Jezreel Valley railway

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The Jezreel Valley railway, or simply the Valley railway (Hebrew: רכבת העמק‎, Rakevet HaEmek ; Arabic: خط سكك حديد مرج بن عامر‎) refers to a historical railroad in Ottoman and British Palestine, which was part of the larger Hejaz railway and ran along the Jezreel Valley.

It was built in the beginning of the 20th century and connected Haifa with the rest of the 1,050 mm (3 ft 5 1132 in) narrow gauge Hejaz railway, its last stop within the Palestine Mandate borders being al-Hamma. After many failed attempts, the final planning and construction lasted 4 years. The railway was inaugurated on October 15, 1905, and operated until 1948.

SLM in Switzerland built a class of ten 2-8-0 locomotives for the Hejaz Railway in 1912. They were originally numbered 87–96 and later renumbered 150–159. Several were either captured in 1918 by British and Empire forces or transferred in 1927 to Palestine Railways, which had taken over the Jezreel Valley railway in 1920. No. 153 (formerly 90) was transferred in 1927 and is pictured on the Jezreel Valley railway in 1946.

In the decades since there have been several failed attempts to revive the railway. Finally, a large-scale project to build a new standard gauge railway from Haifa to Beit She'an along roughly the same route as the historical valley railway began in 2011 and is expected to be completed in 2016.[1]

History[edit]

Early plans[edit]

In the 1860s the deputy British consul in Haifa, Thomas B. Sandwit, proposed the construction of a railway from the city to Baghdad, through the Jezreel Valley, with a possible extension to Damascus. Sandwit hoped to create a continuous railway link between British India and the Palestine, and increase British control of the area, which was under Ottoman rule.

In 1865, Dr. Charles Franz Zimfel, a German-American doctor, engineer, follower of John wroe and Zionist, proposed the creation of a railway from Jaffa to Jerusalem, which would continue to Jericho and end in Damascus,[2] with an extension to Haifa through the Jezreel Valley (see Jezreel Valley railway). Zimfel surveyed the territory and became one of the first railway planners in Palestine.

Claude R. Conder, in his extensive Survey of Western Palestine, proposed the construction of a railway from Haifa to the Fertile Crescent. His plans constituted the basis for the actual construction years later.

Sir Laurence Oliphant of Britain, who hoped to facilitate Jewish settlement in the Gilead, proposed the creation of a railway from Haifa to that region, which would then branch out to Aqaba in the south, and Damascus in the north. From Aqaba, he hoped to further extend the railway to the Suez Canal. In his visit to Palestine in 1883, Oliphant changed his plans to what later became the valley railway.

Sursock family and Sir Oliphant[edit]

In 1882, a group headed by the aristocratic Sursock family attained a permit for the construction of a railway in the Jezreel Valley. The family sought to build a railway there to raise land value around the line, which was mostly family-owned, and to enable the cheap transport of goods from Hauran, also owned by the family, to the Mediterranean Sea for export.

On May 16, 1883, Sir Laurence Oliphant wrote in the New York Sun that he met with Mr. Sursock regarding the construction of a railway in the Jezreel, and claimed that he could see surveying work as he wrote, from his home in Daliyat al-Karmel. Oliphant founded a company along with Gottlieb Schumacher, one of the founders of the German Colony of Haifa, and Georg Agger of Jaffa, which would find investors for attaining a construction permit from the Sursock family, and the construction itself.

On June 13, 1883, early surveying work was completed and Oliphant began to look for investors, both in Britain and Germany. In a letter he wrote to the Duke of Sutherland, Oliphant claimed that the construction of the line was extremely important both politically and economically, that it would eventually serve as the connection between Asia Minor, the Fertile Crescent, and Egypt, and expressed fear that the line would be under sole German ownership. Oliphant and his peers advertised the line as extremely profitable for investors, estimating the gain at 34%, and promising additional permits to construct additional extensions, a modern port in Haifa or Acre, and a shipping company. For that purpose, Oliphant purchased additional lands on Haifa's coast, and in the Megiddo area.

Despite these efforts, the plans failed—the British government, the only one interested in the project, sent the Duke of Sutherland to inspect it, who refused to help sponsor the project. The Lebanese families headed by Sursock, who wished to build the railway for their personal needs, also failed to raise the necessary funds. At the end of 1884, the Sursocks' permit expired, and the 50,000 francs deposited by Oliphant's company to the Sultan Abdul Hamid II were also lost.

