Railways in the Holy LandRailways in the Holy Land

Railways in the Holy LandRailways in the Holy Land

  • Issue: December 1977
  • Designer: A. Kalderon
  • Stamp size: 40 x 25.7 mm
  • Plate no.: 512 - 515
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: Government Printers
  • Method of printing: Photogravure

Some 40 years before the laying of the first railway line in the Holy Land there had been talk of a rail link between Jaffa and Jerusalem, and plans had been drawn up by Montefiore in 1857 and by the American, Zimpel, in 1862, while Oliphant had proposed the construction of a whole rail network.

The Jaff - Jerusalem Railway

In the year 1888 the Jew, Joseph Navon of Jerusalem, was granted a concession to construct a line from Jaffa to Jerusalem with branches to Nablus and Gaza. Due to financial difficulties, Navon sold the concession to a group of French investors and the line was inaugurated with great pomp and splendor in 1892. The track was narrow gauge - 100 cm. wide - part of the equipment was purchased from De Lesseps' company after its failure to construct the Panama Canal. The original timetable allowed for one train a day in each direction; the journey itself took four hours. Later on, more trains were added and the time was reduced to 3 1/2 hours. The line served mainly the pilgrim traffic and the carriage of mail. In 1918 the track was converted to standard gauge.

The Emek Railway

The famous "Hejaz Railway" from Damascus to Medina (in Saudi Arabia), 1,301 km. long, was constructed during the years 1901-1909. For strategic reasons the line had to have an outlet to the sea. The Turks avoided using the Beirut-Damascus line which was under French influence, and preferred to construct a new line from Der'a in the south of the Hauran to Zemakh, and thence via the Jordan and Jezreel (Yizre'el) Valleys to Haifa - 162 km in all. The first Haifa-Damascus run took place in 1905. These lines were of the same gauge as the Hejaz line - 105 cm.

The First World War, 1914-1918

During this period the Turks and the British Army constructed over 750 km. of railways throughout Palestine and laid the foundations of the rail network which is still in existence today.

The Turkish Railway

In 1913 the Turks began constructing the Afulah-Nablus-Jerusalem Railway as part of their plan for connecting all the holy cities of the Middle East with an integrated railway system. When Turkey joined in the war alongside the Germans, the original project was shelved , and the line diverted from Massoodiye (Sebastia) westwards to Tulkarem and from there to Lydda (Lod). As part of the German-Turkish plan of attack on the Suez Canal, a line was constructed from the Nahal Soreq station on the Jaffa-Jerusalem line to Beersheba (Be'er Shevah), a distance of 83 km., extending to Nizana and Kuseima in Sinai.

The British Railway

At the beginning of 1916 the British Army decided to put an end to the German-Turkish threat to the Canal by advancing north to Palestine. As they advanced, they built a double-track line along the Sinai coastline. After the failure of the British army to capture Gaza, the new Commander-in-chief General Allenby decided to break through the eastern flank of the front and built the Rafiah-Nahal Shallal (next to Kibbutz Magen) line which was later extended to Beersheba (Be'er Sheva).

The urgency of the military situation prevented the British from continuing the main line right along the coastline up to Jaffa and they diverted it instead in a northeasterly direction to Lydda (Lod), so as to be able to make use of the Turkish Lydda-Tulkarem section of line. This turned Lydda (Lod) into the country's main railway junction - a position which it has maintained to this very day. All the tracks constructed by the British were of standard gauge.

The period of the British mandate

During this period the railways were operated as a department of the Mandatory Government, but in spite of the wide variety of functions fulfilled by the railway, little was done to develop it. The Palestine Railways also operated the lines of the Emirate of Transjordan (Nasib-Amman-Ma?an) - the Transjordan section of the Hejaz Railway - with track rights over the portion of the Syrian Railway between Hamat Gader (El Hamma) and Nasib. The Rafiah Kantara line was owned by the British Colonial Office but all the personnel, engines and rolling stock belonged to the Palestine Railways, who operated the line.

Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, the only line to be constructed on economic grounds was the short (6.5 km.) Rosh ha-Ayin-Petah Tikvah line, in the year 1921, which was financed in partnership with the farmers of the area. The passenger service between Petah Tikvah and Tel Aviv via Lod which was opened in 1922 was short-lived since the journey took much longer than the diligence service which had a much shorter route by road.

Further development of the rail network took place during World War II when the Haifa-Beirut line (150 km.) was constructed and extended to Tripoli in Lebanon. The Haifa-Tripoli line provided uninterrupted rail connection from Constantinople and Ankara to Egypt. At the meeting of Middle East railroad managements in 1944 it was agreed to introduce an international passenger and freight service between Istanbul-Haifa-Cairo as soon as the war was over, but nothing came of this plan due to the outbreak of violence in Palestine which was followed by the War of Independence.

The Israel Railways

Following the liberation of Haifa, which took place at Pesach 5708, the Israel Railways was formed (April 20, 1948). The first lines to be put into operation were Haifa-Hadera and Haifa-Achziv. Since then, some 225 km. of main line have been constructed, supplemented by several dozen kilometers of branch lines and sidings to serve industrial plants. The Israel Railways currently operates 58 diesel locomotives of various sizes, 114 passenger coaches and about 2,200 freight cars. The rail network comprises 900 km. of track.

Future plans

The world of transport has suddenly "rediscovered" the railway and has woken up to the fact that the railway has certain advantages over road transport - higher rate of fuel utilization; comparatively low rate of land utilization; high degree of reliability due to the use of new technologies in the field of centralized operational control; high safety factor even in bad weather conditions.

The Israel Railways' future plans call for a line to Eilat; an express line from Tel Aviv through Ben Gurion Airport to Jerusalem which will cut the run between the two cities to 35 minutes; "suburban" services for the larger metropolitan areas; restoration of the Emek Railway; electrification of the network.

Il. 0.65 Stamp: First Locomotive In The Holy Land

One of the first five locomotives in service in Palestine. Constructed for the French Jaffa-Jerusalem line in 1890-1893 by the firm of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, USA. Type "Mogul", 2-6-0, it had a special tender attached for carrying supplies of water and coal.

The Anglo-American system of locomotive classification is based on the types of wheels installed. The left-hand number refers to the directional wheels which permit easy steering of the locomotive on curves; the middle number refers to the traction wheels which are attached by rods to the pistons (in steam locomotives}; the right-hand number refers to the balancing wheels under the driver's cabin. If the locomotive is without directional or balancing wheels, then the number "0" is used. The IL. 0.65 stamp depicts a locomotive with two directional wheels, six driving wheels and no balancing wheels.

Il. 1.50 Stamp: Locomotive Of The Jezreel Valley Train

Type 0-6-0 locomotive (i.e. without directional and balancing wheels). Constructed in Germany in 1899 for the Hejaz Railway and used mainly for light hauls or for shunting at stations. Used on the Emek Railway and on the Haifa-Akko line up to 1948.

Il. 2.00 Stamp: Locomotive At The Time Of The British Mandate Period

One of the six type 4-6-0 "P" class locomotives built in Scotland in 1935. They were used mainly for the Haifa-Kantara express passenger service during the Mandate period and were designed to pull 12 passenger coaches or haul a 600-ton load. Similar locomotives were built for the Egyptian, Iraqi, Indian and various other Railways. The Israel Railways used them mainly on the Haifa-Tel Aviv passenger run until they were withdrawn from service in 1958.

Il. 2.50 Stamp: Locomotive Of Israel Railways

Electric diesel locomotive type 0-6-6-0, the largest in use in Israel. This locomotive generates 2,200 b.h.p. and can haul a load of 2,400 tons on the flat or pull a passenger train at 120 km. per hour.

Israel Railways operates five such locomotives which were purchased between 1971 and 1977; they are used mainly for hauling minerals from the Negev to the Port of Ashdod and occasionally on the Nahariyyah-Tel Aviv passenger route.

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Railways in the Holy Land