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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hijaz train line- Ottoman Haifa station

Railroad between Damascus, Syria and Madina (then Hijaz, now Saudi Arabia), 1,320 km long.
Among the main purposes of the railway was to help pilgrims to travel to the two cities of Madina and Mecca, perceived as the most holy by Muslims. The planned destination was Mecca, a work which was begun but never completed.
The railway was initiated by the Ottoman authorities, built under German administration, but largely with local labour.
The railway, which ran through desolate regions, was a victim to attacks from local Arabs and Bedouins. The railway was fully operational only for a short period, between 1908 and 1916. Since then, it is only the line between Damascus and Amman which has been used.

Haifa raliway station served as part of the Hejaz network but had its local
function such as mobilty in Plestine transportation.

History of the Hejaz Railway

The Hejaz Railway was originally built to transport pilgrims from Damascus to Madinah, where they would travel on to Mecca for the Muslim Prilgrimage. The idea was first put forward in 1864 during the height of the age of great railways around the world, but it was not until 40 years later (1908) that the Hejaz Railway came into being. Before the Hejaz Railway, Muslim pilgrims traveled to Madinah by camel caravan. The journey between Damascus and Medinah usually took two months and was full of hardships. Since the Muslim calander is a lunar calander, the feast of Al Adha, when Muslims travel to Medina to worship the black stone changed from season to season. Sometimes it meant traveling through the winter, enduring freezing temperatures or torrential rains. At the height of summer, it meant crossing scorching hot deserts. Towns and settlements were sparse and there were hostile Muslim tribes along the way, as well as the enevidable hucksters who preyed on pious pillgrims, as they made the 'once in a lifetime' pilgrimage, in obedience to their prophet Mohammed.

The building of the Hejaz Railway presented a financial and engineering challenge. It required a budget of some $16 million dollars, and this was at the turn of the century when dollars were worth a lot more than they are today. Contributions came from the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hammed, the Khedive of Egypt, and the Shah of Iran. Other contributions came from the Turkish Civil Service, Armed Forces, and other various fund-raising efforts (which included the sale of titles such as Pasha or Bey to citizens who could afford the price of instant honor).

Construction, maintenance and guarding of the line all presented enormous difficulties. The task was mainly undertaken by 5,000 Turkish soldiers. Along the way there were hostile tribesmen, who before the railway, made a lucritive profit guiding, protecting and providing for pilgrims. They were very unhappy at loosing part of their livelyhood. Many of them were pastoralist who's main source of cash was their involvment in the pilgrimage each year. Along with this there were physical difficulties. Driving a railway across the Arabian deserts proved very difficult. The ground was very soft and sandy in places and solid rock in others. There were also major geographical obsticals to cross, such as the Naqab Escartment in southern Jordan. While drinking water, and water for the steam engines was a problem, winter rainstorms caused flash floods, washing away bridges and banks and causing the line to collapse in places.

Kibbutz Yagur station near Haifa on the way to Afula