Syria Ottoman Railway Company[edit]

On May 13, 1890, the Ottoman authorities gave a permit to build a railway line from Haifa to Damascus to the public servant Shukri Bey and a Christian Lebanese engineer and effendi named Yusuf Elias, both of whom worked for the Ottoman government. The line was meant to go from Acre to Damascus with spurs to Haifa and Bosra. Elias did not have the ability to gather the funds necessary for such a project, and it was agreed that he would buy out Shukri's share and sell the rights to John Robert Pilling, a British entrepreneur. Pilling quickly founded an investment company, which was listed in the London Stock Exchange as the S.O.R. Ltd.—Syria Ottoman Railway Limited.[3]

The S.O.R. based its plans on the original surveying work done in the area, and after a financial re-evaluation, the planned terminus was changed to Haifa, which had a modern deep-water seaport, compared to Acre's old shallow one. The planned length of the line, from Haifa to Damascus via the Golan Heights, with two extensions, was 230 km. 27 stations were planned. On December 23, 1892, the contractor George Pauling started work on the line, after a flamboyant ceremony.[3]

Work on the line was opposed by the Chémin de Fer Damas-Hama et Prolongements (DHP), a standard gauge railway that carried freight between Damascus and al-Hamma. The DHP did everything in its power to prevent the construction of the line in order to avoid competition. At the same time, the DHP petitioned the Ottoman government for its own permit to build a railway from Beirut to Hauran via Damascus, eventually attaining it.

The French began building their line quickly, and finished construction in 1895, while the British worked slowly. At the time of the Beirut–Damascus line's inception, Pilling's company only managed to build a special port in Haifa to aid in the line's construction. Eight kilometers of railroad were laid, between Haifa and Yagur, and a 20 km dike was created for the next stage of construction. Due to the competition from the French railway in Beirut, the port of Haifa became less attractive to international traders and that, coupled with strife within the Syria Ottoman Railway Company, caused Pilling to go bankrupt and lose the permit for the railway.

During 1898–1899, the British company was founded anew and, together with the company Palmer and Tritton, re-attained the permit for the valley line. The British restored the Jezreel dike and construction resumed. However, in 1900, the Ottomans began building the Hejaz railway, and saw the opportunity to convert the future Haifa–Damascus line to an extension thereof. In 1902, the Ottoman authorities revoked S.O.R.'s permit for a compensation of 150,000 Turkish lira.

Events that led to the construction of the valley railway[edit]

While Sultan Abdul Hamid II's original plans for the Hejaz railway did not include an extension to Haifa, the construction of such an extension was logical in order to assert Ottoman control over the section between the Hauran and the Mediterranean Sea, and to compete against the French-owned Beirut–Damascus railway.

The German engineer Heinrich August Meissner, who oversaw the construction of the Hejaz railway, considered the planned section immediately south of Damascus (Damascus–Muzeirib) to be useless, because of the French railway using the same route. After failing to acquire the French railway lines, Meissner signed a deal with the French which would allow a 45% discount in transporting equipment from Damascus to Muzeirib necessary to continue building the Ottoman Hejaz railway to the south.

Despite this, the French constituted a monopoly on the railway lines of the area, and cancelled the discount. Their trains were also not equipped to cross the sections of railway covered by snow in Lebanon. Several months later, Meissner reconsidered, and decided to construct his own railway line between Damascus and the Hauran, close to the French line. On September 1, 1902, the Damascus–Daraa line was completed, and turned the Hauran from a remote near-inaccessible location into a transportation center with two railway connections.

Upon the initiation of the Damascus–Daraa line, Meissner realized that it was still very difficult to transport raw materials to Daraa for the construction of the rest of the Hejaz railway, as most of the materials came with ships via the Mediterranean. Meissner decided in 1902 that there was no choice but to build an extension connecting the new railway to a Mediterranean port nearby. Haifa was chosen for its already developed port, and because surveying, planning and some construction work for a railroad had already been done on the proposed route.

Construction[edit]

The monument to Abdul Hamid II in Haifa

The construction plans for the valley railway were based on the earlier British plans. Originally, the line was meant to climb the Golan Heights next to the Samakh Stream, although later it was decided that the Yarmouk River would make a better route. In 1902, the Ottomans revoked the British company S.O.R.'s construction permit, compensated them, and immediately started construction. The first phase was to narrow the gauge to the Ottoman standard in the 9 km already built by S.O.R.

In 1903, track laying began between Haifa and Daraa. The biggest challenge was the construction east of Samakh (Samakh–Daraa). The length of this section was 73 km and the height difference was 529 m. Eight tunnels were dug for the section, totalling a length of 1,100 m and 329 bridges and aqueducts. These difficulties raised the price of the Haifa extension by tens of percents. A meter on the Damascus–Daraa section had an average cost of 2,070 Turkish liras, while a meter on the Daraa–Haifa line cost 3,480 liras.

The line was finally opened with 5 stations in January 1904, between Haifa and Beysan. On October 15, 1905, the entire Haifa–Daraa section opened, with 8 stations within Ottoman Palestine. On the opening ceremony, when the first train left Haifa for Damascus, a monument for Abdul Hamid II was unveiled in Haifa, which stands to this day. The monument was built in Turkey at least two years before this ceremony, and was brought to Palestine by sea.

Under Ottoman rule[edit]

With the construction of the valley railway, it served mainly for delivering construction materials from the Haifa port for the continuing work on the main Hejaz railway line. The Hejaz railway was built for ideological, religious, and to a lesser extent military needs, and the Ottoman authorities initially underutilized its potential as a commercial venue. Over the years however, the potential was realized and the Jezreel valley line quickly became a major competitor to the French Beirut-Damascus line for transferring products from the Hauran to the Mediterranean.

