Bangkok Tram First-Person Accounts

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Also see: Thai tram accounts from famous Thai writers - Cost of living in 1941-1942, cost of living in 1946, the Japanese arrive in Bangkok, Allied bombing of Bangkok & bombing of power plants, the Great Flood of 1942 (with car-boat collisions!), tram drivers' strike (with old-time strike busters!), the Thai people sue for libel, and Bangkok Triad War

October 1, 1968: eyewitness account of last day of the trams! - April 20, 2003
Paul Gawkowski writes about witnessing the last day of the Bangkok trams.

I was present on the last day of operation of the Bangkok trams on Sunday, October 1, 1968. At the time, I was stationed with the US Army in Korat. I had visited and photographed both remaining sections of the City Circle line shortly after my arrival in Thailand in July.

I was utterly captivated by the tiny yellow and red trams which I believe were pronounced Lhot Lhang or Rhot Rhang in Thai. The single track operation along the curbs of the street past some of Bangkok's major tourist attractions and the somewhat bemused friendliness of the two man crews were fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable. At the end of the line, while the motorman moved the trolley pole around the car, the conductor would move two long cushions form one end of the car to the other. The cushions, which were always moved to the front of the car, constituted first class. The fare was 50 stang (2.5 cents). The rear half of the little tram, with its now bare wooden longitudinal seats, was second class with a 25 stang (1.25 cents) fare.

When I learned to my dismay that the trams would be abandoned, I wrote letters to the Bangkok World and the Bangkok Post urging that the trams be retained as a tourist attraction, like the San Francisco cable cars. I also made plans to go to Bangkok on the last day of operation.

On that Sunday, the trams operated normally. The trams were crowded as they ran along the short private right of way near the Sunday Market (Sanam Luang I think), adjacent to the Royal Palace grounds if I remember correctly. Passengers with bundles and baskets from the market packed the open platforms of the little trams. I rode the trams and took more slides and photographs. In the late afternoon, I rode one of the trams back to the car house where the crews, who seemed elderly to a 24 year old army lieutenant, were having a farewell party. There was Thai food, Singha Beer and Mekong Whiskey. In spite of the language barrier, the ever hospitable Thai motormen, conductors and other MEA employees invited me to join them. It was a memorable though bittersweet occasion. Aside from the farewell party at the car house, there seemed to be no ceremony to mark the closure of the trams. And, as far as I know, I was the only farang to witness their final passage into history.

The following January, I was transferred to Bangkok where I lived for 18 months. In one of the world's most beautiful and exciting cities, I had a wonderful time. But Bangkok was never quite the same after the elimination of the trams.

I still have the slides and pictures I took in Bangkok and on my travels around Thailand by motorcycle, bus and train. I've shown the slides at railroad club meetings in the New York area. The slides of the trams and Royal State Railway steam locomotives operating in Korat, Chiang Mai, Had Yai, Nam Tok and other areas always get a great reaction, especially the American built MacArthurs.

I currently work for the New York City Transit Authority. In August 2001, I surprised a delegation of visiting transit executives from Bangkok by showing them my Bangkok tramway slides.

In closing, I was delighted to find your website. It brought back great memories. I was also delighted to finally see a picture of the Paknam Railway. One of the building that I worked in Bangkok was located on a dirt road that I was told was the former right of way of the Paknam Railway. The Thais that I worked with called it the Rhot Fie Fie which I think roughly translates to the electric railway.

And I never knew that the Meklong Railway had been electrified. I rode both sections in 1969...

A tramway reminiscence from Robert P. Sechler
January 2001
I visited Bangkok at the age of 15 in April 1959, and lived there during June and July of 1962. My parents were in the United States Information Service. During my first visit just about all of the city trams were operating; also running was the Paknam Electric Railway, which my father and I rode. The latter had been closed by 1962, and the tramways were in the process of being closed. I lived on Thanom Chao Pha, and one of the tram lines, which I used quite often, passed very close to our house. My research into the tramway system led me to the Metropolitan Electricity Authority headquarters, and to an acquaintanceship with the general manager of the tramways, Mr. Sangna Chandaragga, who was most gracious and generous in providing me with information, and two maps. Among the interesting facts I learned were plans (1) to double track the system (in the 1920's); (2) to introduce bogie cars; and (3) to start a trolleybus system across the river in Lopburi (around 1959).

Do you remember the Bangkok electric trams?
If you have any reminiscences please let us know.

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