The Jezreel Valley Railway

The Jezreel Valley railway or the Valley Train is a railroad that existed in Ottoman and British Palestine, as well as a modern railway in Israel built in the 21st century. It runs from the Mediterranean coast inland along the length of the Jezreel Valley. The historical line was a segment of the longer Haifa–Dera’a line, which was itself a branch of the larger Hejaz railway.

Locomotive built by Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works employed by the Valley Train, 1946

The historical Haifa–Dera’a line was built at the beginning of the 20th century and connected the Port of Haifa with the main part of the Hejaz railway, the Damascus–Medina line. The last stop of the Haifa–Dera’a line within the Mandate Palestine borders was at al-Hamma, today Hamat Gader. Planning and construction took four years. The railway was inaugurated on October 15, 1905 and regular services operated on it until 1948.


Map (not to scale) of the historical line – original stations marked by full black circles.

Despite several renewal attempts, the line lay dismantled for decades until 2011 when construction started on a large-scale project to build a new standard gauge railway from Haifa to Beit She’an along roughly the same route as the historic valley railway. Israel Railways began passenger service on the new valley railway on 16 October 2016.


The New Valley Train – Brige in Kiryat Harishet

The first attempts to renew the historic valley line were made in the 1950s, when the possibility of converting the railway to standard gauge was examined. On June 13, 1962, talks were held between the CEO of Israel Railways Menachem Savidor and head of the Afula local council Yoash Dubnov. Savidor declared that if Afula and its suburbs could guarantee a concentration of 400–500,000 tons of freight to be moved on the railway, the project would be financially viable, and Israel Railways would support it. The plan failed. However, the land was owned by Israel Railways and not approved for building. Some municipalities turned the area of the railway lines into public parks with a billboard or monument commemorating the Jezreel Valley railway. In spite of this, the Ramat David Airbase was expanded onto a major portion of the historical line’s alignment.


Park on the railway line in Afula, 2006

Although the atmosphere remained optimistic over the years as proposals for the railway’s revival were raised, and some Israeli railway maps even labeled the line as ‘under construction’, actual work did not commence on the valley railway (besides preliminary design work and right-of-way purchases). Then on February 24, 2010 the Israeli government voted to appropriate the sum of NIS 3.5 billion (later raised to 4.1 billion, equivalent to about US$1.15 billion in 2011 dollars) for the detailed design and construction of the railway between Haifa and Beit Shea’an beginning in 2011. The railway was constructed as single-track but with significant provisioning for double-tracking and electrification in a future follow-up project. It terminates in Beit Shea’an, with the extension to the border crossing at the Sheikh Hussein bridge, which will require significant tunneling and bridging, being planned for a later stage. The renewed Valley Railway opened for passenger service on 16 October 2016 following several years of extensive construction activities.

Beit She’an new Railway Station

When originally built in the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottomans had the advantage of constructing the railway in what was then a relatively sparsely populated area and as such had the benefit of being able to lay the railway on the most topographically convenient route between Haifa and Beit She’an. The renewed railway’s route however had to contend with the significant population, which settled in the area since, a complex set of existing infrastructure built up over the years, strict environmental considerations, and the wish to preserve as much open space as possible along the route. Therefore, the new route was in places considerably more difficult to construct and in some spots is less direct than the original alignment.


National Road Authority map depicting the renewed Jezreel Valley Railway’s route.

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