Prices dropped quickly both for passenger tickets and freight transfer. However, the Ottomans were able to lower the prices more because they did not have to pay dividends and did not require as high a profit. This caused the valley line to become favorite among exporters in the Hauran, to the point that many of them preferred to send their goods through the valley line to Haifa and ship them to Beirut, rather than send them directly to Beirut over the French railway.

The valley line quickly became the most profitable section of the Hejaz railway, and passenger traffic consequently increased as well. More trains were put into service on the line, and new technologies were utilized to shorten travel times. The railway was able to connect those locations to Haifa which were physically close, but had no road connection. The only usable roads at the time for horse-drawn carriages were Haifa–Nasıriye, Haifa–Akka and Nazareth–AfulaCenin, which left out places with high growth potential like Beysan and Taberiye.

Tiberias, which was previously completely isolated in terms of transportation, being several days' travel from Haifa, was now served by the Samakh station, which employed an ad hoc ferry which travelled a short distance in the Sea of Galilee. After World War I, a road connection was also made between Samakh and Tiberias, cutting travel time from Haifa to just a few hours.

The railway also had much tourist potential. Already in 1906, the Thomas Cook & Son travel agency advertised trips to the Holy Land, which utilized the valley line. A notable package was a trip using the valley line from Haifa to Samakh, where the tourists would take a steam boat to Tiberias via the Sea of Galilee, and explore the Christian holy sites around the lake. When the line became popular with tourists, the travel conditions were improved drastically in order to give a good first impression to the dignitaries and aristocrats coming from all over Europe. In 1912, first and second class train cars were created in order to fit the needs of the different visiting social classes.

The increase in train frequency and lack of proper inspection led to numerous railway disasters. On July 7, 1909, for example, a train leaving Haifa crashed into a train travelling from Damascus, due to an error on the telegraphist's part. The driver of the Haifa–Tiberias train was killed instantly.

Following the Haifa extension's crucial success and high demand, 12 stations were added to the line's 8 original in the first few years. In addition, Meissner began planning and construction additional extensions in Palestine and outside of it. The first was completed in 1912 and travelled from Daraa to Bosra in Syria, on a new 33 km route. In the end of 1912, an extension to Acre was completed from the Balad ash-Sheikh station, totalling 17.8 km.

The most important extension of the railway was planned to connect the Afula station with Jerusalem. The first 17 km section was completed at the beginning of 1913 and connected Afula with Jenin. Meissner's full plan never bore fruit however, because of the French government's extreme pressure on the Ottoman government to cancel the project, which would compete with the French-owned Jaffa–Jerusalem railway. In the end, only 40 km were built from Afula, and terminated near the village Silat ad-Dhahr (Sileh). This extension was later used by Meissner during World War I to continue to railway to Tulkarm and from there via the Eastern Railway to Lydda where it connected with the Jaffa–Jerusalem railway and railways to the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.

Many more minor extensions were built, both under Ottoman and British rule, mostly close to Haifa, and served mainly industrial and military needs.

World War I[edit]

Samakh Railway Station shortly after being captured by Australian light horsemen on 25 September 1918

Due to the severe lack of modern infrastructure in the Middle East during the war, the few railways in the region were of vital strategic importance to the Ottomans. The valley railway, as well as the entire Hejaz line, was quickly taken over by the army and civilian use was reduced to a bare minimum. The Hejaz railway's headquarters were moved to Haifa, closer to the front, and military engineers were placed in command of each of the 3 main Hejaz sections:

Britain's forces besieged the Ottoman Empire's Mediterranean ports, which led to a lack of basic provisions and maintenance supplies needed to keep the railway working. The lack of coal rendered most steam locomotives inoperable. Attempts were made to mine coal in Lebanon, but the inferior coal there caused damage to the trains. Eventually it was decided to use charcoal, and extensive logging operations were set up by the Ottomans to keep up the demand. More extensions to the line were built as a result, for the efficient transport of wood - one from Tulkarm to the forest of Hadera, and another to the Plains of Manasseh on the slopes of Mount Carmel near Umm al-Fahm. As these operations went on, the number of natural forests in Palestine dwindled, and the authorities ordered the cutting down of every tenth fruit-bearing tree to support the war effort.

In spring 1918, the tide was turned against the Ottomans when British forces were able to take control of some key points on the railway along the Yarmouk River, and cut off the Haifa extension from the rest of the Hejaz railway. When defeated in September 1918, the Turks quickly destroyed any railway infrastructure and rolling stock they could, so that it would not fall into British hands. By the end of the war, the British controlled all of the Jezreel Valley railway.

British Mandate[edit]

On October 1, 1920, the British company Palestine Railways (P.R.) was founded, which oversaw all the railways within the British Mandate of Palestine. It was a commercial company, but answered to the British High Commissioner in the mandate. The Hejaz railway's ownership was transferred by the Turks to the Waqf, out of fear of a French takeover (the French petitioned the International Court of Justice for this purpose).

After the division of the Ottoman Empire into League of Nations mandates, causing the Hejaz railway to be split between British and French rule, it was agreed that the Samakh/Tzemah station would denote the railway border between the British and French mandates, even though the more isolated al-Hamma station was physically also under British control.

