Railway to Jerusalem

The railroad Jaffa – Jerusalem was completed 1892 and of great importance for the growing number of tourists from all over coming to visit “The Holy land”

The railway between Jaffa and Jerusalem was inaugurated 1892 after a long period of planning and preparation. The idea to build a railway from Jaffa to Jerusalem was first raised by Conrad Schick and Moses Montefiore in the middle of the 19th century. Schick made the first plan of where to build the line. This plan was not realized due to economic problems and the permission was later given to the French company Société du Chemin de Fer Ottoman de Jaffa à Jérusalem et Prolongements. The line was built as a 1,0 m narrow gauge railway, but was later rebuilt as a 1,435 m railway (standard in Western Europe).

His plan was to draw the ironline from Jerusalem through Ramallah and Beit Horon all the way to Jaffa. He published his idea in a small booklet: Studien über Strassen – und Eisenbahn – Anlagen zwischen Jaffa und Jerusalem, 1867. This plan was for a long time considered the best and French engineers made more detailed plans.

A railway from the coast to Jerusalem was of great interest from different perspectives. The growing number of Christian tourists would benefit of better communications, but also the Ottoman rulers had an interest of easier transportation all the way up to Jerusalem.

Because of the growing international interest in the region, both England and France competed against the Ottoman Empire about control over the area. The English and French interests did not succeed in financing the project. It took another 10 year until the French Jew Joseph Navon build the railway. He involved his friend, the Swiss Christian banker Johannes Frutiger, to finance the project. Frutiger was a good friend of Schick and originally sent to Jerusalem by the same Swiss organisation. That first track was made with a 1000 mm narrow gauge, but was soon widened to 1050 mm and later rebuild once again to the standard gauge of 1435 mm.


The remodelled railway station of Jaffa – now an exhibition hall.

Similar station buildings were built up both in Jaffa and Jerusalem. The one in Jaffa was remodelled in 2009 and is now used as exhibition-hall, while the Jerusalem building was remodeled just recently and is now transformed into a culinary centre with restaurants, cafeshops and icecreambars, open seven days a week.

Most information about Schick’s plan for the railway Jaffa – Jerusalem have been destroyed, there are some sources left, one important is the collection of letters from Conrad Schick to PEF (Palestinian Exploration Found in London).

This is well described in the book On Chariots with Horses of Iron and Fire: The Excursionists and the Narrow Gauge Railroad to Jerusalem, written by Anthony S. Travis in 2009.


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