On the eve of the First World War, a passenger at Haydarpaşa Station in Istanbul could board a train to Syria and travel across the Middle East.
Feeder lines ran through to Beirut and Haifa on the Mediterranean coast. Plans were afoot to extend the railway to Baghdad and Basra on the Persian Gulf. The Ottoman Empire held sway over much of the Middle East meaning railways in the region were frontier-free.
The Ottoman Empire came late to railways. The Jaffa – Jerusalem line, recognised as being the first railway to be built in the Middle East, opened in 1892. Like most railways built at this time, Europe played a substantial role in its development.
Selah Merrill, a United States Consul in Jerusalem at the time, described the project as being highly symbolic. It was an example of British engineering in a region which had fought hard to prevent Western influences. The end of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent fractionalising of the region put back the cause of railways by a generation. More info