The rolling stock left by the Ottomans in the mandates was also divided between the British and French, who had no intention of producing new rolling stock fit for the Ottoman narrow gauge railways. The only trains produced by the British for this railway were two multiple units from Sentinel Waggon Works and Cammell Laird, brought to the mandate in 1929.

The frequency of trains increased again on the valley line during British rule, to two daily trains from Haifa to Samakh (one of which continued to Damascus), three daily trains on the Acre extension (Balad ash-Sheikh–Acre), and one weekly train from Haifa to Nablus, via Afula. During World War II, the frequency reached its peak, at 6 daily trains from Haifa to Samakh and back. The tourist packages were also improved, now also including flights on Imperial Airways aircraft, which could land in the Sea of Galilee's water.

Post-World War II[edit]

After the perceived British betrayal of Jewish interests after World War II, leaders of various Jewish underground organizations in Mandate Palestine founded The Jewish Resistance Movement. One of the resistance's first operations was the Night of the Trains (November 1, 1945), in which 153 points along various railways in the mandate were damaged. The main damage to the valley line was done at a railway switch near the Afula station, under the noses of the Hindu guards there. Rehavam Ze'evi participated in this bombing.

The astounding success of the operation prompted more attacks, until the railway became a constant harassment target. In June 1946, as part of the Night of the bridges, the Palmach blew up one of the main bridges on the valley line, between Samakh and al-Hamma, which was 130 meters in length. As a result, the Jezreel Valley railway was completely cut off from the rest of the Hejaz line.

Demise[edit]

The beginning of the end of the Jezreel Valley railway is considered March 2, 1948. On this date at night, Haganah forces carried out bombing raids on railways in Mandate Palestine and harmed them significantly. The aim of the operation was to disable the maintenance ability of the lines, in order to prevent the quick transport of supplies and personnel by the Arab armies about to invade the Yishuv. The most severe raid was carried out on a bridge near Geva, on the 44th km of the line, which effectively disabled its entire operation.

The next major hit came on the eve of the Israeli declaration of independence, May 14, 1948, when Jewish forces destroyed yet another bridge, this time on the Jordan River, next to Gesher. The original plan was to destroy two road bridges in the area, but the soldiers spotted the railway bridge and decided to blow it up as well.

The railroad was thus rendered inoperable, and what remained of it was transferred to Israel Railways upon the company's founding. The company made minor repairs along the line, which allowed trains to travel between Haifa and Afula. Repairs to the aforementioned damage inflicted by the Jewish forces during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War were never conducted. Service on the new shortened line was terminated in 1949. Two main reasons were the lack of financial feasibility, and the non-standard narrow gauge of the railway.

In 1950-51, the line was used occasionally for tourism. Its last use was registered in September 1951, for training exercises by the Israel Defense Forces. In 1954, the rolling stock used in this line was completely dismantled and sold. An old steam locomotive and a single train car were the only remains, and are displayed at the Israel Railway Museum.

Early renewal attempts[edit]

See also: Current status and plans below.

The first renewal attempts in Israel were made in the 1950s, when the possibility of converting the railway to the standard gauge was examined. On June 13, 1962, talks were held between the CEO of Israel Railways Menachem Savidor and head of the Afula local council Yoash Dubnov. Savidor declared that if Afula and its suburbs could guarantee a concentration of 400–500,000 tons of freight to be moved on the railway, the project would be financially feasible, and Israel Railways would support it.

The plans failed, and Dubnov was not able to return the railway to Afula. However, the railway area, including in the middle of the city, was left in the possession of Israel Railways, and permission was never given to build on those plots. Many of the municipalities where these plots exist, have converted them to parks for public use, usually with a billboard or monument commemorating the Jezreel Valley railway. In spite of this, some authorities decided to build on the railway tracks and Israel Railways did not take any significant action to stop them (a fact emphasized by the State Comptroller of Israel in the 2000s). Notably, the Ramat David Airbase is located on a major portion of the line's original alignment and any renewal attempt would require bypassing the base, thereby necessitating a significant alteration of the railroad's route in the area.

Impact[edit]

When built, the Jezreel Valley railway was highly profitable and quickly became the most worthwhile project of the Hejaz railway. It prompted the quick growth of previously isolated localities, such as Afula, Tiberias and Beit She'an. It also became a popular tourist attraction, which further promoted tourism in Tiberias, the Jordan River, and the rest of the Sea of Galilee area. The railway also connected the Hauran to the Mediterranean Sea, turning it into a major export hub.

In spite of that, the British Empire completely changed the definition of goals and approach to the railway system in Palestine in their first years of rule. The British considered important only those assets which helped strengthen their colonial hold on the region, and thus the valley railway was not considered important. Few funds were allocated for its proper maintenance, and unlike other already-existing railroads in Palestine, the valley railway was not converted to standard gauge. It therefore slowly turned underserviced and obsolete. Even so, due to the rolling stock's use of coal, which at the time was imported from Britain, certain British companies fully supported the line's continued operation.

In the 1920s, the railway's main purpose became the transport of raw materials for construction. The first power station in Palestine, a hydroplant built in Naharayim by Pinhas Rutenberg, was mainly built from materials transported by trains using the valley railway. For that purpose, a minor extension was constructed from the main route to the construction site. In 1932, the railway was used to transport the concrete needed to build the Mosul-Haifa oil pipeline - 38,000 tons of concrete were transported and laid on a 200 km route.

