Thomas Kautzor writes of an often forgotten railway system, yet another
victim of political instability in the region.
Together with Torsten Schneider, in May 2016 I visited Lebanon to look at what remains of the railway network. In 1961, the four lines in the country, were reorganized into the ‘Chemins de fer de l’Etat Libanais’ (CEL). For more details, see
There are over 100 pictures so the report has been
subdivided as follows:
The closure of the railways in Lebanon is often portrayed as a result of the civil war, operations however continued for four years after the end of the war. Then in 1994, the line from Beirut north along the coast to the Syrian border at Akkar was tendered for rebuilding. A monument was erected at Tripoli station for the occasion. No further progress has been made so far, but there are now again new plans to rebuild the line from Beirut to Tripoli as a way to reduce congestion on the coastal highway.
To visit the stations at Beirut, Rayak and Tripoli it is necessary to obtain a permit from the OCFTC in Beirut. Various NGOs are working to turn the stations at Beirut, Rayak and Tripoli into museums, some of their websites are:
broken by May 2023)
http://traintrainlebanon.com/ (link broken 5th April
The following complete the survey of 'railways' in the
Société Anonyme Ottomane des Tramways et de l’Electricité de Beyrouth (TEB):
From 1908 until 1965 Beirut had an electrified 1050mm gauge tramway network.
The above was the original name, in 1923, they were merged with "Gaz de Beyrouth" and TEB became "Société des Tramways et de l'Eclairage de
Beyrouth". As was the case with many other tramways in the Middle East and North Africa, TEB was a Belgian undertaking and all of the rolling stock was built in Belgium. The only surviving piece of rolling stock is an enclosed trailer built by Compagnie Centrale de Construction (one of a series of 12, there were also 12 open trailers built by Usines de Braine le Comte). It can be found outside the Don Antonio/Ghoul’s Restaurant in Roumieh, about 15 km east of central Beirut, on the slopes of the Mount Lebanon. The restaurant has a beautiful sunset view of Beirut and the coast. The trailer has been here since at least 1985, before that it was in use in a bar inside a hotel lobby in
Bhamdoun. There was also a (horse) tramway in Tripoli, http://www.tramz.com/tva/lb.html.
Ancient Byblos (Jbail, 50 km north of Beirut):
Inside the ruins at this archeological site, considered one of the oldest cities in the world mainly due to the superposition of archeological levels on one spot spreading over 8000 years of history and which includes a 12th century crusaders castle as its major feature, are the remains of two 600m gauge lines on separate levels used during the site’s excavation work. There is one complete tip wagon built by Decauville, as well as the parts of a few others. The site was discovered in 1860 by Ernest Renan during a French survey and excavated since 1920 first by Egyptologist Pierre Montet and then from 1924 by Maurice Dunand for over 60 years at the request of the Lebanese General Directorate of Antiquities.
The first two pictures show the upper level, the other four
the lower level.
Notre Dame du Liban, Harissa (http://www.teleferiquelb.com/):
The Teleferique, a 1570-metre long aerial cable car, links the coastal town of Jounieh (30 km north of Beirut) with Harissa (alt. 530m). From the top station a
rubber-tyred cable car with two cabins (which was built by PHB – Pohlig-Heckel-Bleichert and is included in the fare for the Teleferique) takes visitors a short distance further up the mountain to the Christian sanctuary of Norte Dame du Liban. The cabins are guided by a single rail, making this the only active
'railway' in Lebanon.
Sources and References
Hugh Hughes, “Middle East Railways”, The Continental Railway Circle, Kenton, Harrow, 1981;
R. Tourret, “Hedjaz Railway”, Tourret Publishing, Abingdon, Oxon, 1989;
Neil Robinson, “World Rail Atlas and historical summary – Vol. 8 The Middle East and Caucasus”, World Rail Atlas Ltd., England, Aug. 2006;
Eddy Choueiry & Elias Maalouf, “Liban sur Rail / Lebanon on Rail”, Bibliothèque Improbable du Pinacle, Beirut, 2013;
Jean-Louis Dolfus, “Liban: vestiges d’un réseau”, in Voies Ferrées c. 1985/86, pp. 30-31;
Robert Massé, “Que Reste-t-il des Chemins de Fer Libanais”, in La Vie du Rail No. 2232, February 15-21, 1990, pp. 8-9;
J.-B. Lemoine, “Liban - Les Chemin de fer en 1997”, in Connaissances du Rail No. 192, June 1997, pp. 48-49;
Hermann Neidhart, “Es war einmal … die Libanonbahn – Bei den Eisenbahnfriedhofswärtern von Beirut”, in Fern-Express 01/2007, pp 32-33;
Borre Ludvigsen’s website http://almashriq.hiof.no/lebanon/300/380/385/railways/index.html
(link dead by May 2023)
Ron Ziel and Michael Eagleson, The Twilight of World Steam, pp 190-193,
Madison Square Press, 1973
J.W. Knowles, "The Beirut - Damascus Railway", Continental Railway
Journal, #18, 1974, pp 117-123