Other Rail Lines and Miscellaneous
The following excerpt has been taken from
"Arabia Infelix" by G. Wyman Bury, Kessinger Publishing,
Republished in Dec 2004, Paperback, 264 pages, ISBN17975180
This books is available from the following venders:
Special thanks to Peter Herrett for passing this
on to us.
- Two things are essential before any serious
attempt can be made to develop the resources of Yamen: she must
have an adequate harbour, and easy transit between that harbour
and her larger towns.
- The local authorities have always recognized
the importance of these two factors, and at a very early stage
in the Ottoman occupation commenced the road that links Hodeida
and Sanaa. This, however, is of more strategic than commercial
value, for its surface and gradients forbid ordinary vehicular
traffic, and even camel caravans avoid its mountain passes, preferring
longer but less arduous routes.
- The history of public works and enterprise
in Yamen is a gloomy one. From 1902 to 1908, stone jetties and
a breakwater were being slowly constructed at Hodeida, and not
until their completion did the authorities find out that the
water was not deep enough to allow loaded lighters to come alongside
and discharge-the raison d' être of the whole scheme. The
contract had been given to a French engineer, but he sublet it
to an Italian, who did the actual work. That futile undertaking
cost nearly £14,000.
- A condenser and ice-machine were installed
at Hodeida in 1907, capable of distilling ten tons of water and
making three tons of ice in a day. The plants cost over £2000,
and were imported by contract with an Italian firm. Both seem
permanently out of order and are no longer used. Then the Ottoman
Government conceived a more ambitious project- perfectly sound
in theory-of constructing a harbour for Hodeida, which has only
an open roadstead, with an exposed anchorage for steamers three
miles off the beach. The proposed site was ten miles north of
Hodeida, where there is a deep, natural inlet, protected by a
long spit, which projects boldly northward and is known as Ras
al-Katib (Shingle Point).
- The scheme was to give a five-fathom anchorage
to a dozen vessels, beside providing a stone quay where three
such vessels could tie, up and discharge simultaneously.
- All this was only part of an undertaking,
since known as the Hodeida-Sanaa railway scheme.
- The harbour at Ras al-Katib was to be linked
up with Hodeida by a metre-gauge line running inland to Obal
and up the Sihâm past Mefhak to Sanaa, thence to Amran.
This involved 200 miles of track at a total cost, including harbour,
of two millions sterling. A concession and contract was issued
by the Ottoman Ministry of Public Works and a French syndicate
was formed to handle the enterprise.
- A preliminary survey was completed in April,
19 10, when the original scheme was found too expensive, so another
survey was organized to make alternative traces to Sanaa from
the coast 'Via the Zabid valley and Dhamar, also southward along
the Tlhama past Zabid up to Taiz and so onto the central plateau
through Ibb, Yerim and Dhamar to the capital.
- At the same time a strong party of continental
engineers came out to commence construction at Ras al-Katib.
- Izzet Pasha cut the first sod in March, 1911,
and the railway was pushed forward from Ras al-Katib before adequate
arrangements had been made there for the dis-embarkation of heavy
material. When war broke out - between Italy and Turkey, the
Italian engineer in charge of the enterprise was replaced by
a Frenchman, who seems to have had friction with his staff and
the local authorities.
- At the end of 191 I, the consulting engineer
came out from France and reported most unfavourably on the work
done. He stated that two million francs' worth of material at
Ras al-Katib had become mere scrap-iron, that the harbour had
not been made or linked by rail with Hodeida, and that nearly
half of the funds allotted (which were less than a million sterling)
had been expended. This report, in conjunction with the Italian
blockade of the Yamen coast early in 1912, decided the Directorate
in Paris to shut down and cut their losses.
- The net results, as I saw them in the summer
of 1913, comprised some 8000 tons of railway material conveyed
by steamer to Ras al- Katib, and valued at three million francs.
Most of the heavy stuff had been dumped on the beach for want
of an adequate jetty or cranes to handle it, and the lighter
material was stacked in the open. There were some well-constructed
buildings of corrugated iron for quarters, offices, etc., all
in good condition. About five miles of rusted, single track extended
from the temporary jetty at Ras al-Katib toward Hodeida, and
on it was a. locomotive and two passenger coaches, about three
miles out from the depot.
- A low embankment had been constructed for
another ten miles across the tidal flats of the coast and into
the bush, curving inland a mile north of Hodeida and running
parallel with the up-country caravan route.
- It is not for me to criticize an undertaking
that lacked neither zeal nor ability, but it is permissible to
consider the causes of failure for the guidance of similar ventures.
- The climate down on the coast is hot and
damp, detrimental alike to personnel, labour and material. The
native labour procurable was absolutely unaccustomed to such
work and required the closest supervision, while the local government,
which did its best for the enterprise, was itself in difficulties.
- In view of the known engineering problems
inland, too much was attempted with the capital available, and
proper facilities for discharging cargo at Ras al-Katib should
have been the first consideration.
- Stone for the jetty was not procurable locally,
but had to be brought in dhows from the mountain island of Zoukar,
at considerable delay and expense. If the line had been extended
another twenty miles across level country to Bajil, unlimited
stone could have been got there. It is easy to be wise after
the event, but a preliminary scheme, ensuring a decent harbour
connected with Hodeida, and the linking of that town with Hajeilah,
among the foot-hills, would have been feasible enough, for there
is no great engineering difficulty en route, and the entrance
to Ras al-Katib lagoon is already thirty feet deep.
- Rail-head would then have reached the foot
of the mountain road to the interior. A good round sum spent
on that road would have vastly improved it for traffic, and the
scheme might have shown a working profit. It would have been
time then to consider its further extension.
- As it is, the Turkish Government has dropped
a lot of money, and those who tackled the enterprise have burnt
their fingers. All this tends to discourage similar undertakings