The Jewish sector in Mandate Palestine was the other main user of the railway, which allowed it to build new villages in relatively remote areas in the Jezreel Valley. The Jewish Tower and stockade organization extensively used the line to quickly bring vast amounts of construction materials to various sites to quickly establish new homes. This prompted the quick growth of the Jewish population in the area, which also used the railway as a passenger line.

The kibbutzim in the area also used the railway to their economic advantage. In 1922, Deganya asked for a special wagon to transport its dairy products to Haifa in the late night hours. Permission was granted, and gave Deganya and other kibbutzim access to other parts of the country and the world for export.

Security[edit]

As the Jezreel Valley railway became more and more important, so did it become a more lucrative target for criminal and terrorist gangs in the area. Initially, attacks were mostly limited to raids by Bedouin gangs, and were comparatively a minor nuisance. However, with the outbreak of the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, organized attacks and bombings began taking place, severely disrupting operations on the valley line, as well as other lines in Mandate Palestine.

A few months after the outbreak of hostilities, the Notrim police organization was founded, and hundreds of Jewish youth were recruited. In 1938, a regiment of the organization was dirverted to protecting the railways of Palestine, known as the P.P.R.D. (Palestine Police Railway Department), or simply the Railway Guard (Mishmar HaRakevet)/Railway Corps (Heil HaRakevet) in Hebrew. The guard consisted of over 700 Jewish policemen who underwent special training in the Haganah.

The first line protected by the guard was the LodHaifa line, which suffered the most, although other lines were integrated later, including the valley line. The policemen erected watchtowers and conducted frequent patrols in search of the guerillas. Two designated armored train cars were built for the guard by the Ford Motor Company, which could move faster than conventional trains, and in both directions. The Railway Guard sometimes took with them prominent Arab leaders on the patrols, in order to insure that the policemen were not harmed by the Arab gangs.

The Railway Guard's success prompted their stationing in other strategic locations, such as the Haifa Port. They continued serving in that capacity even during World War II, when the valley railway was fully operational and supported the British war effort.

Stations[edit]

Map (not to scale) of the line - original stations marked by full black circles.
Haifa East Railway Station in 2006
Passengers at Yagur station (1939)

There were 8 stations in the original line and numerous stations were added later. The stations are listed from west to east.

  • Haifa Station

The first Haifa Railway Station was the western terminus of the line. The cornerstone for its construction was laid on July 16, 1905, just one day before the inception of the new railroad. The main building was inaugurated in 1908; its architectural style was similar to that of railway stations in southern Germany at the time, including also some Ottoman elements. It used to be regarded as the most impressive building of pre-World War I Haifa. Next to it a monument to Sultan Abdul Hamid II was erected, designed by the sultan's chief palace architect, the Italian Raimondo Tommaso D'Aronco. The Haifa station was the only railway station in the world serving the lines of 3 continents - Africa and Europe (by the coastal railway), and Asia (by the Hejaz railway). This station lost some of its importance in 1937 when, under the British Mandate, a new one was built closer to what was then the main hub of the city - its port. The Ottoman station was renamed Haifa East, while the new one was and still is known as Haifa Centre.

On September 20, 1946, the Haifa East station was bombed by the Irgun. The main part of the building was destroyed. The surviving section is today used as an office building by the Israel Railways while the station does not serve as a stop for passenger trains anymore. However, the former locomotive shed ("engine house" in American English) and freight depot nearby are hosting the Israel Railway Museum.

The British-built Haifa Center, which has lost much of its importance too, is the only station of the Valley Railway still in use today, being located on both the main North-South coastal line of the Israel Railways, and on a local line serving Haifa's northern suburbs.

  • Balad ash-Sheikh Station

Distance from Haifa: 4.5 km[4]

The Balad ash-Sheikh Railway Station, also known as Tel Hanan or Shumariyyah (Şumariye in Turkish), was built in 1904 as the second station in the original valley line, and named after Balad ash-Sheikh, the Arab village next to it.

In 1913, the Ottomans built an extension of the valley line to Acre, with this station serving as terminus. When the Haganah attacked the village of Balad ash-Sheikh on the night of December 30, 1947 – January 1, 1948, an attacker named Hanan Zelinger was killed in the operation. A Jewish village, Tel Hanan, was built there in his name.

  • Nesher Station

The Nesher Railway Station was founded in 1925, the same year as the city Nesher, which stands on the location today. Originally, the station was freight-only and intended for the efficient transportation of malt beer produced in the Nesher Factory to Haifa. The station also served the Nesher cement factory in the town.

The station was opened after the British converted the Haifa–Nesher part of the valley railway to dual gauge, allowing both standard and narrow gauge rolling stock to reach the station and allowing it to connect it to the rest of the nationwide rail network, much of which (except for the Jezreel Valley railway) was by then converted to or built as standard gauge.

  • Yagur Station

This station was built in the 1920s to serve the residents of Yagur, a kibbutz. The station's single stone structure stands to this day and is used for storage.

