Israel's Fabled Jezreel Valley Train Revived After 65 Years of Silence

Some in the valley remember the train from the days of the Turkish Hejaz Railway, which ran from Haifa to Damascus until 1951.

Israel's Valley train line.
Gil Eliahu

The first test run of the resurrected Jezreel Valley train line took place on Monday, 65 years after the line was shut down.

Making the trip between the Kfar Baruch station and Beit She’an were Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, area mayors, and veteran residents of the Jezreel Valley who boarded the train at Afula. Part of the line’s modern version hews closely to the historic route, and in the future it’s slated to be extended to the border crossing at the Allenby Bridge, where it will link to the Jordanian rail system.

“This is a blessing for the valley, a gift to the periphery in general, and to Beit She’an in particular,” said Liran Raviv, a Beit She’an photographer who is seeing the dream of a train line to the coast take shape.

The historic valley line was a branch of the Turkish Hejaz Railway that ran from Haifa through Tzemah on the southern Lake Kinneret shore all the way to Damascus. It was built in 1905 and ran until 1951. There are people in the Jezreel Valley who still remember those days.

Rina Porat of Kfar Yehoshua was 20 years old when the old train stopped running. “At the time, the train was the center of our lives. Without the valley train, all the communities along the tracks would never have existed. It was a lifeline,” she said.

Porat recalls that when her mother was about to give birth to her, two friends from Kfar Yehoshua set out on a cattle-drawn cart to bring the doctor from Nahalal, who then advised her mother to go to the hospital. The mother, who had already started labor, was taken to the train station; since there were no trains to Afula at that hour, but only to Haifa, which was in the other direction, Porat was born in Hadassah Hospital in Haifa.

She remembers the train from her childhood, particularly the trips they took on Shabbat, and is still angry about the way people made fun of the slow-moving railroad cars. Despite the disadvantages, she says, the train was hugely important to the valley. She has mixed feelings about the new line, however. “We’ll have to wait and see what comes of it.“

Matan Oz, a resident of Tel Adashim, took the test run with his father and aunt, veteran residents of the moshav who had ridden the old Hejaz Railway. “Dad was satisfied, he really enjoyed himself,” said Oz. He added that because the train will link the Jezreel Valley with Haifa, it will provide more job opportunities for local residents and facilitate a wider dispersion of the population since people will be able to move to the valley and still work in the city.

Raviv, the photographer, noted that the train will make cultural and leisure activities much more accessible to residents of his area. “It will impact on everything. It will push everything forward,” he said. “As far as Beit She’an is concerned, this is one of the biggest investments ever made in this city.”

Minister Katz predicted that the train would help the region flourish and predicted that real estate values in the communities along the route would rise. He promised that in the future the railway would run from Kfar Baruch to Tel Aviv, a ride that would take half an hour. He also noted that a cargo depot had been built in Beit She’an from which cargo coming from Haifa Port will be transported to Jordan. He expressed hope that in the future the train would be extended into Jordan so that goods could be sent directly from Haifa.

The line will open to the public in a limited fashion on October 16, just before the Sukkot holiday. Passengers boarding the train at any of the valley stations will be able to go anywhere in the country for free until November 4, when the line becomes fully functional.

There are currently three other stations between Haifa and Beit She’an: Yokne’am-Kfar Yehoshua, Migdal Ha’emek-Kfar Baruch and Afula. Two more stations are planned for Haifa Bay and Nesher. Officials say that in the beginning, they expect 1,500 people to take the train daily, but that it will have 10,000 passengers a day by the end of the first year of operation.