Israel’s Railways: Past and Present

Jerusalem-light-railIn 1892, the Jaffa-Jerusalem Railroad was completed.  Of this construction, in 1915 in ‘Recent Jewish Progress in Palestine,’ Henrietta Szold termed it “one of the most important events of the period.”  It resulted in making it much easier for pilgrims to visit the region since many tourists would frequent the Holy Land and make their way to Jerusalem. By 1913 the line was transporting 183,000 people and 48,000 tons of freight per year.  The duration of the journey took up to four hours, which was considered fast considering the same journey by road took up to two days. In the beginning it only went once a day each way but extra trips were added to the Easter schedule and by 1900 – due to its large usage – two trains in each direction went daily.  Today, the Shapell Manuscript Foundation has in its archives a rail ticket from the time.  Written in French and Arabic, this was a 2nd class ticket for “Palestine.” No date is written on it but it has been used since it was punched.  According to Cotterell, it was “the first Middle Eastern railway.”  In 1948 the line closed.

Looking at this ticket it is fascinating how far the country – known as Palestine when the ticket was distributed – has come. Today Israel can be extremely proud of its hi-tech Jerusalem Light Rail.  A staggering 4 billion shekels was just invested in it from the Transportation Ministry so that it will be able to travel almost double its current distance.  This means it will be going more than 22 kilometers.  Now, the train goes from Neve Yaacov to Mt. Herzl but with this additional investment it will continue to Ein Kerem, taking approximately 250,000 passengers daily.  That’s quite a jump from the first railway back in the early 20th century that didn’t even come close to that number per year!