  • Elro'i Station

This station, also called Al Roy in English, was built next to the Kishon River (a wadi) to serve the residents of the moshav Elro'i, today part of Kiryat Tiv'on. Originally, it was a simple wooden construction, similar to a bus stop. Later, it was converted into a small brick shed. The shed was later renovated by the residents of Elro'i.[5] A small museum commemorating the Valley Railway now exists at the site.

  • Kiryat Haroshet Station

Similar to the Elro'i station, Kiryat Haroshet was a small shed meant only to protect passengers from rough weather conditions. It was built by the British upon request from the residents of the area, even though the distance between it and the Elro'i station is less than 1 km. Today, Kiryat Haroshet is also part of the town Kiryat Tiv'on.

Kfar Yehoshu'a Station in 2006
  • Kfar Yehoshu'a Station

Distance from Haifa: 21.8 km[6]

The Kfar Yehoshu'a Railway Station, initially Tel ash-Shamam, was the 3rd original station of the line. The station was built in an empty area, at the time filled with swampland, and served as a service station for locomotives. The station consisted of 8 buildings in the German style, which stand to this day.

In 2005, as part of the 100-year celebration of the Jezreel Valley railway, the station underwent a renovation, and 1950s wooden cars were placed in it. There are plans to open a railway museum on its grounds, and renovate old train cars used on the railway.[7]

By mid-2016, a new Kfar Yehoshu'a station along the renewed Valley railway's route will be built approximately 2.5 km east of the historic Kfar Yehoshu'a station.

  • Kfar Baruch Station

This station was built in 1926 for the residents of the moshav Kfar Baruch, to the north of the village. It was a simple shack for awaiting passengers and had neither a ticket booth, nor tickets printed for the station. Therefore, the residents had to haggle with the train conductor on the train in hopes of being let in. Today, there are no remnants left of the station.

By mid-2016, a new Kfar Baruch station along the renewed Valley railway's route will be built approximately 1 km southwest of the historic Kfar Baruch station location.

  • Afula Station

Distance from Haifa: 36.4[8]

The Afula Railway Station (Afule during Ottoman period) was the fourth original station in the valley line. It was named after the Arab village there, al-Fuleh, until the Jewish town Afula was founded there in 1925. The station was an important crossroads and served as a terminus for the Afula–Nablus extension of the valley line, which started operations to Jenin in 1913.

The station prompted the quick growth of al-Puleh/Afula, and various civilian and military installation were built in its vicinity, including a regional post office that served the entire Jezreel Valley built in 1922.

On November 1, 1945, the station was destroyed as part of the Night of the Trains by the Jewish Resistance Movement, and has not been used since. A museum was built on the grounds of the station, commemorating the history of the Jezreel Valley railway.

As part of the renewed Jezreel Valley railway project, by the middle of 2016 a new railway station will be built along the new railway's route, approximately 1.5 km north of the historic station's location.

  • Ein Harod Station

Ein Harod was the first kibbutz founded in the Jezreel Valley (1921), and with it the small railway station. The station was called Ein Harod even after the workers of the kibbutz copied all their residences to a nearby hill in 1927. Only many years later, after a new station was created for Ein Harod (see Tel Yosef Station), the station was renamed. Initially, it was renamed to Yehezkeliya for the nearby moshav Kfar Yehezkel, but due to pressure from kibbutz Geva, the station eventually took on the kibbutz's name.

  • Tel Yosef Station

This station was a small shed, built for the residents of the new Ein Harod, and for Tel Yosef. It was located next to the road junction leading to the kibbutzim. Today, nothing remains of the station.

  • Shata Station

This station served the residents of Beit HaShita (It was known as Şatta during Ottoman rule), and named after the Arab name for the location. Several stone structures were built for the station, and the largest of them can be found today within the Shata Prison.

During the British Mandate period, a Tegart fort encompassing the entire station was built, and later converted into the Shata Prison by the Israel Prison Service.

In 2003, the station's structures were renovated by the prisoners in Shata. These renovations were not according to the original architectural design, but no major damage was done to the station. Until then, the station served as the prison's carperntry, but since the refurbishment, it is used for offices and storage.

  • HaSade Station

This station served the residents of Sde Nahum (originally called Kibbutz HaSade). The station was created in 1934 for the residents of the village, who feared using the Arab Beisan station during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. This 'station' consisted only of a trilingual sign, without any structures.

  • Beit She'an Station

Distance from Haifa: 59.3 km[9] The Beit She'an Railway Station (originally Beisan also known as Bisan) was the fifth original station and specifically ordered by the Turkish sultan, in hopes of raising property value in the area and hence tax value. However, only upon Jewish settlement in the area, did it finally see the desired growth.

A new passenger station is to be built at the site starting in 2013 as part of the reconstruction of the Valley line. This effort also involves renovating some of the original station's abandoned structures.

  • Beit Yosef Station

This station was built in 1937 for the residents of the moshav Beit Yosef. After it fell into disuse with the closure of the line, any structures on the station's grounds were razed and the exact location is unknown today.

