Jordan Hejaz Railway Corporation is considered one of the oldest government institutions in Jordan till present, it benefited from these long years to develop its work in a mechanism that corresponds to modern technologies.
This mixture between the ambience of history and the modern tools in the world of railways and trains was a self-conducted effort and in an accurate balance that was based on the Corporation’s budget that has currently become in its best conditions.
In addition, the investment approach which the Corporation conducted was the main aspect in repaying the deficit that the Corporation suffered from, to be more open to the developed countries in the field of trains to get benefit of their experience.
Deficient budget and a new era
Director General of the Jordan Hejaz Railway Salah Al Lawzi said “the financial status of the Corporation was very modest where the deficit in the budget reached at the end of 2011 (105) thousand dinars which were repaid during the first three months through a reconsideration of the contracts between the Corporation and the public and private institutions that were signed long time ago.”
The review of old contracts was attested in an interview with the Al Rai newspaper, as the contract with the Phosphate Company that was signed (30) years ago for (119) dinars per year for transporting the phosphate was terminated in 2011 to become (43) thousand dinars per year, adding that “there are many companies similar to this case and were terminated so that the Corporation’s budget became one million and (800) thousands compared to previous year which was (934) thousand dinars.
Daily attacks and legal breakthroughs
Concerning the main problems that encounter the Corporation, Al Lawzi said that the attacks which take place almost on a daily basis on the route of the railway by individuals and public institutions are considered the main dilemma represented by constructions on the track of the route, pointing out that the Corporation suffers this problem on a daily basis. The number of assault cases on the track of the route during the last six months reached (189) cases, where the aggressors benefited from legal breakthroughs to continue their aggression.
He cited one example of these assaults: “one of these cases is for one of the citizens in the Al-Zarqa governorate who established a commercial kiosk on the campus of the railway since (1996) and when the Corporation tried to remove this kind of assault, the citizen goes to court and files a suit to stop all administrative procedures represented by the removal of the kiosk and after a period of time he drops the case and the situation continued the same up till present.”
He pointed out that the repeated attacks by citizens on the stations reached to (8), in addition to the digging works for the search of gold which negatively affects the infrastructure of the route.
He added that “these assaults constitute a huge burden to the budget of the Corporation and a waste of public monetary in addition to abeyance of many tourist trips as a result of these assaults.”
Investment for development purposes
Concerning the investment approach of the Corporation, he noted that the Corporation has a number of kiosks in the Al-Zarqa camp to be removed with an immediate acquisition by the Council of Ministers when starting the light rail project, saying “owners of kiosks were compensated by the government while others went to court.”
Al Lawzi explained that there is a comprehensive vision to rehabilitate the places where the kiosks used to exist and to build new ones, while the advantage to benefiting from them will be granted to old owners of kiosk that were removed, and the people who built temporary kiosks in the site, in addition to the people of the camp, stating that the required financing of the project is allocated and it will see the light before the end of the year.
He said that the Corporation in cooperation with the Department of Land & Survey formed a committee to allocate the lands that are feasible for investment and are located on the track of the route in the Governorates of Amman, Al-Zarqa and Al-Mafraq to be offered for investment in the near future.
The Corporation owns (8) stations located on the track of the route to be of a historic thread as the date of its construction returns back to between (1903-1904), Al Lawzi said that: “due to the beauty of the Al-Jeezah station and its distinctive location near the Queen Alia International Airport, the station’s area is (54) donums and there is a serious intention to make a sort of investment in it whether by establishing restaurants or a tourist resort to attract internal and external tourism before the end of this year in partnership with the private sector or through renting.”
He added: “we have bought a piece of land last week that is abutting to another piece of land that we already own beforehand at the entrance of the King Abdul Aziz Al Saud City (Al Sharq). The area of the land became (8) donums and will be offered for investment soon.”
Within the external cooperation with countries all over the world, the Corporation receives many delegations. Last month, A Turkish delegation visited the Corporation to be briefed on the technical status of the route’s track, define priorities to its rehabilitation and conduct the necessary maintenance so that they provide financial support to rehabilitate the route’s track to transport passengers from Amman the capital to the governorate of Al-Zaraq which will be finalized after issuing the final report from the Turkish side.
Al Lawzi noted that “the Corporation conducts tourist trips to groups from inside and outside mainly from Amman station to Al-Jeezah station near Queen Alia International Airport, during which entertainment programs are presented. These trips constitute around (30%) operational revenue of the Corporation’s general budget.
In addition, the Corporation has a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Education to conduct regular school trips, according to Al Lawzi who also stated: “these are some sort of encouraging and promotional trips to motivate and promote the train’s culture amongst our students and to be used as well in the most important project which is the National Railways Project which the Ministry of Transport is planning to introduce shortly. It aims at establishing new routes at international standards to connect the Kingdom with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Republic of Iraq. The route will start from the port of Aqaba which will place Jordan on the global transport map and transit.”
Moreover, he noted that the Corporation has as well semi-weekly trips which encounter some problems including showering the train with stones by children living on the track of the route which causes the breaking of its glass.”
“We have contacted schools in the areas where such incidents happen and conducted free trips to nearby residents so that they become part of the Corporation and that they conserve the trains to solve this problem permanently.”
The Corporation aims at establishing a railway museum that befits the standing of the Corporation, its history and legacy. Therefore, it received (30) thousand dinars from the USAID as a start to establish the project.
The Corporation owns six old steam locomotives that are almost (scrap), Al Lawzi noted that there is a serious intention by the Corporation to reconstruct them as they constitute a real legacy and precious treasure.
