The International Steam Pages

Steam in Jordan and Syria May 1999

This report (and the pictures) is by Hugh Ballantyne who was the tour leader:

"This was the first Dorridge Travel Limited tour to these countries which greatly exceeded our wildest expectations, both with regard to the locomotives and trains provided but also, the magnificent co-operation received from the railway authorities and staff.

In Jordan all five steamable locomotives were provided for trains and photographs whilst in Syria we had six of the seven operational engines, in all eleven locomotives and everyone different, not bad for a one week tour in 1999!

Following arrival in Jordan on the evening of Saturday 1st May it was straight to business next morning when we had our first taste of the 1.05 metre gauge Jordan Railway at Amman Station, which is situated in the Mahatta District, some way from the city centre. Following a very friendly welcome, 2-8-2 51(Jung 1951) departed with the group on board a train of two coaches and bogie box van, for a morning climb southwards out of the city for 10 kms to Qasir. This occupied two hours, with some excellent pictures obtained from the numerous run-pasts. Following a long lunch break during the middle period of the day, we returned to the station for a 15.10 departure over the same route but now using the unusual looking 2-8-2 71 built by Haine St Pierre in 1956. This locomotive was not in the best condition, suffering injector problems, so only eight run-pasts were obtained to a point just beyond Jordan's only tunnel. Nonetheless an excellent day, without a cloud in the sky to worry the photographers, which set the scene for the week to come.

The 3rd May was Monday and this is the day of the week the northbound international train to Damascus runs. Only a modest number of passengers seemed to be on this train but as the coaching stock provided was hardly luxurious, perhaps this was not surprising. The train left Amman at 08.09 pulled by General Electric Diesel 40213 built in 1976. We then had the use of RSH built 2-8-2 23 which is a standard IRS design YD class for shunting in Amman Station. There have been many reports of this engine being in terrible mechanical condition but we can only say not only was its external appearance respectable, but it performed impeccable runs up and down Amman Station area with goods wagons, and no problems whatsoever. Having been well pleased to have the YD in steam, we then went southwards by coach to Qatrana, whilst we hoped the ECS and 2-8-2 51, running tender first would leave about the same time, so as to enable us to have an afternoon return journey 104 kms back up the main line to Amman. No. 51 arrived some two hours late, but we got away in optimum light at 16.05, with diesel 40212 as pilot, to speed up the running between run-pasts and, of course, the diesel being detached and shunted out of sight for the run-pasts. On arrival at the small station of Jiza at 19.45, after dark, we transferred back to our shadowing bus to return back to Amman.

51 at wayside station

Tuesday 4th May, and this time at Amman we found 2-6-2T 61(HSP 1956) waiting for us, nicely wiped over and in steam. This was scheduled to give us a short run up to the well known ten arch viaduct, 7 kms from Amman Station. Again, with the assistance of a diesel pilot helping 61 into position, good run-pasts were provided and we returned by bus to the hotel for breakfast at 10.00. We had now enjoyed runs with four of the five serviceable types in Jordan with the Jap Pacific 81 being kept for our return to the country later in the week. However, on route by bus from the hotel to Dera'a in Syria, we had a brief look at sister Pacific 84, stuffed and mounted in the Amman University grounds, then up to the border of Syria, taking about an hour there for passport controls.

61 on the famous viaduct

At Dera'a we soon found our Syrian hosts were equally as agreeable and helpful as our Jordanian friends, and the first taste of Syrian steam was 2-6-0T+T 66(Jung 1907) making run-pasts up and down Dera'a yard. This was followed by a two coach special hauled by 2-8-0 91(Hartmann 1906) to Bosra. Again, wonderful co-operation from the train crew enabled numerous run-pasts, utilising the light up to sunset, so giving an arrival as Bosra Citadel at dusk.

91 near Bosra

On Wednesday, 5th May the group were at Dera'a Station for a booked 07.15 departure special passenger train to the Yarmuk Gorge section. In fact, the Hartmann 2-8-2 displaying No. 263, motion stamped 260, left tender first at 07.45, but to our complete surprise we were delighted to find that the track through Tunnel No. 7 had just been cleared for our train and unknown to us the PW Department yellow painted Land Rover had preceded us to ensure that all was in order, and so we carefully crept through the tunnel on its tight curve and came immediately on to the viaduct at the head of the Gorge. The Land Rover was at the other end of the viaduct and unable to go any further down the damaged track. This meant the smokebox of the 2-8-2 was only just clear of the tunnel portal, so the railway staff preceded to dig the earth and stones covering the track clear for a few more yards behind the Land Rover, so as to get the train another twelve feet or so down the line. This magnificent effort enabled the group to take pictures of the engine and train on the viaduct and clear of the tunnel. Retracing our steps back through the tunnel more run-pasts were provided and for the "track bashers" the train reversed at Merzerib to propel down the short 2 kms remnant of the DHP line to the present terminus adjacent to a park and lake. Displayed in the park nearby here is 2-6-0T 61(Jung 1906) but is not a very photogenic sight as it displays a large photograph of the Syrian President right in front of the chimney.

