The International Steam Pages

Steam in the Middle East

Jan Willem van Dorp reports on the latest of his independent wanderings in August/September 2005....

After several trips to Indonesia and China in the last couple of years I felt like a change, especially after the trials the Great Vaporus, Lord of Steam, put me through in both 2003 (SARS scare) and 2004 ( the End of Times at the Jingpeng Pass and the total disappearance of PG Sragi’s field lines).

So, enticed by the upbeat Syria and Jordan reports in CRJ 141 and a dirt-cheap flight to Istanbul ( I decided to hit the road to Damascus for some new inspiration, expecting to see at least the Fridays-only picnic trains on the Barada Valley line in Syria with steam and hoping for more.

Well, neither my hopes (plenty of diesels serviceable on both Hejaz Railways this year, so no need for steam), nor my expectation (the Fridays-only steam service has been cancelled since the start of the Damascus railway works more than 1.5 years ago – it would have been really nice if someone had reported this, after all it is the end of regular steam passenger work in yet another country and there are not that many left these days!!) came true, so I ended up with another major trial: a tourist trip with no working steam at all. The end of (steam) times is really nigh!!

I guess this will have to do as inspiration to return to my usual haunts next year; even though it is only a fraction of what it used to be there is still some steam left in Indonesia and China and I will remain loyal to the Great Vaporus till the bitter end.


Istanbul: 0-4-0 T 2251 is back at its plinth at Sirkeci station and at Haydarpasa tenderless 2-4-0 23.004 is plinthed.

Konya: In the final days of steam a new alignment through a tunnel was constructed bypassing the Bozdag Pass section West of Konya. Now, a quarter of a century later, travelling over the new alignment on the Haydarpasa-Adana Icanadolu Mavi train I was pleasantly surprised to see that much of the old alignment where once the Henschels struggled remains in situ, with the Western (Meydan) end used to stable freight vans.

In Konya itself a standard engine, presumably the nominally preserved Henschel 2-8-2, was looking out of the shed, just like in the good old days. 2-8-0 45.011 is plinthed in front of Konya station.

Adana: 0-6-0 T 3315 is plinthed in front of Adana station


Damascus: Even the description “total rebuilding of the Cadem-Kanawat line” in CRJ 139 appears to be an understatement for the extent of the railway works in Damascus.

In fact, although the reception building will be retained, Damascus Kanawat Hejaz Railway station has seen its last trains and is now a building site for a shopping mall and a 5-star hotel with only plinthed 2-6-0T 62 as a memory of better days.

The 1050 mm line to Cadem has been closed and lifted and will be replaced (sometime, perhaps in two years or so) by the first phase of a new standard gauge electric “Metro” system between Cadem and Baramke bus station, some 500 m. short of the old Kanawat station (in a second phase it is intended to extend this Metro from Cadem to the airport).

The Barada Valley line towards Serghaya remains in situ north of Baramke, but is only operational north of Hame and has lost its Fridays-only summer picnic service when the line was cut back. Unless some sort of link with Cadem works is reestablished after the completion of the Metro works (a standard gauge transporter would do, but I can’t see it happening) this line is bound to fade away with the expiry of the boiler certificate of its last engine though.

Cadem: Visited 31st August. Even at 7 a.m. (coming off an Aleppo train) I was - as always in Syria - made very welcome at Cadem works.

Apart from a great many decaying hulks, Mallet 962 was in the yard where it had brought in a special “last Monday”, 2-8-2 260 was being painted up in the shed, with its sister 262 besides the shed, dirty but apparently serviceable. Two 2-8-0s, 91 and (presumably) 160 were undergoing overhaul at the works. The Dion-Bouton railcar was in two parts, with the motorcar in and the trailer in front of the shed.
With enough diesels serviceable this year and no specials ordered for a while no steam action was planned for the short term, but another visitor at another time may be luckier of course.

Hame: On 2nd September the four engines previously reported in CRJ (2-6-0Ts 751/4/5 and 2-8-0 90) remained marooned (see above) here. Clearly none of the tank engines had turned a wheel for quite some time, but 90 looked serviceable, indeed it was tender-first at the head of a rake of coaches as it had arrived on a special from up-valley some days or weeks before, the regular Fridays-only picnic trains being a thing of the past. Hame is best reached from Damascus from the minibus station under the viaduct next to the national museum.

