Asian and Middle East Railway Heritage

By David Phillips


You can contact David at this address

He now has a website for his photos Davos Worldwide Trains


Hello John and how is it going? I have been reading your homepages here and it  is good to see someone else taking an interest in the whole railway scene  not just the locos. You would no doubt know that the line north of Kuala  Lumpur in the next 2 years to Ipoh is going to be double tracked and  electrified which means the end of all those nice little stations and  signals. The Indonesian section was cool, what a great place for travelling  and all. I will be heading back there in about 3 weeks for a bit more. If you  are into the old Edmondson tickets it is possible for about 2 or 3 US to  still buy complete sets from the stations in the country. And some of those  old Dutch stations too, real classics. Anyway I should be halfway polite and  introduce myself, my name is David Phillips and come from Queensland, Australia where I work as a fireman on a sugar cane railway in a  place called MacKay. This is cool as you only work 5 months a year and the  rest I go travelling. Basically riding trains and stuff. Now I am in Istanbul  having just spent 6 weeks down in Lebanon and Syria, chasing loco dumps in  Lebanon which resulted in 2 arrests, one at Tripoli and one in Rayak but  there is still a lot to see there, many old stations, locos, wagons, bridges, etc. And of course the old classic Hedjaz railway and the trains to Serghaya  are still fighting their way up each Friday as well as Sunday when needed. I  met a Syria railfan who had worked in Saudi Arabia and he had pictures of  the old Medina station and dumped steam locos there, what a classic  place. Before this I was in South Korea for 6 weeks, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc.  Now it is time for the long trip back. Anyway keep up the good work. Great  to see those pictures of Sri Lanka, and of everything too. If you get a chance  to go to Argentina to see the heritage left take it, it must the greatest  rotting British railway museum left. Bye and cheers, David 

Railway Heritage; Malaysia and Lebanon

Hi John, and how is it going? Since it is cold and snowing and there is not much else to do I sent you a few more of my mad stories from these parts. Yes feel free to use that info. It is cool. I will add a bit more on this letter. If you can get to Malaysia then you will definitely enjoy Malaysia. Last time between Kuala Lumpur and Butterworth I counted 36 sets of the old white wooden crossing gates with huts and small houses, etc.There are still 3 large signalboxes,1 at Tapah Road the other 2 in Ipoh.  Ipoh is a great place to watch trains, as well as for the atmosphere. It has 5 platforms of the low level type with lovely old wooden verandahs. The other stations are all small interlocked ground frames in old wood and corrugated iron buildings. As for Lebanon there are 2 track gauges. An old wide gauge line runs from Homs to Tripoli and then the Aussie army built the coastal line down to Beirut and Haifa. Most of this is still there but the stations are just square blocks and very small and unattractive, however the stone work on the bridges, embankments water towers etc is very good and the Aussie army shield can be seen in many places. The old Tripoli station is a shell and at the Beirut end is the old loco depot. I got in and got photos very quickly of about 6 engines before being arrested by the Syrian army guys and carted off for integration. Did the best dumb tourist act and got away with my photos too as the army base behind the loco shed did not appear in the pictures.  Beirut St Michael‚s station is easier to get into, Sunday is the best day. The old station still stands and is used for offices. Behind 5 old tank locos for the rack line over the mountains to Damascus. Also 2 long lines of freight wagons, passenger coaches of the 4 wheeled variety, etc.  Many have bullet holes.  Beirut has a dual gauge yard and also down the port is remnants of same. Some of the back streets close to the station still have tram tracks in them also. The old formation to Syria is still there but a lot of the rack line is gone completely. When you approach the pass before going down into the Bekaa Valley you can see bits of blown out track here and there. But many old stations have survived from shells to complete buildings as well as water towers, very old rusting disk signals, tunnels, snow sheds, etc.  The Bekaa valley has some great old stations.  Rayak is also a dual gauge yard where another line from Homs comes down. This was actually the old main line to Damascus before the civil war in the 70s meant the building of the new line totally in Syria.  Baalbek has a classic old ghost of a country station.  Rayak is another place where the Syrian army has taken over which you read in that first letter. The line south of Beirut to Israel is largely there from about 15 kms south of the city, but no stations where seen, just a lot of track and blown out bridges. So I hope that this some use to you.  Queensland cane trains now are a big new photographic field as so many of the other railways have been totally wiped by the government that it is one of the last places left where you can get a lot of action in daylight. And so many too. Just in Mackay the total of track between the 4 mills is over 1000 kilometres.  And it does give you the freedom to travel with good pay as well.  Before this had 6 years without any real work so put it to good use by travelling all over Australia jumping freight trains while you sti0ll could and photographing everything that they were getting rid off in their orgy of destruction to put us on a road based transportation system, will add more tomorrow. David   

