The International Steam Pages

A Visit to Aqaba, Jordan, 2022

Thomas Kautzor reports on his visit between 19th and 22nd March 2022:

The Wadi Rum Desert Train operates partly with steam, but mainly with diesel. Oil-fired HJR 85 (Nippon Sharyo 1613/1953, built for Royal Siam Railways and delivered in 1959) has been at Wadi Rum since at least 2011. In March 2022, it operated two trains, while ARC diesel 955 (GE U17C 39955/1974, overhauled for the tourist train in 2005/6) operated 13 times. The trains are marketed by Amman-based company JHRC and tourist operators prefer diesel to steam as steam trains are twice as expensive. Steam trains are also often chartered by film crews, especially from India. When the steam trains operate, HJR sends down a three-man crew from Amman, while the diesel trains are operated by ARC staff from Aqaba. From Wadi Rum station, the train pulls back 10 km towards the Desert Highway, then runs forward 5km past Wadi Rum station where it is attacked by Bedouins, before setting back to Wadi Rum station.

Aqaba Railway Corporation (ARC) stopped running phosphate trains in 2019, when the connection to the port was lifted and the port facilities razed to make for an Emirati marina project which has coming to nothing so far. Some employees have retired, but most are still employed. Most can stay at home, but there is still staff on daily duty at the headquarters and workshops in Ma’an and Aqaba, and all the stations are still manned 3-man crews working 2-day shifts, after which they have a week off. 17 operational GE diesels are stored at Aqaba and another two at Ma’an. 

There are big projects to reconnect the railway to the new phosphate port south of Aqaba near the Saudi border (15 km) and to incorporate the line into the standard gauge rail projects connecting with Saudi Arabia and Syria by means of a dual gauge third rail. Canadian company Arby also has plans to use the Aqaba workshops as a regional rail maintenance facility and training center. 

So far however nothing is happening aside of the Wadi Rum train, except for some inspection trips with speeders or the HJR trolley 303 (Wickham Type 40 Mk. II 10978/1976) at Ma’an, which is still operational and made a 113 km inspection trip north to Wadi Al Abyad Mine a month earlier. 

Rob Dickinson