All aboard the Lebanon express

EuroMode

Active Member
Nostalgia and a desperate need could revive Arab world’s first railway

27-locomotives-AFP-Getty.jpg

Lebanon hasn’t seen a train on its tracks since the last service, shuttling cement to the capital, ceased to run in 1997



Hundreds of train carriages dot the landscape, their locomotives overgrown with shrubs and trees. Green paint peels off the rusting metal frames, the bricks of the buildings that used to shelter them crumbling. Shattered roof tiles now cover its once humming factory floor.

The train station at Rayak was once home to the Arab world’s first rail line and a flourishing train factory. The abandoned site remains a symbol of Lebanon’s illustrious railway history, and a reminder of its bleak present.

The first train from Beirut to Damascus, in 1895, took nine hours to cover the 90 miles. A line to Aleppo was finished in 1909. Track was added throughout the 20th century, linking Beirut to Saudi Arabia through the Hijaz line and Istanbul through Aleppo. The allied forces added a line linking Haifa, Beirut and Tripoli during the Second World War. But following the outbreak of Lebanon’s civil war in 1975 the railways were thrown into disarray, and passenger services came to a complete standstill two years later.

Older Lebanese are nostalgic for the days when one could travel all the way to Paris by rail. Hayssam Bourji, 60, still remembers the sound of the trains passing by. “I used to ride the trains to Syria and back, just for fun. I would sit on top of the carriage,” he says. He has come to Rayak to show his two grandsons that a railway used to exist in Lebanon.

Visiting the station has only been possible since 2005; under the Syrian occupation it was used as a military base. The most valuable equipment was transferred to the Syrian railway museum at Qadam, and much of it was destroyed when the depot was bombed during the Syrian conflict.

Lebanon hasn’t seen a train on its tracks since the last service, shuttling cement to the capital, ceased to run in 1997. Yet the Train and Public Transport ministry still employs 370 people. More than 120 are bus drivers, but many of the remainder fill their days guarding various abandoned sites. Over time, development has encroached on the 90,000 hectares the ministry owns, with construction sites and billboards springing up on top of the railway all down the coast.

In a bid to supplement its £500,000 budget, the ministry has also sold trains for scrap and issued licences for the private use of stations. Several have been turned into bars. Trainstation, a pop-up nightclub which was last summer’s biggest opening in Beirut, saw the old Mar Mikhael station converted into an outdoor bar, complete with DJ spinning tunes from a locomotive.

Such modern use horrifies Elias Maalouf, the founder of Train Train, an NGO which aims to revive the crumbling rail network. “They welded projectors and fans on to the trains. It’s an insult to our heritage!” he exclaims. “That locomotive is one of five left in the world.”

Mr Maalouf has been trying to relaunch the line between the coast cities of Byblos and Batroun, to show the feasibility of having trains running again. “We need a success story,” he says. The project, with a budget of £430,000, should take only a matter of months to complete, but Mr Maalouf is still waiting for the green light from the Lebanese government.

Reviving the train line would relieve Lebanon’s heavily congested roads; the country’s very limited forms of public transport force Lebanese to rely largely on their own vehicles, private minivans and shared taxis to get around.

The EU’s European Investment Bank is funding a feasibility study into re-opening the Beirut-Tripoli line, the results of which should be published in 2016.

The dream is not a new one; every few years an initiative pops up. In 2002, a joint Syrian-Lebanese initiative went as far as buying new rails. As with previous efforts, the plan failed due to a lack of funding and political wrangling, and the rails lie unused in storage.

Yet Mr Maalouf and other train enthusiast still believe there’s a future for rail in Lebanon. “We have to show people that if we had railways 120 years ago, we can have them again now,” he says.


source independent
 

Libnene Qu7

Super Ultra Senior Member
Orange Room Supporter
For the life of me, I cannot find a single reason why any government in power wouldn't jump on the project of rehabilitating our railway network. It can make so much money, create so many jobs, and relieve the roads of a lot of traffic. We are experts in making our lives hell on earth but at a complete loss when there's a chance to improve.
 

Dalzi

Legendary Member
For the life of me, I cannot find a single reason why any government in power wouldn't jump on the project of rehabilitating our railway network. It can make so much money, create so many jobs, and relieve the roads of a lot of traffic. We are experts in making our lives hell on earth but at a complete loss when there's a chance to improve.
No time. They're busy slapping female employees.