260 in Yarmuk Gorge

Following the return to Dera'a, a lunch break was provided for loco, crew and tour participants before heading north up the main line towards Damascus. The Hartmann 2-8-2 remained the most motive power and run-pasts were maximised in the late afternoon, until a convenient main road overbridge, 35 kms from Damascus, was reached, to enable a quick transfer by road to our hotel in the Syrian capital.

The next morning, 6th May, the party made a visit to Cadem Works, a fascinating place, having a substantial erecting shop with overhead gantry crane accessed by an outside traverser. In the Works, one of the Hartmann 2-8-2s believed to be 262, although the number plate in front of the chimney was 261, was in bits under repair whilst outside, in the surrounding bushes and vegetation, lay many derelict locomotives ranging from 2-8-2s, 2-6-0Ts and 0-4-4-2T Mallets. Following our two hours visit, we then went with the ECS of our next charter train, hauled by 0-6-2T 805(SLM 1896) to the main terminus station at Kanawat - known as the Hedjaz Station. This took us through the busy streets with much whistling and not surprisingly no photo stops, as this would have caused mega traffic congestion. At Kanawat Station 805 ran round, took water, and after three false starts out of the Station, whistling furiously, set of through more streets on the western side of the city and headed into the hills for the 60 kms journey to Serghaya. This involves a continuous climb through numerous suburbs and villages, before reaching a spectacular Gorge section near Tequieh. This day was a Public Holiday, Martyrs Day, and a steam hauled school party special had already gone up the line with 2-6-0T 755(SLM 1894) and a third train chartered by local expatriates was also on the line worked by sister 2-6-0T 754. In addition to all this, there was a short diesel hauled holiday extra train to Ain Fijeh some 20 kms from Damascus. It took four hours to cover the 60 kms but our return, rather late at 16.10, gave some good light for pictures near the line summit (1370 metres asl) with the background of the mountains in the Anti-Lebanon range and some last minute glint shots in the Gorge section.

Friday, the Muslim Holy Day, has a booked steam tourist train which on 7th May left Damascus on time at 08.00 hauled by 2-6-0T 754 and then our charter train 40 minutes later with 2-6-0T 755 but on the return journey, again one section behind the Friday's only train, in the Gorge section the sun angle was difficult for photographers, being mainly right behind the train. After sunset we left the train near Hame Station and went by bus southwards back to Bosra, where we put up for the night at the excellent Cham Palace hotel.

Out last morning in Syria, Saturday 8th May, meant either an early morning bus journey to Dera'a for a train ride back to Bosra or a free morning for visiting the Citadel and other historic sites in the town. The majority, but not all, opted for the former, so at 08.20 2-8-0 162 built by Borsig in 1914 carrying number plate 160 caused the local stallholders in the street market at Dera'a to hastily remove their stalls and wares off the track as the 2-8-0 furiously whistled its passage through the busy streets then two hours later posed in front of Bosra Citadel for our final Syrian pictures. The middle of the day was spent in crossing the border back into Jordan where at the nearby town of Mafraq we joined our train hauled by Pacific 82 (Nippon 1953) for a 61 kms journey back to Amman. We were pleased to see this handsome Pacific now back in traffic, albeit in poor condition. Nevertheless, with the aid of a desel pilot, detached and hidden away for all run-pasts, the Pacific made it back to Amman, after providing some fine pictures, including a curving viaduct near Amman and some final glint scenes. The last morning of a very busy week, Sunday 9th May, gave us time before making for the airport, for another run south out of Amman to the Tunnel with 2-8-2 71. This morning was the first time the weather turned against us and shortly after the first set of run-pasts, clouds quickly formed and a chill wind became apparent. This obviously was not to 71's liking and it ran short of steam. However, our co-operative and helpful Jordanian railwayman quickly called up a deisel banker, which arrived in double-quick time, so that it must have been kept at Amman as their "Thunderbird". We then continued uphill for some final pictures on what is a short but very photogenic section of railway out of Amman. We left the train at Qasir, some to return home, and a third of the group to spend three days devoted to Jordan's well known and superb historic sites.

81 north of Amman

To sum up, all five operational locomotives in Jordan were made available to us. Paradoxically the Jordanian locomotives are all post-war built but are generally in a very run down mechanical condition, mainly due to their low work requirement and limited workshop facilities on this part of the former Hedjaz Railway. By contrast, the Syrians have seven locomotives currently steamable, the youngest being built 81 years ago and all in reasonable mechanical condition, so clearly the benefit of the large workshops at Cadem, albeit seriously devoid of skilled staff, must have a bearing on the availability plus their occasional but regular use on public trains. Great care needs to be taken in recording Syrian locomotive details as our group found discrepancies, some obvious, other not so, between running numbers carried, works plate details and numbers stamped on motion.

In conclusion, one can only say that the co-operation in both countries was absolutely magnificent and to be able to use eleven locomotives, all different designs, and some over 100 years old makes the thought of a repeat visit irresistible!

Rob Dickinson