‘Legendary’ Century-old Railway Could Ride Again in Israel's Jezreel Valley

Shlomo Maayan is working to realize his dream to recreate the historic rail route that was shut down in 1952, by operating a locomotive that was in operation in the same period as the Valley Train, which he found in Greece

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File photo: The Jezreel Valley railway station, in Kibbutz Yagur, 1939.
File photo: The Jezreel Valley railway station, in Kibbutz Yagur, 1939.

About a decade ago, after an extended search abroad, Prof. Shlomo Maayan of Tel Aviv finally found what he was looking for, an original Linke-Hofmann-Busch locomotive, made in Germany in 1927.

A piece of junk to many, to Ma’ayan it was another step toward fulfilling his dream of recreating, at least in part, the legendary Jezreel Valley railway. The locomotive had been in operation in the same period as the Valley Train.

Maayan, 73 and an infectious diseases specialist, wants to operate his locomotive and three vintage passenger cars on one section of the historic rail line. He calls it a “moving museum,” and views it as a potential tourist attraction.

A new valley line between Haifa and Beit She’an was inaugurated three years ago. The railway hews closely to the original route, which was shut down in 1952. None of the almost 4 billion shekels ($1.15 billion) spent on the new railway was set aside to preserve its predecessor. The state’s declared goal was to reduce travel time from outlying areas to the country’s center and to increase the value of properties along the route.

Maayan hopes to restore a 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) stretch of the original route, from the historic Tzemah station on Lake Kinneret east toward Hamat Gader. “The railway will take us along a fascinating and unique view of the Yarmouk River, which contains remnants of the bridges and tunnels the original Valley Train rode along or through, and a view of the meeting of three borders – Israel, Jordan and Syria,” he says.

Rescue, restoration and preservation work was done on the abandoned structures at Tzemah in recent years. They were rededicated in 2015 as part of the Kinneret Academic College campus. Australian cavalry fighting for the British empire captured the station from German and Turkish forces, which had entrenched themselves there. A Turkish railway turntable remained at the station.

Maayan took another step late last year toward making his dream come true. The locomotive, which he found at an old train station in Greece, was disassembled into four parts, loaded into trucks and shipped to northern Romania, where it will be restored by experts.

“This type of locomotive and similar ones ran on the Valley Train,” Maayan says. After the work is completed, the locomotive will be shipped to Israel. That takes money, and Maayan is looking for donors. He has drawn up a business plan, detailing the next steps and their costs. He has already brought on board some major partners, including Israel Railways, rail vehicle manufacturers Alstom (the successor of Linke-Hofmann-Busch) and Bombardier; the Jordan Valley Regional Council and Kinneret Academic College. He even got the Greek government to approve the export of the historic locomotive that he tracked down.

Maayan launched the project as part of his effort to memorialize his daughter Lily, who died of leukemia 11 years ago, shortly before she was to complete medical school.