More information on railway preservation in Israel is available in a series
Many thanks to Chen Melling for his kind assistance and taking the time to
act as guide around Haifa’s rail sites.
The history of the 1050 mm gauge extension of the Hedjaz Railway (HR) into Palestine and later Israel is presented in detail at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jezreel_Valley_railway. The line, opened in 1904/05, connected Haifa with Dera’a (160 km) in present-day Syria, on the Hedjaz Railway’s main North-South line from Damascus to Medina. Opened during Ottoman rule as an alternative access to the sea to the French-owned Beirut-Damascus railway, after WWI the section in British-mandated Palestine was taken over by the Palestine Railways (PR) in 1920, whilst the sections in French-mandated Syria came under the management of Chemins de Fer du Hedjaz (CFH). Through running took place until June 1946, when the 2nd Yarmouk bridge between Samakh (Tzemach) and al-Hamma (Hamat Gader) was blown up by members of the Jewish Haganah militia. Then, on the eve of Israeli independence (May 14, 1948), what was left of the railway was rendered inoperable when Jewish forces destroyed the bridge over the Jordan River at Gesher to prevent the Arab Legion from crossing over (at this point the line run over a short section of now Jordanian territory).
After takeover by Israel Railways (IR) in 1948, some efforts were undertaken to reopen the 36 km section between Haifa and Afula, mainly on the insistence of the inhabitants of Afula, but once completed there was little traffic and it was used mainly for excursion trains until final closure in September 1951, after which with one exception all of the steam locomotives and most of the rolling stock were scrapped. Only two 1050mm gauge steam locomotives are known to have ever been used by IR after 1948 on the line to Afula, 2-8-0 No. 153 (SLM 2288/1912, original No. 100) and 2-8-2 No. 265 (Hartmann 4034/1918), the last steam loco to have been acquired by the Ottoman HR.
For a long time plans have existed to rebuild part of the line and construction of a now standard gauge line mainly alongside the old embankment started in 2012 to Beit She’an, serving four other stations in between. There have been talks with the Jordanian authorities to eventually extend this to Irbid to give Jordan a rail access to the Mediterranean Sea.
Haifa (km 0, alt. 1.5 meters above sea level)
The main building of the western terminus of the line was inaugurated in 1908, the monument to Sultan Abdul Hamid II next to it at the opening of the line in 1905. The station lost some of its importance after a new central station was built by the British closer to the city’s port (still in use by IR today), when it was renamed Haifa East. Today it is not served by passenger trains anymore and houses railway offices, while the yards are used to stable passenger stock and freight trains. Haifa’s large diesel depot is not far away.
The five-track HR loco shed across the tracks from the station building was built in c.1918 when it replaced the original HR loco shed and was later used by IR as a P.W.D. store. It has since been restored and now houses the Israel Railway Museum
and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Railway_Museum, open Sun-Thu except hol. eves and holidays 8am-4pm). On display inside are Israel’s only surviving HR steam locomotive and for a long time the only surviving steam locomotive in Israel, 0-6-0T No. 10 (Krauss 4723/1902, original No. 5, 1), together with covered bogie wagon BB 1006 (Haine-St-Pierre 1909). No. 10 had been preserved at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv in c.1956 and was later traded to the IR Museum for an Esslingen/LHB railcar driving trailer. In the museum yard is the body of 3rd class coach CH 437 (Baume-et-Marpent 1915), which was used as King Abdullah of Jordan’s
saloon car after WWI and then until quite recently as a synagogue at Qishon Works.
In 1913 the Ottomans built a 17.8 km extension from Balad al-Sheikh/Shumariyyah (Tel Hanan) at km 4.5 to the ancient port city of Acre (Akko). After WWI a third rail was added by the British and the line became dual gauge. In 1933 a large workshop for both gauges was built at Qishon, 6 km east of Haifa, by PR. This is still in use today by IR for major work on diesel locomotives and rolling stock. At the time of our visit some dual gauge track could still be found in the yard. A new passenger station, Hutsot HaMifrats, has been built close by to serve a large shopping mall, it is served by Haifa’s hourly suburban services.