The Bekaa Valley

Hello John, one of my mad travelling stories....,  It was another one of those days. Got the bus over to the Bekaa Valley. This is the area that the Israelis are not too fond of as there is Hezbollah and other slightly radical groups about with some quite interesting weaponry. Every so often a few bombs get dropped to show who is still boss. Anyway I have been told at a place called Rayak was more trains and so with another Australian bloke found ourselves wandering along the old line and then under a bridge and straight into more Syrians populating the railway station etc. What a seriously sad situation. So doing our best lost dog look was taken again into the officer and duly questioned for about 2 hours as to why we were here, trains and such like. Of course wandering into such an area after a few days back bombs were deposited all and sundry does look slightly out of ordinary. So after a while since we were captive company the officer proceeded to bore me senseless with his television, radio, Nintendo etc and other various pointless questions. The other lad was a bit worried and dribbled down his chin somewhat so I guess he was a little nervous. Anyway I ended up asking if we could take photos of said trains station etc and surprise, surprise was forthwith led off to a large building looking remarkably like workshops to find it full of old machinery, steam locos in various states and many other fascinating things. As long as we did not point cameras towards tanks, guns, thermonuclear weapons etc then we could quite freely take photos. But only inside as if we went to the locos down the yard somewhat, and looking very inviting the other guys were not so friendly and would shoot us.  Oh wellllllllll...So after this we were hit up for a 10 dollar bribe well what could you do, gave some bollocks story about having to buy a ticket for permission but the man selling them was out to lunch yes well, and all that.......  So after departing it was the usual insane traffic over the mountains back to Beirut. All power is going to be out for the next 4 months due to a little visit by the neighbours a few days ago. So that‚s it, bye and cheers, Davooooooo  

