Tourist Tip of the Day Israel Railway Museum

All aboard the train to Israel’s past, when railways played a key role in the Zionist project.

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If trains and Israeli history both fire up your imagination, head for the national train museum, tucked away in lower Haifa at the historic East Haifa train station, where you’ll find a unique combination of both.

"This is not only Israel Railways' museum,” says the museum’s director Chen Melling. “It is Israel's national railway museum, revealing both the diverse history of Israel Railways and its predecessors and that of other railways, past and present.”

On display are train cars and life-size mannequins, with soundtracks featuring evocative voices of yesteryear adding an eerie touch. The museum’s 40 locomotives and cars include the last surviving Israeli steam engine, supplied by a German firm to the Hijaz Railway in 1902; a luxurious "saloon coach," enjoyed by historical figures like Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie and former Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, and an Egyptian passenger car built in 1893 and converted to a rolling field-hospital by the British army during World War II.

Melling, 34, an avid train enthusiast who volunteered at the museum from the ages of 12 to 30 before taking a full-time position, leads tour groups among these rolling relics as well as smaller items, like signaling equipment, tickets, time tables and even railway-themed postage stamps from around the world. Starting in the museum’s main building, a restored engine shed, he explains the important role trains played in building the Jewish state.

The first train arrived in Israel on September 26, 1892. As Eliezer Ben-Yehuda – the father of Modern Hebrew who coined the Hebrew word for "train," rakevet – described it, the “balls of fire and puffs of smoke, noise of the wheels on the iron track, deep sighing sound of the bubbling water, the shriek of the whistle,” heralded the height of high-tech travel. It shortened the trip from Jaffa to Jerusalem to a mere six hours, eight hours less than by horse-drawn wagon.

Trains are still an important form of transportation in Israel today, and Melling says he plans to add exhibits to the museum related to Israel Railway’s recent expansion and cutting-edge railway technology.

English-language tours of the museum can be arranged with Melling by email, museum@rail.co.il – or phone (04) 856-4180.

An Israel Railways train.Credit: Israel Railway

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