope all visitors will feel it's worth the price," May Tsang, general manager of tram operator the Peak Complex, said on Wednesday.

"We have to consider the increase in our operating costs and the long-term sustainability of our business."

On Saturday morning, a woman surnamed Kwok and her young daughter were among a crowd of around a hundred waiting in line to try out the refurbished tram.

"It's been a long time since I was here and it'll be her first time," she said of her daughter.

Chau, who brought his two sons along for a family outing, said he was generally satisfied with the revamp.

"It's a bit pricey, but so is everything nowadays."

Tourists were mostly absent on Saturday as Hong Kong saw just a total of 134,000 visitors in the past four quarters -- a mere fraction of the 65 million that came to the city in 2018.

The new sixth generation tramcars are a far cry from the sedan chairs that carried visitors to Victoria Peak during the early days of British colonial rule.

But they are now painted in a deep green colour, a nod to previous generation tramcars in service from 1948 until 1989 -- when they were refurbished in a burgundy red.

At 396 metres (1,300 feet) above sea level, the Peak, once an exclusive enclave for Hong Kong's rich and powerful, remained off-limits to most of the local population until 1947.

It is now best known as an easy-to-access spot for residents and tourists to enjoy views of Hong Kong's sprawling cityscape, with Victoria Harbour in the distance.

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