Nesher Station (km 6.0):
After WWI, a number of new stations and halts were put in place to serve new communities along the line. The station at Nesher was opened in 1925, the same year as the company town for the Nesher Cement Co. cement factory. A third rail was added to the existing line to allow PR standard gauge trains to reach the plant without transshipment and remained in use long after the 1050mm gauge was closed, but was out of use by 2000. Today, a standard gauge covered wagon body is on display in front of the small station building.
Also opened in the 1920s, standard gauge four-wheel tool van No. 1116 and a semaphore signal are on display in front of the platelayer’s hut and quarters.
Shortly after this halt, the Qishon River was crossed on a six-arch masonry bridge which still has tracks on it today
Kiryat Elro’i Halt (part of Kiryat Tiv’on):
The small brick structure which replaced an earlier wooden structure was renovated by the residents and a small collection of mostly standard gauge rolling stock was put on display (see IR page) as the “Alroy Valley Train Station” under the responsibility of Mr Nahum Levi
(http://eng.shimur.org/El-Roi/). The only 1050mm gauge HR item is an open wagon minus its wheelsets.
Kiryat Haroshet Halt (part of Kiryat Tiv’on):
Ca. 2 km further, with most of the track still in place in between, the area around this small concrete halt built during British rule has been turned into the “Locomotive Park” and includes a mock-up standard gauge 4-4-0 steam loco which was once used in a TV commercial.
Tel ash-Shamam (km 21.7, alt. 39.0m) = Kfar Yehoshu’a:
The first major station out of Haifa, consisting of eight buildings including the station, goods shed, water tower, toilet block and various residential buildings was renovated since 2005 and turned into “The Valley Train Site”
(http://eng.shimur.org/kfaryehoshua/, open Sun-Thu 9am-3pm, Fri/Sat 9am-1pm). It is located south of town, but well signposted from all major roads. In the yard are two standard gauge four-wheel covered wagons, the body of an HR covered bogie wagon as well as the frame of another HR bogie wagon.
A simple halt built in 1926, nothing of it remains.
Afule (km 36.3, alt. 62.4m) = Afula: 3 pics
The station complex (station building, goods shed and water tower) is now part of HaBanim Garden (Zalman Shazar St. 2 in the
centre of town). The station building, which was partly destroyed by the Jewish Resistance Movement in 11/1945, is used as a library by the municipality. From here the line south to Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarm (now in the West Bank) once branched off.
Ein Harod (km 46.7):
The halt was opened in 1921, together with the nearby kibbutz, the first in the Jezreel Valley.
This halt was opened after 1927, after Kibbutz Ein Harod was relocated. Nothing of it remains today.
Shutta (km 51.0, alt. -78.2m) = Shata (Beit HaShita):
This station was the first from Haifa to be located below sea level. During the British Mandate period a fort was built encompassing the whole station area and this has since been turned into the Shata Prison by the Israel Prison Service. The station building was formerly used as the prison’s carpentry, but after renovation in 2003 it has been used as an office and storage building. It is located inside the prison and not accessible to visitors.
HaSade / Sde Nahum:
Only a stop with a sign, it was created in 1934 for the residents of Kibbutz HaSade (now Sde Nahum), who feared using Beisan station during the Arab revolt.
Beisan (km 59.0, alt. -121.7m) = Beit She’an:
The station was built far away from the town on the orders of the local sheikh. The remaining structures (including the original station building rebuilt by the British, the roofless goods shed and the water tower) are being restored as part of the construction of the terminus station of the new IR Valley Railway.
Built in 1937 for the residents of the nearby moshav, it was razed to the grounds after closure.
Jisr al Mejamie (km 76.3, alt. -246.5m) = Gesher:
Serving the residents of Gesher and Menahemiya, this was once the lowest railway station on the face of the Earth. Nothing of the station remains today.
Jisr al Mejamie Bridge (km 77.0, alt. -257.5m): 3 pics
At -257.7 meters below sea level, the HR’s only bridge across the Jordan River was also the lowest point reached by a public railway on Earth. It was destroyed on May 14, 1948 to prevent the Arabian Legion (under British command to cross the Jordan). Today, the bridge is located within the border area, fenced-off with barbed wire. However, since the peace agreement with Jordan it is possible for visitors to “Old Gesher”
(http://www.gesher.org.il/ , open Sun-Thu 10am-4pm, Fri holiday
eves 9am-2pm) to visit, as the gates are unlocked after agreement from the Israel Border Police. Four HR freight cars have been placed on the bridge (two covered, one open and one flat).
