Our cycling club had a memorable outing last Friday travelling from Haifa to Beit Shean on the re-opened Valley Railway. This spur, last used in 1948, was officially opened just before the Succot Holiday and we were possibly the first group of cyclists to utilise the service, inspired by a historical photo from the archives.
The archival picture shows a Haifa cycling group (Macaabi Club) taken at Afula Station (circa 1927), their front wheels lined up along the narrow gauge rail-line of the original Jezreel Valley Railway. We tried to emulate our predecessors with a picture of our group taken on arrival at Beit Shean Station. We could not pose next to the rail track itself due to modern safety and security regulations!
The point of origin of the service to Beit Shean is Atlit. Most of our riders alighted the train at Hof HaCarmel,Haifa, but others joined at Haifa Center- HaShemona, Yokneam-Kfar Yehoshua, and Migdal HaEmek-Kfar Baruch. The journey from from Hof HaCarmel to Beit Shean took an hour.
The bike group took an early morning train which at this hour was running wagons of the oldest rolling stock, single- decker Alstom carriages.On these, no designated carriages for bicycles were available, consequently we had to cram the bikes in the isles and the doorway entrances. Luckily there weren't many other passengers travelling, so there was minimum disruption, Our return from Beit Shean was on Bombardier double-decker carriages, with the bike designated carriage. It was a pleasure to use this facility, although there were plenty of other cyclists too, so it was quite crammed with up to 20 bikes. It will doubtless prove to be a popular service for cyclists.
The experience of riding the re-born valley railway evoked the atmosphere of a previous era, with many of the vistas remaining much the same - the wide expanses of fields boarded by hills to the north and south - although there were very few sightings of the original structures connected with the Valley Railway. On arrival at the Beit Shean station entrance, we found a nice touch, a poster with the historical overview and information on the original railway.
I am sure Beit Shean station, as well as the other stops on the Valley Railway, will prove to be excellent starting points for bike rides. We chose to do a route in the valley, through the Beit Shean Nature Reserve, following the Harod Stream with its 'green' waterfall, to Kibbutzim Ein Harod/Tel Yosef. There is a convenient underpass at this point, under the railway line, for the use of pedestrians and cyclists. Then climbing into the hills we had a great view of the valley below and of course saw the impressive rail line dissecting the valley and the train plying its new journey.