Before going into details concerning the construction and development of the
Railway net and Ports in Palestine, it might be of interest first to refer, briefly, to the
conditions and means of transportation which existed in that colony before World
War I and during that War.
Excepting the one metre gauge railway line between Jaffa and Jerusalem and the
105 cm gauge line which linked up Haifa with Syria and the Hejaz, means of
transportation over the other parts of the country was old-fashioned and in some
regions non-existent. Movement of passengers between the large towns was carried
out by the use of horse-drawn eight-seat vans on unpaved roads and by horse-drawn
three-seat carriages within the towns.
Travels between small towns and villages were done on animal back - camels,
horses, mules, etc. - and by foot in journeys of comparatively short distances. In
certain regions the roads were impassable and without any sign posts; people had to
orient themselves by making frequent tiresome "reconnoitering journeys" to trace
their desired destination. Goods and household effects of limited load were conveyed
by horse-drawn carts and by animals - chiefly camels.
As regards the Palestine Railways in particular, their beginning is seen in the 1890s
when a French company constructed a metre gauge line between Jaffa and Jerusalem
covering a distance of 88 kilometres approximately. This line served passengers
travelling between the said two towns and those arriving in the country from abroad -
mostly Christian pilgrims wishing to visit Jerusalem.
Another venture followed the above in 1905 when the Ottoman Government
opened the 105 cm gauge railway line between Haifa and Deraa linking it up with the
"Pilgrims" Railway through the Hejaz to Medina and from Deraa to Syria and Jordan
(Deraa was a junction station in Jordan). Ambitious merchants and other business
men from various parts of the Middle East took advantage of the opening of this route
and together with pilgrims, flocked into the Hejaz which began to awake from its 1000
years long sleep.
Obviously the aforesaid two ventures had covered just a small part of the designed
network that was to be completed after the lapse of 13 years first by the British forces
and later by the British Mandatory Government.
Recorded facts reveal that the construction of the 4 ft. 8V2 ins. gauge railway line
between El Kantara on the eastern side of the Suez Canal and Haifa was effected by
the Royal Engineers of the victorious troops of Field Marshal Allenby during World
War I and parallel to their advance from Egypt towards Palestine. The line was built
in two sections, first that between El Kantara (Egypt) and Deir El Balah (Palestine)
and later that between Deir El Balah and Haifa, a total distance of 415 kilometres.
Besides rail-laying proper, the works included those of water supply, electric power,
station buildings, telegraph and telephone communications, etc. for the execution of
which the Royal Engineers deserve every praise. Laying of water pipes through the
barren desert of Sinai carried the Nile water into Palestine, a most significant project
in this venture.
The section of the line El Kantara-Rafa in Sinai (Egyptian territory), while operated
by the Palestine Railways, was owned by H.M. Government and named "Sinai
Military Railways" . The Narrow Gauge (105 cm) Hejaz Railways in Palestine and
Jordan was held in trust by the Government of Palestine.
Until 1920 El Kantara East was the base of the British Mihtary Headquarters which
also included the General Management of the Railways, their Workshops, Power
House, Depots and other installations.
With the conversion of the one metre gauge Jaffa-Jerusalem line to the 4 ft. 8V2 ins.
standard gauge, the entire railway net, excepting the 105 cm gauge Haifa-Deraa-
Jordan, operated on the universal standard gauge system.
On taking over, the British Mandatory Government proceeded with the work of
development such as the extension of existing lines, rebuilding of stations, enlarging
of marshalling yards and the training of the staff in their respective duties. It also
provided railway siding facilities to the industrialists and traders to serve their
factories, warehouses and other places of business where direct loading and offloading
of merchandise could be possible at the factory.
The final touches needed for linking Palestine with the trunk lines in the North and
so with Europe were added in 1942 when the Haifa-Beirut-Tripoli railway line was
built. This line was initially intended for military purposes during World War II but
was subsequently acquired by the Lebanese Government. It was to be opened for
public traffic and would have made Palestine once more the bridge between Africa,
Asia and Europe. Unfortunately, the scheme remained as a design only and was
never implemented consequent upon the termination of the mandate in Palestine and
the Arab-Israeli war that followed.
Through passenger trains between Haifa and El Kantara and vice versa with train
connection to Egypt and Palestine respectively were run daily providing first, second
and third class accommodation in comfortable coaches with "Farrashes" (Attendants)
to meet passenger errands and maintain cleanliness on trains; sleeping cars and dining
cars were also attached to these trains affording restful travel.
Punctual and quick ferry boats, provided by the Suez Canal Company at El
Kantara, carried passengers across either side of the Canal to continue travel to their
destination. Similar restful travels were also provided on trains running on other lines
of the country. Saloons were being provided for the travel of distinguished personalities
and senior government officials.
High Class Tourists in considerable numbers from Europe and the USA began
visiting the country shortly after the end of World War I, and tourist trains were being
appropriately marshalled for their travels within the country and to rail-linked
The Palestine Railways were well equipped with locomotive power
and modern goods wagons for the transport of all goods traffic within the country or in
transit to neighbouring countries. In addition to the standard types of open and
covered wagons, refrigerator vans were available for perishable traffic and tankswagons
for the conveyance of liquids in bulk including inflammables.
