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Railway

AUSTRALIA | Wednesday, 18 May 2011 | Views [490]

The Kadem Train Museum opened in 2008 to house the rolling stock of the old Hejaz Railway. A narrow gauge line – the tracks are only a metre wide - it once snaked its way from Damascus to Medina, carrying pilgrims from across the Ottoman Empire to Haj.

The last passenger service, to Amman in Jordan, ran in 2007. Even then there was a change of trains at the border and the journey took 12 or so hours. But speed was hardly the point. There cannot be that many scheduled steam train journeys left in the world. This was one of them.

The engines were built in Chemnitz in 1898 and Wintherthur in 1908 and boasted top speeds of 35 km/h. The black hulled boilers, now spotted with rust, ran originally on coal and were converted to burn oil later in their careers.

The museum is in three parts. After the rolling stock is a large room filled with ticket printing machines, telephones, French survey maps from 1943, timetables for the Palestine Railways [services to Acre], uniforms, medals, dials, gauges, switches, oil cans and spanners.

The third part is the workshop where men are slowly restoring the engines and carriages. Slowly indeed, for none of the machines were in use when I visited. Two newly cast wheels were suspended in a massive lathe, the cutting tool alone nearly a foot long. But it was not switched on.

The plan is to run a Friday service to Der'aa. The Turkish government talks about restoring the whole line, though it is unclear if steam is to be part of this service.

In any case it might be a while. The carriages still have signs in French and Arabic, hard wooden benches and narrow racks above to store your luggage. I do not remember if there were fans on board.

Behind the museum is the abandoned rolling stock for the railways proper. A Romanian engine with wheels removed and wiring exposed. Rows of carriages gone grey with dust and faded by sunlight.

There is also a new train, Chinese, with gleaming paint and shining metal, moving slowly down the track. Ready for the journey to Aleppo and beyond.

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