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Hejaz railway

The 1050mm gauge Hejaz railway (also Hedjaz, etc.) ran from Damascus to Medina, through the Hejaz region of Arabia.

Although justified as a "religious railway" to aid the Hajj pilgrimage, its true purpose was probably to cement the Ottoman grip on the region and foster trade between Damascus and Medina.

The railway was started in 1900 at the behest of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II and was built largely by the Turkss, with German advice and support. The railway is remarkable both for having had no debt when completed and for having many miles of track below sea-level.

The initial declared aim of pushing the railway all the way to Makkah was never realized and it never reached further south than Medina, 1300 km (820 miles) from Damascus.

The railway reached Medina on September 1, 1908, the anniversary of the Sultan's accession. Unfortunately compromises were made to finish by this date, with some sections of track being laid on temporary embankments across wadis.

From its outset, the railway was the target of attacks by local Arab tribes. These were never particularly successful, but neither were the Turks able to control areas more than a mile or so either side of the tracks. Due to the locals' habit of pulling up wooden sleepers to fuel their camp-fires, some sections of the track were laid on iron sleepers.

The line was repeatedly damaged in fighting during the First World War, particularly at the hands of the Arab guerrilla force led by T. E. Lawrence. Following the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, the railway never re-opened south of the Jordanian border.

An attempt was made to re-open the line in the mid 1960s, but this was abandoned due to the Six Day War in 1967.

A section of the Hejaz Railway still operates, in Jordan and Syria, and it forms the main part of the Jordanian railway system.

Small non-operating sections of the railway track, buildings and rolling-stock are still preserved as tourist-attractions in Saudi Arabia. Trains destroyed by Lawrence can still be seen where they fell.