Goods train services were run regularly with through services operating between
the principal stations and pickup services covering intermediate points. Livestock
was conveyed in cattle wagons and despatched by the first available train service
immediately after loading, and, in certain circumstances, attendants travelled with
consignments of livestock. Wagons loaded with through booked consignments to and
from Egypt were carried across either side of the Suez Canal at El Kantara on
rail-linked "Wagon Transporter" at the rate of four ten-ton wagons per trip.
Exchange of wagons with neighbouring countries was carried out through "Wagon
Movement Control Offices" established at assigned locations.
The Palestine Railways which operated efficiently along European lines constituted
the largest transport enterprise in the country in which different denominations
worked together to provide a public transport service. It can be said in this regard that
Israel, the successor Authority, has benefited a great deal assuming the administration
by a well organised railway and other Government Services of the Mandatory
Government, together with their well trained personnel.
Rules and Regulations books and other documents relating to the operation of the
railways in Palestine are now available at the Rhodes House and Bodleian Libraries.
Nearly all the present sea and inland water ports in Palestine were in existence long
before World War I, but not to the same modern standard in which they appear
today. The administration of the ports of Palestine comprising the sea port of Haifa,
Jaffa (including Tel Aviv Lighter Harbour), Acre, Gaza and the inland water port of
Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee and the inland water port of the Dead Sea was
undertaken by the General Manager of the Palestine Railways in his capacity of Ports
Authority. The two principal sea ports, namely Haifa and Jaffa, were in the charge of
Port Managers who also controlled the minor sea and inland water ports of their
Before World War I, during the Ottoman regime. Acre port - 18 kilometres north
of Haifa - was the principal sea port; Haifa at that time had only a lighter harbour.
Acre, being then one of the important commercial centres in the Middle East, its port
warehouses provided transit accommodation for the storage of goods, chiefly corn
and other cereal products, from Palestine, Jordan and Syria preparatory to their
shipment to various destinations within the country and abroad. But the importance
of the sea port of Acre began to fade consequent upon the building of the railway lines
between Haifa - Jordan and Syria in 1905 and upon the development of the railway net
between El Kantara (Egypt) and Haifa and other areas at the end of World War I.
The Mandatory Government proceeded with the fundamental reconstruction and
enlargement of the sea port of Haifa rendering it one of the most important sea ports
in the Mediterranean, consistent with the geographical situation of Palestine in that
area. The relative works were executed under the direct supervision of prominent
engineers and were completed in 1934-1935.
As developed, Haifa port consisted of a deep water harbour with a total water area
of 1,000,000 metres squared enclosed by a main breakwater 760 m long; principal docking
facilities comprise the main wharf; a cargo jetty and an oil jetty, the latter enclosed in
an oil dock in which all bulk oil was handled. Submarine pipe lines extend into Acre
Bay and enable ships to load and discharge bulk oil. It is worthwhile mentioning in
this regard that before the Arab-Israeli War oil from Iraq was being directly conveyed
to Haifa Oil Refineries through the Iraq-Haifa pipeline of the Iraq Petroleum
Modern transit accommodation provided 23000 metres squared of covered storage space. Rail
connection to all areas in the harbour and adequate cargo facilities were provided.
The port was equipped with two steam tugs, 80 lighters and numerous small towing
tugs and launches.
Jaffa Port (Southern Section)
Before the reconstruction and development of the ports in Palestine, Jaffa Port was
a difficult harbour due to its situation on the one hand and to the lack of initiative by
the ruling Ottoman authorities to improve it on the other. In winter, ships frequently
avoided calling at the port; disembarking of passengers was carried out under
dangerous circumstances from ship to feluccas over huge waves centralizing and
raging in a rocky strait.
As developed, Jaffa Port consisted of an open roadstead port with a lighter basin;
secure anchorage in the roadstead of 14 to 18 metres depth. The lighter basin was
enclosed in a breakwater of 480 metres in length and contained a water area of 41
square metres of a maximum depth of 2 metres. Three quays in the basin provided
berthing facilities for lighters and other small craft.
Jaffa (Northern Section)
Constructed after World War I, it comprised Tel Aviv Lighter Harbour, the
property of the Marine Trust Ltd. The Harbour consisted of a roadstead with an
enclosed lighter basin covering 1400 square metres dredged to a maximum of
2 metres. The port was operated by the Trust, subject to supervision in certain
administrative matters by the Port Manager, Jaffa.
The Port of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee.
The water limits of the port embraced all the water area of the Lake. Port facilities
are limited to a privately owned enclosure which served both passenger and cargo
requirements and a small passenger jetty. Transport facilities were provided by
privately owned launches and boats.
The Port of Jodeida on the Dead Sea
The port which consisted of three jetties, was used principally in connection with
development of the large potash industry which was established there. One of the
jetties was used mainly for the landing and embarkation of passengers travelling by
the British Overseas Airways Corporation flying boat services.
The main enactment governing the administration and operation of the ports in
Palestine was the Ports Ordinance.
I must emphasise that the narrative outlined in this paper solely refers to the state
of the Railways and Ports in Palestine as reconstructed and developed by the British