The International Steam Pages
Steam in Jordan and Syria September 2000
This report (and the pictures) is by Hugh Ballantyne who was the tour leader for Vic Allen of Enthusiast Holidays, London SE23 3QR.
The first sighting at Amman station on the morning of 10th September 2000 was the departure of a revenue earning goods train just after 08.00 double headed diesel northwards to Syria. On shed 2-8-2 51 (Jung 12081/55) was in steam and ready to work the first charter of the tour to Qasir, a distance of nearly 12 km. The well known Jordanian YD type 2-8-2 23 (RSH 7433/52) was sitting high up on blocks outside the loco shed with all its wheels removed. We were assured it was under repair and not withdrawn from service. No. 51 left at 08.45 making numerous runpasts at all the well known spots and arrived Qasir at 10.45. A similar trip was made in the afternoon, this time using 2-8-2 71 (HStP 2144/56) and a completely different set of vantage points.
On Monday 11th September we were told the International train to Damasus now runs twice a week and no longer has a mixed consist. The train comprised GEC diesel 40212 hauling two yellow & red 1975 built Romanian bogie coaches and a fourgon. It departed at 08.40, thought to be 40 minutes late. No. 51 was making ready to run ECS to Qatrana and the group went south by bus to await its arrival. The ECS train was assisted by a diesel pilot, 40213, which proceeded to remove near derelict bogie wagons off two legs of the triangle so that 51 could then be turned. The train back to Amman left at 15.15 still with 40213 still as pilot, but was promptly uncoupled for the runpasts that took place until sunset.
The next day, 12th September, early morning found both 2-6-2T 61 (HStP 2149/56) and 4-6-2 82 (Nippon 1610/53) in steam. Earlier in the year a film company making 'Mummy II' used railway scenes which prompted Hedjaz Jordan Railway to repaint much of its coaching stock quite tastefully to dark red and cream. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for some of the steam locomotives, even including some of the long term derelicts! Formerly black Pacific 82 is quite acceptable in dark red (not maroon). The black 2-8-2 71 has a rather excessive amount of red paint all over its front end induding the outer smoke-box plus brown cylinders and steam dome, but 2-6-2T 61 is very garish and has to be seen to be believed. It should only be photographed in black & white!. As a general description it has a dark red boiler and tank sides with a broad blue band along the tanks. Blue tyres, steps, cab window frames and front hand rails, are set off by gold motion, valve gear, cylinders and smoke box door. Despite its shining new paint it is not in the best of condition and was restricted to shunting wagons up and down the yard for the group, which it did without mishap.
After half an hour of shunting, Japanese Pacific 82 was substituted for 61 and made the uphill run towards Qasir, during which this attractive looking locomotive performed the job quite competently. From here the group went by bus north to the border at Dera'a in Syria, stopping en route to see the stuffed and mounted sister Pacific 84 standing in the grounds of Amman University.
The Syrian part of the tour got off to a flying start with 2-6-0T+T 66 (Jung 987/07) doing what it is now only capable of these days which is to run up and down Dera'a yard on a series of runpasts which it did in fine style in superb late afternoon sunlight.
An early start on 13th September found 2-8-2 262 (Hart 4031/18) - at least that's what the cabside plates said - looking good in red and green livery and steam tight, being ex works last April. It was ready for a tender first run down the Yarmuk Gorge as far as Zeizoun station near km 136 (from Haifa) and some 25 kms from Dera'a. This was anticipated to be a highlight of the tour as the Syrian railway authorities have made a tremendous effort over the last year in clearing the track from tunnel No. 7 (the top tunnel from the coast) down the Gorge and relaying where necessary the seven kms to Zeizoun station. The journey fully came up to expectations with the railway dramatically cut into the sides of the gorge, which in itself is a remarkable geological sight as to how such a small river as the Yarmuk could over millions of years gouge a deep gash in the earths surface. Besides the view this reopened section contains three tunnels and three bridges, of which bridge No. 14 has a central steel lattice girder of 165 feet and three 40 feet masonry arches on each side.Zeizoun station is abandoned but has a run round loop so No. 262 returned uphill back to Dera'a smoke box first.
Later in the same afternoon before No. 262 took the group northwards from Dera'a towards Damascus we were very surprised to see 2-8-2 261 arrive with a goods train from Cadem. Our train then departed at 16.10 and after making full use of the late afternoon light the party either finished off the journey into Damascus by bus, or stayed with the train albeit with a later arrival in Syria's capital city.
Thursday 14th September started badly on arrival at Damascus station as we found 2-8-0 160 (Borsig 9009/14) at the end of the platform with all ten wheels in the ballast. This was to have been our train engine to Serghaya, but ex rack tank 0-6-2T 805 (SLM 985/96) was quickly substituted. Prior to our journey Romanian built diesel A.301 departed at 08.00 with the MThO train to Amman. With old Driver Aziz firmly in control of 805 a good run up into the Anti Lebanon mountain range took place. At Zebadani the water supply was weak so the local fire engine drove up and pumped most of the required water into the loco's tanks. The turntable at Serghaya is just long enough for 805's wheelbase so enabling the return journey, mainly downhill, to be used to photographic advantage, as appropriate.
On Friday 15th September the Borsig 2-8-0 was required to work the heavily laden FO public train to Serghaya leaving Damascus at 08.20. Due to the weight of this train we could not swop engines, and as 805 was our pre-booked engine for this day, it had to be used for our second uphill run, this time a shorter journey to Teqieh to make use of the afternoon light.
Before this, in the morning the group went behind 805 to Cadem for a works visit.
Here, besides the usual derelicts 2-8-0 91 (Hart 3040/06) and 2-6-0T 754 (SLM 854/94) were by the works traverser apparently requiring minor repairs. Inside the erecting shop 2-6-0T 755 (SLM 855/94) was under repair and 2-8-0 90 (Hart 3039/07) was stated to be nearing completion for return to service after many years out of use. Two Hartmann 2-8-2s, 260, dead but serviceable, and 262, which departed light engine to Dera'a, were also seen.
On 16th September at Bosra the reason for 262's departure from Cadem shed the previous afternoon was revealed when early in the morning 262 climbed up grade to the terminus alongside Bosra Citadel and several 'run-ins' were staged. The train then retreated to Bosra Town station were the loco turned on the triangle and then took the group to Dera'a. This ended the Syrian part of the tour and from here the party went back across the border into Jordan by bus. Our arrival at Mafraq neatly coincided with that of Pacific 82 and ECS. We then enjoyed an afternoon of runpasts in excellent light on our way back to Amman. With almost continuous whistling in the fading light for the last 15kms, the Japanese built Pacific rolled into Amman station at 19.10 to conclude the tour.
To sum up it was encouraging to see what appears to be a small increase in rail borne traffic on the Jordan Hedjaz Railway. In Syria three of the regular steam fleet were stopped for repairs leaving the serviceable engines as five (discounting 2-6-0T+T 66, the 'pet' at Dera'a). It was pleasing that 2-8-0 90 might also enter traffic within a reasonable time and it is certainly hoped the Jordanians will complete repairs to 23, the look-a-like YD, the nearest IRS designed locomotive to the UK.