Lebanon’s charm, gone with the train…

I love trains. I make sure to catch a train wherever I travel.

People don’t really understand why I love trains so much but they do capture the imagination. There is something very romantic about them for some reason (romantic in the broad sense of the word).
It feels as if they have lots of stories to tell, no wonder they’ve been inspiring poetry and books for such a long time.

I enjoy seeing trains go by, walking along the train tracks, hearing the train whistling and most of all I enjoy riding a train: there is something captivating about the train environment – it generates a feeling of comfort and peace, at least to me. When sitting in a train, you get the chance to glimpse at other people’s faces and behaviors, and for some reason the humanity of these people is more flagrant: each face has a story to tell.
This romanticism could come from the fact that the trains I rode always passed through some unpopulated green areas and small cozy cities, which easily triggers the sentiment in you and would transport you, physically and emotionally.

And of course, something so beautiful and so charming has no place in today’s Lebanon… It has been damaged and shut down during our stupid civil war.

A month ago I was cruising with my friend around Jbeil-Batroun area, and we came across this natural piece of beauty that made us automatically pull over so we can appreciate the scenery properly.
And there it was, the old railways in the midst of a beautiful nature overseeing the beach:

I envied those people who used to catch that train! Where did it go?  I NEED IT BACK,  I need Lebanon’s railway back! And all I could pronounce at this moment was: Wayniyyeh el dawleh!!!

Sadly, I’m sure that the government is unwilling to rejuvenate the country’s once thriving rail network:

  • There were actually plans to transform the abandoned railway line between Beirut and Chtaura into a road reserved for trucks and wagons as a temporary solution to the growing traffic congestion! (So there we go, we ruin and ruin and it’s never going to stop, there’s no such thing as temporary solution, if this is done than we can say ByeBye forever to railways in Lebanon.)
  • According to the Daily Star in 1998, the Ministry of Environment and the Council for Development and Reconstruction said that “despite its many environmental advantages, the restoration of the railways is currently not a realistic option because it’s too expensive”!
  • Moreover in 2005, during discussions of the national master plan, investment in public transport was dismissed with the claim: “Lebanese like their cars and don’t like public transport.” ( That is such a cheap excuse: give us a good and decent transportation system and then check what Lebanese people like! Not to forget that none of us likes to pay  lately a third of their salary on gasoline prices)
  • And funny enough, Beirut’s governor came up with a creative idea to solve the city’s traffic problems which is that sidewalks should be no wider than one meter! (brilliant right?)

So there we go, the government will find any stupid excuse not to include the railway subject and public transportation problem in their agenda, it’s so sad and upsetting, specially that the first railway in Lebanon was also the first in the Arab world and the region, it opened on August 3, 1895, but its 75 years of development was completely derailed after just two years of civil war!

Also as mentioned in the Daily Star “250,000 tonnes of freight were transported between Beirut and Damascus in 1965.” Imagine now all of this traffic going by road. Moving freight by rail would extremely help clear traffic jams on the Beirut-Damascus road knowing that economies today have grown substantially compared to 1965.

Anyways, besides its romantic attraction, investing in Lebanon’s railways may be expensive, but it could actually be the smartest thing our government could do it’s been a long time and for the long run! Not only traffic jams will highly decrease, but also road accidents, air and noise pollution, it will contribute to the country’s economy, rationalize land use and facilitate tourism.
Think of it that way, it needs 500 cars but just 1 train to transport 1000 people!

This should be a wake-up call for the government and we really need to get serious about public transport planning , as the traffic, pollution and infrastructure are big problems we face here and will keep on rising if no action is taken anytime soon.

It’s also time for Lebanese people to get out of their shelters and become citizens of Lebanon, voting for projects and not sectarian leaders. The nostalgia of our past seems to me like a weight on our shoulders. I do not want to be part of a great past civilization, when the present is so dull and humiliating. We live under the shelter of sectarian shepherds. And every 4 years we go and vote for the same corrupted system, these same shepherds. Let’s ask for project. Let’s invest our time and energy for the improvement of the system. We should start from somewhere…

Below are some old and recent pictures found on the railway we sadly used to have in Lebanon:

                  Mar Mkhael railway yards – Beirut – July 2010

                   A train graveyard buried deep in the Bekaa valley.

                   Beirut Mar Mkhael station 1966

                  Same Mar Mkhael station in 2002!

                       Postcard showing the old Rayak train station Bekaa



8 thoughts on “Lebanon’s charm, gone with the train…

  1. i completely agree with the need to change our mentality in this country and start thinking beyond the conventions set by our corrupt system. we need new projects that could save this tiny country. thanks for the article ayouya!!

  2. btw i donno if u knew, but in the ministry of transportation in lebanon, till now there are 80 employees registered for the maintenance of sekkit el train, and they still have monthly salaries till now…

  3. Hi,

    I keep my fingers crossed for you and I am dreaming of the day when I could travel personally to Lebanon and see the remains of the railway line there – amazing!

    Alon (Israel)

  4. I visited Mar Mikhael Railway Station the 31st December 2011. Nearly nobody in Beirut knows where it is. It is in a desolate state and I’m afraid will never been put in old glory. However 3 men are keeping watch on the gate and I was forbidden to take photographs. So this gives hope that someone in some ministry thinks that there is a strategic element for the future here.

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