The Railway of the Pilgrims
THE EL KOYE BRIDGE IN THE YARMUK VALLEY, BETWEEN HAIFA AND DERAA. This view gives a good idea of the wild ruggedness of the country through which the Hedjaz Railway passes.
THE vast majority of railways are intended for transporting passengers and merchandise from point to point to serve the ends of ordinary social and commercial life. A very small number have been built with the object of concentrating troops upon a frontier -
Except for a comparatively short distance at its northern end, this remarkable line traverses country so wild and sterile as to render any prospects of dividends extremely doubtful. This fact does not affect its importance, however, as the metals were laid with the express -
The Turks of Turkey in Europe and of Asia Minor form a very important section of the followers of the prophet, for is not the temporal head of the Ottoman Empire also the spiritual head of Islam? To reach the holy cities from the Levant a pilgrim might either make for Damascus, and thence trace, in fifty-
MAP SHOWING THE HEDJAZ RAILWAY. Dotted lines indicate sections under construction or projected.
The Moslem of the more rigidly orthodox type regards these trials as a worthy part of the pilgrimage -
The time was ripe for the idea. The faithful throughout the world, so far from pouring ridicule on the Sultan’s proposal, hailed it with enthusiasm. Nor were they content with words, as they poured in their subscriptions in generous measure to hasten the realization of this notable project. The Government, infected with a like spirit, handed over to the Commission appointed to carry the matter through seventeen million unused postage stamps to be sold by public auction for the good of the cause.
The rapidity with which things now moved was a revelation to those who regarded the Turk as a constitutional sluggard. The word “to-
The initial survey of the first section south from Damascus was put in hand at once. Simultaneously all preliminary arrangements were made with regard to gauge, rails, type of track to be laid down, and building equipment. The greater part of the rails and other material was purchased in Belgium, Russia, and the United States. We may mention in passing that the gauge selected was that of the line linking Damascus with the sea -
Beirut was chosen as the landing-
The construction of the Haifa-
On this 100-
After crossing the Jordan by a handsome masonry bridge of seven arches, the line bends sharply to the north-
As soon as this link was completed a train service was inaugurated between Haifa and Damascus; and an already considerable tourist traffic is increasing rapidly, as also the trade in agricultural produce raised in the province traversed by railway.
MASONRY BRIDGE AND WATERFALL IN THE TEL-
From Deraa the line ascends gradually an undulating plateau to Zerka, where it drops into a deep valley, and climbs out of the same by a winding ascent on to another small fertile belt. As the line proceeds south-
At a point approximately abreast of the Dead Sea the railway enters a barren waste. A foot-
For a considerable distance the going is easy enough from the engineering point of view. The valleys are wide, and contain no steep grades; the engineer could pick his path and lay his iron road in such a manner as to minimize the work to be exacted from the locomotives.
But in one respect the country is difficult: it is practically waterless. During construction every drop of water used by the army of workmen had to be conveyed by train from the nearest well -
As the railway approaches Ma’an, 285 miles from Damascus, it climbs steadily on to the back of a plateau more than 3,000 feet above sea-
Southwards of Ma’an the line traverses high ground more desolate, if possible, than the country already crossed -
To the engineer the existence of the escarpment was a serious obstacle. The lower level had to be gained somehow. As time and money were alike valuable, a wide detour, which should take the ravine in flank, as it were, could not be considered. There was nothing for it but to follow the old pilgrims’ track along the very face of the cliff. By an extremely clever piece of engineering the line is carried down to the valley in a long looped curve, parallel to the face of the cliffs. So well was the work done that the grade nowhere exceeds 1·8 per cent. The descent of the ravine is undoubtedly one of the most prominent engineering features of the whole railway, and its execution reflects the highest credit on those who were responsible.
The valley gained, the railway twists in and out among rocky promontories, occasionally tunnelling through an obstacle, and at Wadi Rutm definitely enters the open depression, flanked to the east by the red and yellow sandstone bluffs 20 miles away, and on the west by the black, jagged rocks of the Red Sea watershed. In the valley have sprung up several small settlements since the coming of the railway, notably at Kalaat-
OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE TEBUK STATION. Notice the substantial character of the buildings, and the wind-
Shortly after leaving Tebuk the line crosses a wide gully, down which rushes occasionally a turbulent torrent; for even in this arid region rain sometimes falls, and then in torrents. The bridge, or rather viaduct, of twelve arches here is remarkable as being the only one on the line built by the Turkish soldiers.