Indonesian Trains

Hi John, how are you?. I wrote this story near the end of December last year about my first experience of Indonesian trains. I will answer your other later today. Early Thursday night was spent waiting in Gamber station Jakarta for the express to Yoyakarta.  After the usual collection of crowds, beggars, and other hoards was the sight of a local train arriving with street kids on the roof and only inches from being fried by overhead electric wiring. Anyway the platforms filled with expectant crowds and various mountains of belongings when it was announced the train was one hour late. So the 2 of us found a small space and continued to sweat with the rest. After this joyful news we waited for the one hour with other trains coming and going and many bearing witness to local attentions with dents, shattered windows, a few suspicious holes that reminded me of bullet shots in Cape Town trains, when along with the usual bells and jingles we were informed that it was now another hour to go. So we retired to the platform end where thankfully there was a cool breeze and people making fires out of the rubbish to pass the time and give the place a clean appearance. So the trains came and went, the 2 hour wait became 3 then 4 until finally the battered excuse of business class express rolled in with much cheering and rushing etc.  So after we all piled on and found our seats amid the trash, and the pretty star patterns on the windows by thrown rocks it was told to all and sundry the loco needed fuel so it promptly upped and buggered off and did not return for another 30 minutes. During this time the highly entertaining topic of food was discussed and soon burger, chip, steak and pizza fantasies were being sprouted. Well a small bump and then 5 hours past departure time headed out. I watched with professional interest the passing scenery and the odd cockroach crawl forth from the small table for food. Anyway soon a waiter happened past and it just so occurred was in his hand a large juicy steak and vegetables and chips. Three dollars for the lot and could you refuse such a bargain. Earlier Liyana had given me a serve about drinking coke and being bad for your health, she promptly attacked my chips resulting in a payout of similar nature. For some reason no reply was forthcoming. So for 2 hours we made good progress passing through flooded towns and some large stations until we came to a stop. Everything fell into silence except for the sound of frogs. We sat and sat for 30 minutes until moving off for no reason. So for about 10 minutes travelled on until it happened again. This time power shut down, the few air cons ceased and plunged into darkness and so we all sat and dripped sweat and I watched in the station light how the 2 cockroaches had mysteriously now become 5.Anyway eventually things restarted and wandered off until now only a few minutes later stopped again. This time managed to open a door to see a large lake populated by more noisy frogs and distant mountains. But no where to walk so returned to the sauna trying not to splash sweat on the other dozing passengers. A few bumps and jerks and then slowly moved forward into yet another desolate station.  Escaped again and wandered about, while the signalman‚s eyes rolled wildly in their sockets at the sight of a white person. The other railway workers were busy asleep on the floor or benches. So we sat and sat. Liyana wandered out in search of more frogs and various other passengers milled aimlessly about searching for some small breeze. The rest of the passengers sat and lost kilograms of weight courtesy of the railways sweat therapy workshop. So 30 minutes passed before the horn sounded and the usual fight to be first on ensued. A short while later pulled into the large station at Cirebon, which was a classic old Dutch colonial building with wrought iron gates, stained glass window and a large overall roof. After the usual hoard of sellers, beggars and other oddities roamed forth up and down the carriages awaking everybody in odiously loud voices we rattled off and soon most of us had passed out. After a few hours dozing that passed for sleep I awoke to riding over a very high bridge with a boulder strewn river underneath and rice fields rising up to misty mountains and everything dripping wet and green. So for the next few hours it was a succession of small streams, viaducts, muddy little villages and rice and trees and all plant life running out of country. Very beautiful and dreamy, and many of the locals who were about seem to be sitting around doing absolutely nothing except watching passing trains and the water run down the street and getting wet. Came to the town of Pokawataroo and the engine was taken of for fueling causing more cries of dismay and disgust from disgruntled passengers, but I saw some old rusting steam locos in a siding so promptly sodded off to investigate and was followed by a pack of kids who could not see why anyone would look at such things, and naturally tried to induce me to part with small change also. After leaving some of the local bands got on and roamed up and down the coaches expecting handouts for their dubious music skills. By the time the sixth one had come up and down a few times along with the rest of them conspiracies were being hatched to eject them out over the next large viaduct along with guitars, bongos, ukuleles and other musical impedimenta. Then there was the sweeper kids, armed with a trashy old broom would run ahead of the railway cleaners-not difficult as they only appear at the end of the trip-and remove rotting food, dead roaches, wrappers, slumbering bodies, etc and also expect a gift too. Needless to say we all ran out of small change very quickly so some had to miss out. I was looking for things of railway interest and the first goods train we passed was a petrol train and people seemed to have this mixed up with a passenger service as they were on the top, sides, buffers, inside and out of the loco, anywhere a spot could be found. Of course I began to enquire excitedly how I could also do same and soon. So we had a fast run for a change into the heat and the sauna effect recommenced once back on the plains until arriving at Yoyakarta some 15 hours later. Another great old station and leaving was mobbed by taxi drivers, tricycle operators and various horse and cart services. Later we were to take one and it cost about 1 dollar for half a day. So feeling very washed out grubby smelly we escaped from the seething mess of humanity to a hermetically sealed comfortable hotel with a pool where the first priority was beer, food, and a shower. The dirt, mosquito and roach remains went down the drain and while a good experience no one was in a hurry to repeat it today.     