Between the Jordan River bridge and the First Yarmuk Bridge, the HR run for 2 km over territory which is today part of Jordan. This station was built for workers of the Naharayim Power Station (opened in 1930 by Pinhas Rutenberg). The station, which was built in the Bauhaus architectural style and might have been mistaken for a petrol station by many, still stands on Jordanian territory part of HaShalom (Peace) Island.
First Yarmuk Bridge (km 79.0, alt. -243.8m):
50m steel span bridge on masonry abutments, built close to the point where the Yarmuk River flows into the Jordan River. Part of the dam for the Naharayim Power Station was built next to the bridge. Today, the abutments are still in place, but the bridge has been removed. Two standard gauge IR ballast wagons have been brought here for preservation. The adjacent road bridge is the crossing to HaSalom (Peace) Island (closed at the time of our visit), which is part of Jordan but under Israeli control.
Al-Dalhamiyya = Ashdot Ya’akov:
Created to serve an Arab village, this halt made up of a trilingual sign also started serving the residents of Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’akov in 1935.
A tin shack to serve the residents of kibbutzim Masada and Sha’ar HaGolan, nothing remains of it today.
Jordan Valley Station:
Consisting only of a small sign, this halt was created in 1936 during the Arab Revolt to allow Jewish residents of the Jordan Valley to avoid using Samakh station. It was replaced by Arlosorow Halt one year later.
Samakh (km 86.9, alt. -189.9m) = Tzemah:
Located on the southern shore of the Sea of Gallilee, it was once the most important station of the line in what is now Israel. Here the railway connected with a steam service to Tiberias. There was an engine shed as well as a turntable, which was recently undug. After 1920, this was the station where PR Hedjaz Railway locos were exchanged for locos of the French Mandate Syrian ‘Chemin de Fer du Hedjaz’ (CFH) on the way to Dera’a. After the destruction of the Second Yarmuk Bridge in 06/1946 passengers from Haifa had to transferred by bus to El Hamme for their onwards journey to Dera’a. The station was damaged during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Since 2011 the remaining buildings (station, water tower) have been partly restored.
Second Yarmuk Bridge (km 92.0):
Three-span steel girder bridge with 50m central span and 30m side spans, plus four masonry arches. On the night of June 16/17, 1946 the bridge was blown up by Jewish saboteurs, thus disrupting all traffic between Palestine, Trans-Jordan and Syria and holding up the important pipe traffic in connection with the construction by the Iraq Petroleum Co. of the second oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Haifa. 1 pic
Third Yarmuk Bridge (km 93.0):
Three-span steel girder bridge with 50m central span and 30m side spans.
El Hamme/El Hamma (km 95.3, alt. -146.1m) = Hamat Gader: 1 pic
Built near Roman bath houses, the station area and its structures are now used as a fish farm.
Beyond El Hamme the line continues through the Yarmuk Valley into Syrian territory with the stations of Wadi Kilit/Wadi Chalid (107.4), Esh Shejara (119.5), Makaren/Mukarin (124.6), Zeizoun/Zeizun (135.7) and Tel esh-Shebab (145.0) as well as seven tunnels and 13 bridges, and onwards via Muzerib/Muzeirib (149.1) to Dera’a (160.9). The 10 km section (with three tunnels and three bridges) between Zeizoun and Tel esh-Shebab is well-known to railfans worldwide for the numerous steam photo charters which once used to operate here.
- R. Tourret, “Hedjaz Railway”, Tourret Publishing, Abingdon, U.K., 1989;
- Dieter Noll, Benno Bickel & Ahmad v. Denffer, “Die Hedschas-Bahn – Eine Deutsche Eisenbahn in der Wüste”, DGEG, Karlsruhe, 1995;
- Neil Robinson, “World Rail Atlas and historical summary – Vol. 8 The Middle East and Caucasus”, World Rail Atlas Ltd., U.K., 2006;
- Paul Cotterell, “Make Straight The Way – A Historical Album of Railways in the Land of Israel”, Israel Railways, Tel
- various issues of HaRakevet magazine, http://www.harakevet.com/