  • Gesher Station

The Gesher Railway Station (also Gesher Nehalim) was the 6th station in the original line, and served mainly the residents of Gesher and Menahemiya. It was located next to the Mujami Bridge (Jisr al-Majami' in Arabic, Cisr'ul Mecami in Turkish), which when intact was the lowest railway bridge in the world at 257.5 m below sea level.[10]

Today, the remnants of the bridge, destroyed on May 14, 1948, as well as two wooden train cars can be seen from the Gesher kibbutz, beyond the border fence although technically on Israeli territory.

  • Naharayim Station

The Naharayim station was constructed near the Naharayim Power Station built by Pinhas Rutenberg in the Bauhaus architectural style. After the 1949 Armistice Agreements, the area of Naharayim was ceded to Jordan and today, the remnants of the station are located on the Peace Island within the borders of Jordan.

  • al-Dalhamiyya Station

This station was created to serve the Arab village of al-Dalhamiyya. With the founding of kibbutz Ashdot Ya'akov in 1935, it began also serving the residents of the kibbutz. Like the HaSade station, this 'station' was merely a trilingual sign where trains stopped.

  • Arlosorow Halt Station

The Arlosorow Halt Station was named after the prominent Zionist Haim Arlosoroff. It was built in 1937 and served the kibbutzim Masada and Sha'ar HaGolan, which were also founded in memory of Arlosoroff. This station replaced the temporary Jordan Valley Station, and a tin shack was created to protect passengers from harsh weather conditions. Today, nothing remains of this station.

  • Jordan Valley Station

This was a temporary station created in 1936 in light of the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine, to allow the Jewish residents of the Jordan Valley to travel safely without going through the Arab Samakh (Tzemah) station. The station, which was funded by the Jews in the area, sported a single small sign. It was cancelled following the inception of the Arlosorow Halt.

Tzemah Station in 2006
  • Tzemah Station

Distance from Haifa: 86.9 km[11]

The Tzemah Railway Station (originally Samakh) was the seventh of the eight original stations on the valley line. It served the village of Samakh, inhabited mostly by settled Bedouins. The station facilitated the growth of the village, which reached an Arab population of 3,460.[12] A quay was built near the station, on the Sea of Galilee, for moving freight from the railway to Tiberias.

The station was damaged during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, in the Battles of the Kinarot Valley. Starting in 2011, the station is undergoing extensive restoration work.[13]

  • al-Hamma Station

Distance from Haifa: 95.3 km[14]

The al-Hamma (now Hamat Gader, El Hüsame [15] in Ottoman Turkish) Station was the eighth and last of the original station on the valley line. While located within the borders of what was then defined as Palestine, it was relatively isolated, and could not serve as a major transportation hub and gateway to Syria, a function which was performed by the Tzemah Station.

The station was built near the Roman bath houses of al-Hamma, and included several stone structures. These also served as the residence for the founder of kibbutz Mevo Hama, who renovated the bath houses.

Today, the station is located in Israel, near the Syrian border, and its structures are used for a fish farm. A tin sign can still be seen bearing the name of the station.

Current status and plans[edit]

National Road Authority map depicting the renewed Jezreel Valley Railway's route.
On 30 December 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Transport Minister Israel Katz and Mayor of Beit She'an Jackie Levy participated in the cornerstone laying ceremony for the new Beit Shea'an Railway Station. The old station structure seen in the background, along with others at the site will be renovated and become part of the new station's complex.

The Jezreel Valley railway fell into disrepair after the founding of the State of Israel, and as the years progressed, the chances of renovating the line diminished even further. The fact that the line was the only narrow gauge line in Israel meant that its rolling stock was incompatible with the rest of Israel Railways' network, a fact which greatly contributed to the line's demise. The significant cost to convert the line to standard gauge was considered too prohibitive to be carried out in the early days of the state. Since then there have been several attempts to rebuild the railway along approximately the same route.

In 1988, a decision was passed to renew the Jezreel Valley railway, and plans were made to alter the historical route to conform to new realities on the ground in several points on the route. However, it was not until ten years later, in 1998, that a survey of the land was made to inspect its suitability for a modern railway line, which was also not immediately used. Several years later, major foreign investment began flowing into the country following the worldwide early 2000s recession, which prompted resuming discussions about renewing the valley railway which has regional importance for transporting goods to/from parts of Israel and Jordan via rail links for export/import through Israeli seaports on the Mediterranean sea.

On October 28, 2002, the Transportation Ministry of Israel and the minister Ephraim Sneh announced in a press release that Israel Railways started extensive planning of the valley line's renovation, at a cost of NIS 40 million for the planning stage, and an additional NIS 1 billion to be appropriated later for the construction itself. The railway would connect Haifa with the Sheikh Hussein Bridge on the Jordan River, on a 74 km route. It would later be extended by Jordan to Irbid. The original planned completion date was the second half of 2007.[16]

In 2003, the new Minister of Transportation Avigdor Lieberman announced that in July 2005, work would start on the renewal of the line. Plans for a national infrastructure project were presented which would further alter the rail route, due to changes on the ground since the 1988 plans. These changes included relocating the Afula section to a partially underground route between Afula and Afula Illit, instead of its previous location in the very center of the city. By the end of 2005, many of the plans were approved by the Construction and Planning Committees, which called for the completion of the line by 2010. Five stations were approved: Haifa East, Nesher, Kfar Yehoshua (in a different location from the historical one), Afula and Beit She'an. Israel Railways also proposed a completely new route to connect the Beit She'an station to Jordan, via the Sheikh Hussein bridge, as well as a future revival of the historical extension to Jenin to serve the Palestinian Authority.