Imagine what it would be like had the country been livable and with a railway on top! You could build a house on a hilltop and travel to work.
 

julesvernes99

Legendary Member
قطار من 120 سنة فلما اليوم لا.. نعم قطار في لبنان و"توت توت عَ بيروت"

نهلا ناصر الدين -

كنا نسمع من أجدادنا أنه كان في لبنان قطارات وسكك حديد تصله بالعالم العربي وأوروبا. القطار الذي كان الضحية الأولى للحرب اللبنانية في باب النقل، اليوم بعد مرور عشرات السنين على الحرب، اختلف الجلاد وما زال القطار هو الضحية. فهو اليوم ضحية الصفقات التي تقوم على حساب تراث يجب إحياؤه، كونه يُعتبر من وسائل المواصلات المهمة على الصعيد السياحي والتجاري والثقافي، ويشكل أحد معالم البلد الحضارية، وله أهمية اقتصادية كبرى. ولكن في لبنان توجد مصلحة سكك حديد فيها موظفون ومدراء، تصرف عليهم الدولة سنوياً مليار ومئتي مليون ليرة لبنانية، تقتصر أعمالهم على تمرير التعديات التي تنتهك حرمة السكك الحديد، بينما تستهجن الحديث عن إعادة إحياء هذه السكك و"كأننا نتكلّم عن إحياء الديناصورات".

في ظلّ تقاعس المعنيين عن العمل على إعادة إحياء خطوط السكك الحديد وتأهيل مقطوراتها، لغايات تجارية في نفوس أصحابها، اتخذ المجتمع المدني متمثلاً بجمعية "Train Train" على عاتقه مسؤولية تعبيد الطريق إلى إحيائها، عبر وضع خطة متكاملة في انتظار موافقة مصلحة سكك الحديد والنقل المشترك عليها.

أجندة مشاريع
يتحدث الياس معلوف رئيس جمعية "Train Train" لـ"البلد" عن أجندة المشروع التي تقدّمت الجمعية بها لمصلحة سكك الحديد والنقل المشترك، منذ شهر، ولم يتم الرد عليها بعد، وهي عبارة عن أجندة تضم ثلاثة مشاريع كبيرة.

مركز للأرشيف
أولها: إنشاء مركز للأرشيف والأبحاث في محطة بيروت مار مخايل، يضم كل الدراسات والأبحاث والخرائط التي تم العمل عليها لإحياء السكك الحديد، والتي يصعُب على المجتمع المدني عادةً الحصول عليها بسهولة، وبذلك يكون مرجعاً لأي مهتم، فانطلاق أي دراسة جديدة يحتاج إلى الاطلاع على الدراسات السابقة في نفس المجال، ليحصل على المعلومات اللازمة للمضي بأي مشروع.

خط البترون-جبيل
المشروع الثاني: وهو المشروع الأكبر، وهو عبارة عن إعادة تشغيل خط قطار البترون – جبيل. أُطلق هذا المشروع خلال معرض "صور قديمة عن السكك الحديد" أقامته الجمعية العام الماضي في أسواق بيروت، والخط طوله 17,3 كلم فيه ثلاث محطات وخمسة جسور بينها أربعة جسور حديد، وأحدهم من الصخر القديم.

ويؤكّد معلوف أن هذا المشروع ليس مستحيلا، فـ"الدولة عندما يتم عرض مشروع إعادة تشغيل بعض الخطوط عليها، تكون ردة فعلها وكأن الجمعية تتكلّم عن إعادة إحياء الديناصورات وليس عن شيء ممكن، فتنفيذ المشروع لا يحتاج إلى أكثر من ثلاثة اشهر". مطالباً الدولة بالموافقة على المشروع، معلناً استعداد المجتمع المدني للنهوض بتنفيذه.

ويهدف المشروع الى تقوية معنويات مصلحة سكك الحديد والنقل المشترك، وبالتالي يصبح موظفو مصلحة السكك الحديدية والذين ليس لديهم مهام يقومون بها، مساهمين بإنجاز إعادة إحياء خط قطار البترون – جبيل، والذي يمكن ان يكون اذا ما نُفذ سبباً لرفع التعديات الحالية ومنع التعديات المستقبلية على أي خط. لأن المواطن بعد تنفيذه سـ"يعدّ للعشرة" قبل التعدي، لأنه سيضع بحسابه إمكانية اعادة تشغيل الخطوط الأخرى.

