The International Steam Pages
Steam in Jordan and Syria, October 2003
A Friday midnight arrival in Jordan coincided with a wedding celebration at the Holiday Inn so we were off to a lively start. And by 9 the next morning we were at the Hedjaz railway station in Amman, Jordanian Railways currently have 3 locos in good shape, with 61 and 71 on the "to be repaired" list. The first of these, 51, the Jung 2-8-2 (12081/55) was waiting to take 2 coaches and 2 vans south into the desert to Quatrana. Amman is surrounded by hills so it is quite a slog for the train to leave the city-and no bridge, road crossing, Mosque or graveyard was missed in the quest for colorful photo backdrops! After a break in Quasir, where we passed a Jordanian railways diesel with a few oil tanks, we left for Quatrana, arriving around 4pm after several more photostops on this rarely used line. 51 seemed in good shape and there were no diesels in sight. The crew got back to Amman around midnight with the ECS while we went on to Petra
The next two days were train-less but we see a potash train on the Aquaba line and got to visit Petra and the Dead Sea. The trick at the Dead Sea is to smear your face and body with the black mud-so you look like you've been coal-firing Super Ds all day-then float in the sea for a while and finally shower it all off before returning to Amman.
8.15 am at the Hedjaz station in Amman, we witnessed the departure of 2 General Electric diesels on the goods to Damascus and 82, a1952 Japanese -built Pacific ( Nippon 1610/53 waiting to haul our train over the border to Dera'a in Syria. Runpasts and footplate rides ate up the day and timekeeping was not helped by an articulated truck that decided at the last minute that it could beat the train to the crossing. Despite frantic whistling and slamming on the brakes we demolished the rear axles of the truck. Fortunately we were passing an army camp at the time and the sentries had a grandstand view of the truck driver's indecision-so no contest in the blame game and we headed off North after only a 30 min. delay. Although 82 lost its front buffer and the vacuum brake had to be replaced by one from the rear coach we reached Dera'a safely. Here, the 1914 Borsig (German) 2-8-0 160 was in steam for the run down the branch to Bosra. After some stops for oiling and a few "glint' shots, we finally arrived at the Citadel in the light of the full moon. Next morning we were up early to see Roman Bosra-a city within a city since the "modern" town (including a bakery) is built in among the ruins. We headed back to Dera'a behind 160 and after lunch we descended into the Yarmuk gorge behind the last surviving 1918, Hartmann-built 2-8-2 (262) as far a Zeizoum. The total lack of traffic on this line caused some vegetation-induced slipping on the climb back out of the Gorge but we managed a spirited return to Dera'a, and headed back to Bosra by coach. 160 is a real rock and roller and 262 is clearly the smoother ride. There was plenty of room in both for 2 in the cab and 2 on the tender-plus the crew of three.
Back in Dera'a next morning we headed back up the Gorge behind the Borsig to get shots with the sun on the opposite side of the ravine, returning to Dera'a for lunch. Here we got to see the twice-weekly "International" train from Damascus to Amman (a single coach diesel railcar this Thursday), with 3 American tourists and 5 locals). Passengers transferred into a rather disreputable coach and van consist pulled by a GE diesel for the continuation to Amman while the Syrian Railcar headed back to Damascus. Some dozen vans and an old coach had to be transferred to Damascus so we got both locomotives (160 and 262) for the trip North. Most of the group did the trip as far as Mesmize and entered Damascus by coach as night fell, the others riding as far as Cadem.
The next morning we visited the Locomotive graveyard at Cadem, where the entire locomotive fleet of Syria railways was on view (apart from one derelict Borsig at Dera'a). 66 was in steam to haul out the Mallet 2-4-4-0T 962 but the older Hartmann 2-8-0, 91 was still under repair. The ex-rack loco 805 was declared irrepairable but at least 754 and 90 (Hart 3039/07) appear usable. The East European connection has paid off for the Syrians in terms of nice ex-DR East German coaches for the SG mainline to Aleppo, (the overnight sleeper arrived behind diesel 755) but none of their Romanian-built NG diesels appeared operable so they have to keep repairing the 85+ year old steam locos. 3 NG diesels were "under repair" but for the moment it seems as if steam is supreme for any freight traffic. A short bus trip brought us to a roundabout and our special train for the run to Fijeh (the rest of the line to Serghaya being blocked by a landslide) behind 2-6-0T 755 (855/94). After some photostops and a run-around just beyond Fijeh, the trip came to an end because a truck full of eggplants had parked over the rails. So we retired to the local restaurant for lunch and then did a tour of Damascus by coach. Others in the group did eventually ride the train back to Damascus, cut short of Kanawat Station because of road construction. It is not clear that this section will ever re-open (although the official position is that it will) and the newly refurbished Kanawat station may become a museum.
The following morning we boarded our special train to Dera'a at Cadem behind the newly repaired "mallet" and the Hartman 2-8-2. The first 5km or so is dual gauge, with the Aleppo line veering off just before the military camp. After this "no-photo" zone we had lots of action and excellent runpasts but we were against the clock and the mallet was removed at Mesmize. The mallet gives a very smooth cab ride although of course the speed never exceeds 35-40Km/h (25 mph). 262 headed south with the ECS while we went to Dera'a by coach and a 90 minute battle with Jordanian customs men. This meant that our visit to the Roman city of Jerash (Jordan) was very brief. Some of the Group left the tour at this point and missed our final day, for which the Jordanians had steamed the newly repaired British YD-style 2-8-2 "23" (RSH 7433/52). This was its first trip on the mainline for many years and we blasted our way out of Amman to Quasir in fine style-before retiring to Madarna for lunch, followed by a visit to Mt. Nebo .
Jordan. 3 locos in steam and in excellent condition, although 82 was leaking steam in the cab and was a bit shaken up by hitting the truck. 23 is clearly the best loco at the moment. None of the locos needed diesel assistance but there was no evidence of any real work for them apart from tourist trains.
Syria: 5 locos in steam and at least 2 others steamable.. The plan is to use 962 on the Friday summer trains to Serghaya but at present it is marooned at Cadem. 755 can handle short trains up the Gorge until the landslide is repaired but the mallet is needed for heavy trains. 66 is good for shunting. 160 and 262 handle the mainline to Dera'a and any freight that is needed. So there is the possibility for real steam in Syria.
The weather was fantastic and the organization superb so go in 2004!