The plain continues for some distance, and then the ranges of hills converge suddenly from either side, and close the basin. Plunging through a short tunnel, the railway emerges into a narrow valley, up which it climbs easily on a gentle gradient, and passes through extremely fine scenery to Medain Salih, near which the highest point on the line -
El Ula, 609 miles from Damascus, is possibly the most important station on the railway. Here we find a little town of four thousand souls buried in the heart of the desert. It contains five hundred houses, and boasts copious springs, and a thousand acres planted with date palms and cereals. The station, somewhat imposing and extensive, is the last depot north of Medina, and close to it are repair shops, engine-
Beyond El Ula the infidel may not go. Though Medina is still 210 miles away, Moslem prejudice forbids an unbeliever to approach nearer to the holy city. The journey has, indeed, been made by one or two “pagan” Europeans, but not
without great personal risk; and many years must elapse before improvements in means of communication will break down the barrier set up by the devotees of this uncompromising religion. Even Meissner Pasha himself fell under the ban, and was obliged to relegate the carrying of the rails into Medina to the very able Marshal Kiazim Pasha, who accomplished the task most creditably, aided by a band of Moslem workers.
The Turks have proved themselves very competent railway constructors. They laid the permanent way throughout, leaving only the station buildings, bridges, and culverts to workmen of other nationalities. The Turkish sailors unloaded railway material at Haifa; Turkish soldiers laid the sleepers and rails. Operations were conducted throughout on a highly organized system. Here is a little picture from the pen of one work:-
“The (construction) train carried several truck loads of rails and sleepers, and as it drew up within ten yards of the last rails laid, the working-
BUILDING PIERS FOR STEEL BRIDGES ON HAIFA-
The solidity of everything connected with this railway is one of its outstanding features. Unlike the majority of such
pioneer lines running through a sparsely populated country, it has not been built with the prime idea of getting through as quickly as possible at small cost, and reconstructing on a sounder scale afterwards. It was properly built in the first instance, and its permanent way will compare favourably with any to be found in civilized parts of the world, being ballasted with broken rock and sand, which afford a solid foundation for the rails. The bridges are in keeping with the remainder of the work; their piers of solid masonry rest on solid footings capable of withstanding the scour of turbulent rivers and the blows of floating debris carried down by floods. Where exceptionally heavy work was found to be necessary, a temporary bridge was built to carry material for the stretch of line ahead, which was laid while the permanent bridge was constructed behind it. Consequently railhead advanced uninterruptedly.
For the stone arch bridges ample supplies of material were usually found close to the site, or could be brought up easily by train. Stone was used also for the stations, which have no raised platforms, but merely paved areas on both sides of the track.
The engines used on this line are necessarily of a very powerful type, as they have to haul 250-
the engine had to be the mechanical counterpart of the “ship of the desert” with regard to its water-
TURKISH SOLDIERS BUILDING MOAZAMMA STATION AT AN OASIS IN THE ARABIAN DESERT.
The carriages are of the American pattern, commodious, comfortable, and well slung on four-
The railway was mooted by the Sultan in 1900, and completed -
TEBUK MOSQUE, THE ONLY ONE BUILT FOR THE LINE. It was constructed by Christian workmen.
In spite of all difficulties the railway was laid well and cheaply. The total cost for the Damascus and Haifa to Medina portion was only £3,000,000, or about £30,000 per mile. The lowness of the figures is due in no small degree to the fact that for once Turkish greed was subordinated to religious motives, so that all the money subscribed for the railway was used for that purpose. This renunciation is in itself sufficient to render the Hedjaz scheme a memorable feature of the Ottoman Empire.
It remains to lay 285 miles of track across the desert from Medina to Mecca. The work is being pushed forward with unabated vigour, and soon it will be possible for Moslems to travel to that -
VADI PTIL BRIDGE. The only one built by Turkish soldiers.
* The Times.