"نحن اليوم كمجتمع مدني نريد أن نضع يدنا بيد الدولة لتقويتها، ومن البداية لم نطرح هذا المشروع كمضاربة على المديرية، بل للتعاون على إنجاز هذا المشروع، وإذا رفضت المديرية التعاون معنا، فنحن قادرون على القيام بالعمل لوحدنا، ولدينا المهندسون والاستشاريون والمختصون القادرون على انجاز هذا العمل".

متحف رياق
أما المشروع الثالث، الذي أطلقته الجمعية في العام 2007 مع وزير السياحة وقتها ايلي ماروني، فهو إنشاء متحف للسكك الحديد في محطة رياق في البقاع، وهي أكبر محطة في لبنان، ووجود متحف فيها يمكن أن يدعوالناس للتساؤل: " إذا كان هناك قطار من 120 سنة فلماذا اليوم لا يوجد".

الطعن
وهذه المشاريع الثلاثة تم تقديمها منذ حوالى الشهر لمديرية السكك الحديد والتي لها الصلاحية بقول كلمتها بالرفض أو الموافقة على المشروع، أما في حال لم تتم الموافقة، فستقوم جمعية "Train Train" بالطعن بأول مرحلة لدى مجلس شورى الدولة، وفي حال لم يأخذ الطعن نتائجه المرجوة "عندها لكل حادث حديث وفي أيدينا مفاجآت كثيرة للمعنيين يمكن أن ندافع بها عن أحقية مشاريعنا".

تجارة فولكلورية
وفي موضوع التعديات المتكررة التي تحوّل القطارات من تراث لبناني إلى تجارة فولكلورية تستفيد منها الطبقات الميسورة في البلد، يسلّط معلوف الضوء على هذه التعديات الخطيرة التي تؤدّي إلى إتلاف سكك يزيد عمرها عن الـ120 عاماً، والتي وصلت لدرجة فتح حانات ليلية صيفية، وما يتبعها من تلحيم أساسيات، مراوح وصوتيات على المقطورات، مثل الحانة التي افتتحت الصيف الماضي لأكثر من مئة يوم في محطة مار مخايل التي تعتبر من أقدم القاطرات التي دخلت على الشرق الاوسط. بالإضافة إلى التشويه الذي تتعرض له المحطات إثر التعديات المتكررة التي تفعل فعلها في السكك الحديد دون أن يتوجه إليها أحد بالسؤال.

برسم مصلحة سكك الحديد
وعبثاً حاولت "البلد" الاتصال بمدير عام مصلحة سكك الحديد والنقل والمشترك، للاستفسار عن مصير المشروع الذي تقدمت به مؤسسة "Train Train" منذ أكثر من شهر. كما زارت "البلد" محطة مار مخايل، لمعاينة الأضرار التي تعرضت لها المحطة إثر التعديات، ولكن للاسف مُنعنا من التصوير "إلا بتصريح من المصلحة". والسؤال الذي هو برسم مصلحة سكك الحديد والنقل المشترك "كيف يمنع الإعلامي من القيام بواجبه المهني "إلا بتصريح" بينما يُسمح لمختلف أنواع التعديات بأن تُمارس على السكك والمقطورات في مختلف المحطات، مع أو دون تصاريح ؟

Train Train
 

julesvernes99

Legendary Member
Elias Maalouf is a very nice guy and a family freind. I hope his dream becomes a reality, not just for him but for all Lebanese and especialy those who had family members working in those railway stations for many years before the war.
 

EuroMode

Active Member
Despite regional conflict, Lebanon is planning to become a railway powerhouse once again

Lebanon as a rail powerhouse for the rebuilding of post-war Syria, high-speed double-track trains running in tunnels through the Lebanese mountains above Beirut, sidings for the building-blocks of Syria’s new cities in the Bekaa Valley – do not think here, dear reader, of the Roman temples of Baalbek – and a link up with the great railways that will run from the Gulf to Europe via the new Iraq and the new Syria. Why, even pipelines may run alongside the tracks.

The Lebanese dream dreams. But in Beirut they also suffer some of the Middle East’s most titanic traffic jams. Why not an electric rail between the northern city of Tripoli and Tyre in the far south? With Beirut Central Station built, as was once planned by the French after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, beneath the Virgin Megastore at one end of Martyrs’ Square? With its mountains, Roman ruins, crusader castles, snow and beaches but with a hopeless sectarian system of government, Lebanon may be a Rolls-Royce with square wheels but it could at least have trains.