However, work did not start in 2003. In November 2005, there was still no progress to be seen, and the extensive planning was not fully completed. In a press release on November 30, 2005, Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit announced that he was considering connecting Nazareth and Migdal HaEmek to the planned valley railway, and that the railway would be completed in 2008–09 (starting construction in 2006). The original plans to build a full dual-track railway in the initial phase were scrapped in favor of single-track for most of the route (between Nesher and Beit She'an).[17] On February 22, 2006, Israel Railways and the Nature and Parks Authority transferred 1,500 endangered geophytes from the route of the railway.[18]

Although the atmosphere remained optimistic, and some Israeli railway maps labeled the line as 'under construction', actual work had yet to begin on the valley railway (besides preliminary design work and right-of-way purchases). On February 24, 2010 the Israeli government voted to appropriate the sum of NIS 3.5 billion (since then raised to 4.1 billion, equivalent to about US$1.15 billion) for the detailed design and construction of the railway between Haifa and Beit Shea'an beginning in 2011.[19] On March 7, 2011 the National Roads Authority, which is in charge of managing the project, published a design-build tender for a 6.5 km section of the line near Afula. This was the first of a dozen tenders which the authority published through mid-2012 for the railway and five stations with overall completion of construction expected in 2016.[1][20] The railway will be constructed as single-track but with significant provisioning for double-tracking and electrification in a future follow-up project. It will terminate in Beit Shea'an, with the extension to the border crossing at the Sheikh Hussein bridge, which will require significant tunneling and bridging, being planned for a later stage. As of late 2012, extensive construction activities are taking place in multiple locations along the route between Haifa and Beit Shea'an. In April 2014 the earthworks at the foot of the Carmel range were almost complete as was the bridge over Highway 70 suggesting significant progress.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Mizrahi, Yossi (Reporter) (2011-09-27). Valley Railway Returns (Television newscast) (in Hebrew). Israel: Channel 2 News. 
  2. ^ Vilnai, Ze'ev. "Jerusalem - Jaffa–Jerusalem railway". Ariel Encyclopedia. Volume 4. Israel: Am Oved. pp. 3334–3339.  (Hebrew)
  3. ^ a b Hughes, Hugh (September 1989). "The Haifa–Damascus Railway". HaRakevet (5): pp. 11–12. 
  4. ^ "Ballad A Shaykh Station". Nabatea.net. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  5. ^ Ashkenazi, Eli (2006-09-29). "Kiryat Tivon residents bring Valley Train station back to life". Haaretz. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  6. ^ "Tel El Shamam Station". Nabatea.net. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  7. ^ Moshkovich, Israel (2008-06-06). "Valley Railway on the Tracks". Yedioth Ahronoth. p. 10. 
  8. ^ "Afula (Kafr Pula) Station". Nabatea.net. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  9. ^ "Beisan Station". Nabatea.net. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  10. ^ "The Mujami Bridge". Nabatea.net. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  11. ^ "Samakh Station". Nabatea.net. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  12. ^ "Appendix B - Non-Jewish Population within the Boundaries Held by the Israel Defence Army on 1.5.49 - as on 1.4.45". United Nations. Retrieved 2008-02-22. [dead link]
  13. ^ Ashkenazi, Eli (26 October 2011). "Tezmah Station Under Renovation". Haaretz (in Hebrew). Retrieved 11 November 2011. 
  14. ^ "El Hamma Station". Nabatea.net. Retrieved 2008-02-23. 
  15. ^ http://www.historystudies.net/Makaleler/93679403_receb.pdf Have Being Lived Socio-Economic Transformation with the Opening Hedjaz Railway to the Mediterranean Sea: A Case Study on Haifa Qadâ (Turkish)
  16. ^ Ovadia, Avner (2002-10-28). "Israel Railways Began Planning the Valley Railway, which will Connect Haifa with the Beit She'an Valley" (DOC). Israeli Ministry of Transportation. Retrieved 2008-02-23. [dead link]
  17. ^ Ovadia, Avner (2005-11-30). "Sheetrit Ordered to Check the Option of Connection Migdal HaEmek and Nazareth to the Valley Railway". Israeli Ministry of Transportation. Archived from the original on 2008-04-09. Retrieved 2008-02-23. 
  18. ^ "Plant Salvage Works on Rakevet HaEmek". HaRakevet (72): p. 16. ISSN 0964-8763. 
  19. ^ http://port2port.co.il/Index.asp?ArticleID=67750&CategoryID=46&Year=2010&Month=2&Page=1
  20. ^ Avi Bar-Eli (2011-03-07). "Jezreel Valley Railway Tender Postponed due to 700 mln NIS Overage". TheMarker (in Hebrew). Retrieved 2011-03-07. 

External links[edit]