First Trip to Syria

Hello John. You might enjoy this one too about my first quick trip to Syria. Finally sodded off to Damascus Monday morning. A beautiful sunny day. Before we got to the border the bus kept stopping to allow locals top load up on all manner of food, thus indicating...well something. The border had a nice big sign, welcome to Syria. And tanks. And lots of guys with guns. And other things of a generally destructive nature, not to mention many and varied posters of Assad, who is president if you don‚t know and you soon will by the time you leave. So after some nice desert scenery with snow mixed in I arrived there in Damascus with so many cool old USA cars from the 40s and 50s and brightly painted buses. Headed straight to the old station and after about 4 hours finally left after discovering to my great joy and delight steam trains running 2 times a week to the mountains. The old railway guys were very friendly and many cups of a quite disgusting tea were consumed for the sake of good manners. Old tickets were also purchased naturally. The next day wandered out of town and after stopping to take photos of some rather classic old cars found myself at Cadam station where there was over 20 old steam locos, as well as old wooden coaches over 100 years old and all sorts of other great stuff. All the railway guys wanted their pictures taken and after went to the workshops where they were quite happily banging away on 4 old steamers in there.  Cool.  So I wandered back to the city and into the old town which was old mazes going back over 1000 years and some quite massive Roman ruins of temples to Jupiter and Baal mixed in with all of it. They had some quite curious things for sale like sheep‚s heads and camels heads and other somewhat unusual things that would not go well with ketchup and French fries. That night went out with some of the other travellers types to a tea shop run by guys from Sudan who were quite a lot of fun. Wednesday spent the whole day in the old city again. Ended up in this huge mosque for hours this went back 1300 years all of marble and stone and was a great place by getting surrounded by hoards of curious locals and for getting photos of all those Muslim women covered over so much all you see is a black sack walking about. Actually got brave and had a real haircut, got some old barber who had really septic breath and cut near my ear with one of those old razors, otherwise did quite a reasonable job. Apparently further north in Aleppo which I have to go through to get to Turkey is loads of gays and with that long hair don‚t wish to encourage them. One guy who was hit on to was told that women are for duty, men are for pleasure.  Scary, scary....After this went out for pizza and went back to the old city for another casual wander. On Thursday was highly motivated for the train trip south and at an average speed of 25 kms and hour was good for looking at the scenery. Or desert. Or whatever you call those barren empty plains, desolate towns, nomads in tents and distant snowy mountains. Very dreamy and peaceful. More friendly locals who insist on feeding and watering you, maybe I am that run down I have taken on a disturbingly camel like appearance, who can tell. But after a long and dusty trip got back to Damascus some 10 hours later. Another hard night at the pizza shop after these exertions. I was told that each hotel has someone from the secret police working there to make sure we are not saying bad things about Assad or making fun of his picture or trying to corrupt the local population with nasty western views. So everyone is very careful what they say and looking over the shoulder and trying to guess which of the staff is the spy. I thought I was in for after making a big scene because I found the collected works of Kim il Jong there, that crazy running North Korea. I did not know that was one of Assad's mates, oh well...I wasn‚t banned from reentering at the border when I left so maybe the spy was busy trying to hit onto a western women. Coke is banned there as well but there is lots of old classic soft drinks made locally for about 10 cents. Friday back to the station to get on this steam train. The cost was 1.20 return for a 12 hour trip. It was a bit of a joke really. Cars don‚t seem to believe in giving way to it and also park all over the line. Total for day-2 run into at road crossings and 4 rammed sitting on track. The scenery was great as it went right up into the snow with many steep drops and high ledges. The driver was a bit of a psycho and if someone dared get in his way he would scream the whistle on..and ..on...and...on, giving some of the suffering clientele quite nasty migraines. But it was a very beautiful trip and food and drinks were quite freely thrown about. After this back to being tourist/traveller and the air con bus back with all the zombies to Beirut. Maybe enduring Titanic on the video had something to do with it. But overall a very friendly and interesting place and very safe too. Definitely worth going to. Bye......David

You can contact David at this address

He now has a website for his photos Davos Worldwide Trains