He stated that “we have addressed one of the national institutions that is concerned with reconstruction, to be shocked that they asked for (247500) dinars for each locomotives, something that exceeds the Corporation’s financial capabilities mainly as there are six locomotives to be reconstructed.
However, this financial deficit didn’t stop workers at the Corporation to form a technical team composed of the Corporation’s engineers to personally reconstruct the locomotives which started with two locomotives at (100) thousand dinars cost. Work is underway till the moment to reconstruct the rest.
Moreover, the Corporation developed two old (land rover) vehicles to manage being operational on the route similar to trains, so that the Corporation will be briefed on the readiness of the route, to conduct the required maintenance, preserve the rout from ongoing assaults and to develop the wheels to go along the route’s track.
The Syrian Crisis and Its Implications
And regarding the impact of the Syrian crisis on the Corporation he said that the touristic trips which the Corporation used to organize to Syria stopped due to events which had a negative impact on the Corporation’s budget.
Al Lawzi added "before the events we did sign an MoU with the Syrian side to transport cement and we did several experimental trips to transport cement from the south to Amman, Al-Zarqa and Al-Mafraq reaching Syria and it was a successful experiment at all levels whether regarding the amount transported or readiness of the route of what constitutes the beginning for future plans for the transport of cement or any other goods to the Syrian Arab Republic, after the end of the current events.
The Corporation will try hard to organize partnership programs among other entities, and it is currently aiming based on the directions of the Minister of Transport to secure partnerships with the Aqaba Railway Corporation to transfer grains from the Port of Aqaba for grain silos in Amman. According to Al Lawzi this agreement will not affect the road transport sector (trucks) due to the fact that the imported material is enough for both.
And regarding the historical development of the route since its establishment through an initiative from Ezat al Abed, an Arab from the Levant region who used to work as a second secretary for Sultan Abdul Hamid and who bestowed upon him the Pasha title afterwards.
Sultan Abdul Hamid announced in September 1900 his plans of establishing a railway that reaches to Hejaz, during the 25th anniversary of his accession to the throne celebration, where he, as Khalifah, called on all Islamic countries and Muslims around the world to collect donations to establish it, in order to facilitate the transport of Muslim pilgrims to the Holy sites, his appeal was received with passion and enthusiasm and support by all Muslims and work started to establish the narrow line (105cm) with a pivotal weight (10.5 tons) and next to it a wired connectivity line for the telegraph to connect the city of Damascus with Al Medina Munawwarah through Amman with a length of (1303) km, and the work was finished in 1908.
The work was supervised by German engineer Mesner who was bestowed upon a Pasha title by the Sultan and who had (17) Turkish (5) Italians, (12) Germans, (2) French, (1) Austrian, (1) Belgium and (1) Greek engineers working under him, he selected the road of the pilgrims convoys for the railway with a top speed of 40 km/h and the pivotal weight 10.5 tons while its normal speed was 25 km/h.
Travel during that time to Al Madina Munawwarah and Mecca was from Damascus either by camel convoys and lasted (40-50) days or by sea and lasted 10-15 days while by train it only took (55) hours the last part reaching Al Madina Munawwarah was inaugurated on September 1, 1908 and it was a new beginning to transfer pilgrims and travelers away from epidemics and the hardships of travelling.
The number of stations reached (59) starting from Al Qadam station in Damascus on (0) km and finishing at Al Madina station with (1320.5) km and the length of the line inside Jordan was (452) km in addition the number of steam locomotives reached 130 and passengers wagons reached 116 and luggage wagons and mail reached 35 and one mosque wagon and trucks (1048) of various types, the route operated for only 7 years (1908-1914) and the highest number of passengers reached was (360657) in 1914 and largest quantity of products transported reached (112007) tons in 1913, three trains were operational weekly noting that the route’s capacity is 10 trains daily.
When Sharif Al Hussein Bin Ali (God rest his soul) announced the Great Arab Revolt on June 10th 1916, a new era in the Arab renaissance, there was a need to stop the Hejaz Railway especially in the areas near the south and north of Maan station, so the Turkish army will not use it against the Great Arab Revolt to be fixed at a later stage.
His Majesty King Abdullah bin Al Hussein (Founding King) when he stopped at Maan Station to lead the army of the Great Arab Revolt took one of the station’s buildings as his headquarters where he run general issues and communicated with the leaders of tribes to continue the revolt which carries the name of the late His Majesty King Abdullah bin Al Hussein, the railway had the honor to transfer His Majesty from Maan to Amman in one of its trains in 1921. As Damascus was the final internal station for the railway between Beirut and Damascus which opened in 1894 with a capacity of (105) cm, Mesner selected the same capacity for Hejaz railway so pilgrims could travel from Beirut to Mecca.
There was a failed attempt to rebuild the Hejaz Railway in 1935, and in 1965 a higher committee was formed consisted of ministers of transport in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Arab Syrian Republic and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to operate the Hejaz Railway according to unified agreement agreed on by the three countries. The committee requested two British companies Martin Cawly and Alderton to rebuild Hejaz Railway which was expected to finish in 1971 with a cost of (15) million pounds divided equally upon the three countries but work stopped after the completion of (129km) only. In 1980, Germany's Dorsh Consult presented a feasibility study to re establish the Hejaz Railway but in 1981 the higher committee decided that each country will work on its railway on its land as per its development plans.
Meanwhile, regarding railway’s administration, after the Turkish administration of the route ended in 1917, the British Mandate handled the management of the of route represented by Palestine Railway until 1948 then the Arab Armed Forces until 1952 where the Jordan Hejaz Railway Corporation was established according to the Law No. (23) for the year 1952 where the Jordan Hejaz Railway was considered Islamic endowment and a public institution with rights and financial independence with Prime Minister as its top reference.