Der’aa: Some rebuilding is going on in Der’aa, with an ugly blueish footbridge having been built over the yard. On 1st September dusty 2-6-0T+T 66 and a stored 2-8-0 were present at Der’aa shed, together with DMU 502/3, which had been at Cadem the previous day and was probably intended to work (evening) specials in conjunction with the Bosra festival (in 2005: 1-10 September). At that time the Bosra line clearly hadn’t been used for quite a while.

On 12th September the Bosra line had seen some use, the DMU had gone and two coaches had appeared instead. Otherwise no changes.

Der’aa-Cadem: The Damascus (Cadem)-Der’aa-Amman passenger service is still provided on Mondays and Thursdays only, starting from each end at 8.00. On these days the Syrian freights Cadem-Der’aa v.v. and the Jordanian freights Amman-Der’aa v.v. each carry a passenger coach and connect at Der’aa. On Thursday 1st September the international train from Amman arrived Der’aa behind two diesels at 13.00, half an hour later followed by the Syrian train from Cadem behind AV-402. The Jordanian train left again at 14.00 and by 15.00 AV-402 had positioned the Damascus (Cadem) train ready for the movers to start loading somebody’s household onto a van. With nothing moving yet I retreated to the bus station for the one hour ride to Damascus. I returned from Amman (see below) on Monday 12th September with the international train from Amman, arriving Der'’a at 12.00 this time. After connecting with the Syrian train it set off again at 13.30. The Syrian train, again with AV-402 in charge, was also earlier than 11 days before, arriving Der’aa at 12.40 and - this time after the movers had unloaded (another) van - leaving again at 14.30. Cadem was eventually reached at 19.30, with lengthy stops at all intermediate stations to allow the conductors to drink tea with the stationmasters, much to the annoyance of the driver, who finally got so fed up with the delays that at the last station before Cadem he responded to the message “five more minutes” by starting the train, forcing the astonished conductors to some exercise.

Future (time) travellers might be better off taking the train Southbound from Cadem to Amman, which is much more likely to arrive on or near time, rather than Northbound.

Lattakia: Standard gauge 030-159 (Kessler/Esslingen, 2490/1891) is plinthed in front of Lattakia station. No prize for guessing that it is an 0-6-0.


Amman: On Saturday 3rd September The Hejaz Railway station was solidly locked up (sorry: holiday, come back tomorrow). The next day the friendly stationmaster sold me JD 1 entry ticket to the railway museum and had me shown around.

An unidentified 2-6-2 T is plinthed at the station and an also unidentified YD is semi-plinthed on the bridge over the road, with HSP 2-8-2 72 dumped nearby, both on separate pieces of track. HSP 2-6-2 61 and Nippon 4-6-2 82 were in a siding at the southern end of the station, YD 23 opposite the turntable, Jung 2-8-2 51 in front of the shed and Nippon 4-6-2 85 and HSP 2-8-2 71 inside. Although 85 was still being worked on all these looked like potential runners. According to the stationmaster no steam activity was expected until some 3 weeks later, with tourist specials from Amman for a short distance south booked for 21st and 23rd September.

Shortly afterwards a perfect English-speaking steam driver told me that nr. 85 would run empty stock with some newly refurbished teak coaches to Aqaba, where it would be (out)stationed from thereon, on 20th September to work the inaugural Aqaba-Wadi Rum tourist special on 21st September, and that some vigorous testing of the freshly overhauled engine was envisaged beforehand, especially as the King might attend the inaugural run on 21st September. He also confirmed the 23rd September special around Amman, for which 82 was booked. Regrettably all this activity was too late for me.

Amman-Der’aa: The Hejaz Railway international passenger service Amman-Damascus (Cadem) v.v. still runs on Monday and Thursday starting from both ends at 8.00. In fact both the Syrian (Cadem-Der’aa v.v.) and Jordanian (Amman-Der’aa v.v.) freights carry one or two venerable passenger coaches on those days and provide a connection at Der’aa. On Monday 12th September the Jordanian train (diesel hauled; regrettably the vigorous testing of pacific 85 hadn’t started yet) left Amman at 8.00 sharp and with lengthy stops at Zarqa and Mafraq (and a short one at the border to take on the Syrian border officials) reached Der’aa at 12.00. After waiting the connection from Cadem it left again at 13.30. As punctuality is much more of an issue in Jordan than in Syria, the distance is shorter and the Jordan train leaves Der’aa first anyway future (time) travellers are recommended to take the train southbound, given you have a fair chance to arrive near or even on time, rather than northbound. 

Rob Dickinson