Many thanks to Chen Melling for his kind assistance and taking the time to
act as guide around Haifa’s rail sites.
Hugh Hughes, “Middle East Railways”, The Continental Railway Circle, Oxford, U.K., 1981;
Paul Cotterell, “The Railways of Palestine and Israel”, Tourret Publishing, U.K., 1984;
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/.
Railway preservation in Israel is a relatively new phenomenon; the Israel Railway Museum in Haifa
(http://www.rail.co.il/EN/Fun/Museum/Pages/default.aspx, open Sun-Thu except holidays and holiday eves 08.30-15.30) was only established in 1983. Much of what is preserved at the museum was saved through the efforts of the late Paul Cotterell, who after working for IR served as curator until his untimely death. The museum is located in the old Ottoman Haifa East railway station and makes use of the Hedjaz Railway’s loco shed. Apart from the items on display at the museum, some restored and others still awaiting restoration, some more locomotives and rolling stock have been preserved various locations around the country, as have in recent times some interesting historical station complexes.
Most if not all of the railway stations in use today (trains don’t stop at Haifa East) are modern, however some historical stations have been preserved.
The first railway to open in Ottoman-ruled Palestine was the metre gauge line from Jaffa (now a part of Tel Aviv) and Jerusalem. It was built by the French “Société du Chemin de fer Ottoman de Jaffa à Jérusalem et Prolongements” (JJP) and opened to Ramleh (km 21.6) and Bet Shemesh (km 50.3) in 1891 and to Jerusalem (km 86.6) on
September 26, 1892. Strangely for a French-owned railway, it was initially worked with five Baldwin 2-6-0s. In 1904 and 1908, three Borsig 0-4+4-0 Mallets more suited to the steep gradients between Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem were added to the roster. A fourth Mallet built in 1914 was seized by British forces and taken to Alexandria at the outbreak of of World War I.
In 1915 the line was taken over by the Ottoman Army Transportation Corp. (OATC). Between 1915 and 1917 the section between Lod and Wadi Surar Jcn. (km 36.0, now Nahal Sorek) was converted to 1050mm gauge and integrated into the line being built to Be’er Sheva, followed by the section between Wadi Surar Jcn. and Jerusalem. The section from Jaffa to Lod (km 19.1) was lifted to provide materials for the extension, and the line to Be’er Sheva was reached on
30th October 1915.
From 1917, as the Allied forces advanced into Palestine from the south, the Ottoman narrow gauge lines were gradually replaced by standard gauge lines operated by the Palestine Military Railway (PMR). Lod was reached in
February 1918, Tel Aviv in June 1918 and the line to Jerusalem was reopened on a slightly different alignment, also in 06/1918, while Jaffa was reconnected to the network through a 2.5 km branch from Tel Aviv in 10/1920.
This is located on the waterfront and remained in use until May 1948, while the freight line to the port closed in 1970. In 1941/42 the station complex became part of a British army base, which was taken over the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in 1948 and used first for weapons storage and later as a maintenance base. During that time the buildings were left to deteriorate until in 2000 the area was turned over to the municipality of Tel-Aviv Yafo., which decided to develop it for public, cultural and leisure use. Conservation work started in 2005 and in 2010 it was opened as the “HaTachana – The New Station compound”
(http://www.hatachana.co.il/home, open Sun-Thu 10.00-22.00, Fri 10.00-17.00, cafés and restaurants until midnight). Here one can find the station building (now housing the “Made in TLV” souvenir shop and “Concord” restaurant), the goods shed (in use for temporary exhibits), a Metropolitan turntable and two standard gauge passenger coaches. The bogie coach contains a three-dimensional “travel in time” display (the “experiential carriage”) taking visitors 100 years back through time.
At Lod, the JJP station has survived in the centre of town, in use by the municipality.
The main station stayed in use until 1998, when the line from Beit Shemesh was closed for repairs. The line was reopened to Jerusalem-Malha, a new station on the outskirts of town, in
April 2005 and the old station remained abandoned until it was turned into “The First Station” entertainment complex
(http://www.firststation.co.il/, open daily 08.00-00.00) which opened in 2013. The right of way to Malha, still in IR ownership, was turned into a foot and bicycle path, the HaMesilah (Railway Track) Park. Palestine Railways 3rd class coach No. 332 will be on display and the signal box at the station entrance has been turned into a bar.
After the British converted the 1050mm gauge line to Be’er Sheva to standard gauge in 1918, the Turkish Railway Station
(http://katar70414.org.il/index.php, 65 Tuviyahu Blvd, corner of Eli Davis St.) stayed in use until 1927. In 1956, a new line from the north was built, but that ended east of town at Tzafon Station, from where it continues east to Dimona. In
October 2002 a monument to honor the Turkish soldiers who lost their lives during the 1917 Battle of Beersheba was erected next to the station in cooperation between the municipality and Turkish authorities and the station complex was renovated and opened as “The Train Yard” museum in 2013. A steam loco masquerading as IR 70414 (see below), two bogie passenger coaches and a covered wagon were put on display in the yard. The station’s water tower can be found in a nearby residential area.
From Be’er Sheva, in 1916 the Ottomans extended the railway 97 km further south through the desert to El-Quseima in Egypt. This line was abandoned to the advancing Allied forces in
May 1917. Just south of town the long viaduct across Nahal Be’er Sheva is still in place. The modern concrete viaduct next to it belongs to the freight-only IR branch to Ramat Hovav Industrial Area (12.5 km) which opened in 2004.
In the 1950s, steam locomotives were gradually replaced by diesels in Israel. The last official steam working, behind ex-USATC 0-6-0T No. 21 (Davenport 2428 of 1942, ex WD 71298), took place on
27th February 1959 at Lod. All of the Palestine or Israel Railways steam locomotives were subsequently scrapped. Today, only the tenders of PR P class 4-6-0 No. 60 and 62 (NBL 24219 and 24221 of 1935, from a class of six locos) survive at the Railway Museum:
At the end of the 1948 War of Independence, Tulkarm station found itself on the Transjordan side of the border together with LMS-type 8F class 2-8-0 No. 70372 (NBL 24680 of 1941, ex Iran 41.113, ex WD 372), one of 24 such locos which had worked in Iran during World War II and were purchased by PR in 1948. It was retrieved after the 1967 war, but then scrapped, the last PR/IR to suffer that fate. Another loco from that class, No. 70414 (BP 6994 of 1940, ex Iran 41.137, ex WD 414) which used to work on the line to Be’er Sheva until it was withdrawn in 1958, was made popular by an Israeli song Haim Hefer. With none of these locos left in the country, for some time Israeli enthusiasts had thought about importing one from Turkey, where a few survived. This proved impossible, but in 2012 Be’er Sheva municipality was able to buy ex-WD No. 341 (NBL 24641 of 1941, ex TCDD 45166) from The Churchill 8F Group in the U.K., which had repatriated it from Turkey two years earlier with another loco of the same type. It was then put on display at Be’er Sheva station as No. 70414.
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