Of course, the first steam loco chugged across the mountains to Damascus 120 years ago. This week the auditorium of the Unesco palace in Beirut echoed to the hoots and wails of French 0-8-0 steamers and Swiss rack-and-pinion trains as they huffed and puffed their way on film to Tripoli, Homs and through the snow-blanketed heights of Dahr el-Baidur to the Bekaa and Syria. Up to 800 young NGOs and civil servants – an extraordinary number for a bleak, rainy weeknight in Beirut – applauded the new putative age of Lebanese rail.

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Pity it doesn’t exist – yet. But could it? Every photographer, filmmaker and reporter has made their pilgrimage to the rusted tank engines and broken carriages and delicate French cut-stone railway stations that still litter Lebanon. There are coffee-table books about the country’s railway heritage, from the Swiss Winterthur locomotives that the Ottomans brought to Lebanon in 1895 to climb its mountains, to the big French Cail engines that still rot in the old railway marshalling yard at Tripoli, their oil bleeding – even to this day – onto the old tracks, onto the bushes and the pink flowers embracing the drivers’ cabs.

So there was something rejuvenating about the speakers who introduced Zeina Haddad’s painstaking documentary on Lebanon’s old railways. A German diplomat extolled the international background of the railways and proudly announced that the big G-8 loco on the poster for the accompanying exhibition was manufactured in Germany. Alas, he diplomatically avoided mentioning that these particular engines were 1919 war reparations handed over by the Kaiser’s Germany to France after the First World War and then shipped by the French victors to their Lebanese mandate.

Eugene Sensenig-Dabbous, an Austrian politics professor at Notre Dame University in Lebanon and engineer by profession, told his Unesco audience that “railways are a regional, international issue because infrastructure development is one of the keys to the future of the Middle East”.

Talking later, he was more specific. “The majority of the freight for re-launching Syria after the war will obviously go through Beirut. The Syrian port of Lattakia is too small. The reopening of the old Tripoli-Homs train line, which is still relatively intact, could be done quite quickly.

“But the Gulf states are now investing tens of millions of dollars on rail lines that are supposed to go through Iraq and Syria. The Lebanese railways can be linked to this – or be separated from the rest of the world. There could be a tunnel from Baabdat [above Beirut] to Chtaura, right through the mountains. We already have proposals from international corporations who would do this at their own expense. If there were lines from the Gulf states to Europe, there could be a tunnel from Beirut to a transit ‘harbour’ in the Bekaa. Material would go from Beirut to the Bekaa and the line would go on to Syria, the Gulf and Europe.”

At least 40 Lebanese NGOs have been working on the environmental impact of the tunnels – a huge amount of ground water would flow down the mountains to Beirut. “The entire network in Lebanon has to be replaced,” Mr Sensenig-Dabbous said. “We could have a ‘nostalgia’ steam train running from Byblos north to Batroun that could be a huge tourist attraction. But the purpose of our work is to let the Lebanese people know that there were trains here. This is where we are now. People are stealing stuff from the railroad yards and they are destroying the tracks from Beirut to Damascus. We are getting entire schools to ‘adopt’ a railway station. We must reintegrate railways into the region and ensure the future of sustainable transportation. Natural-gas pipes and rails can run alongside each other. It will be a very ‘disciplining’ experience. The railways of Europe ‘disciplined’ the people.”

The head of NGO Train-Train is a dogged Ecuador-born Lebanese filmmaker called Elias Maalouf – yes, he is a distant relative of that brilliant Lebanese-French novelist Amin Maalouf – who has lived, breathed and talked trains since the Syrian army stopped him filming their destruction of railway archives at Rayak in 2005. He lives with a sad-eyed Labrador named Elvis and a parrot called Kiwi, and his home above Byblos is festooned with oil paintings depicting stations and locomotives. His business card, of course, sports a photograph of a veteran Lebanese steam locomotive hauling trucks out of Beirut.

But “corruption” is the most common word in his vocabulary, and it is not difficult to see why. During and after the Lebanese civil war, houses were built on top of the permanent way, trains were sold off for scrap and kilometres of track looted and sold. Where did the money go? Since the railways in Lebanon are government-owned and their invaluable property belongs to the state, just who made the profits? Would government archives reveal this? It’s not surprising, then, that the Lebanese authorities have shown no great love for Train-Train or for Elias Maalouf, who has been officially forbidden from entering the wrecked old central station of Beirut.

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So Mr Maalouf is partly relying on the sheer frustration of the automobile-intoxicated Lebanese to bring back the trains. “We need the political will and everyone is stuck in the traffic,” he said. “The president cannot drive without being stuck in the traffic. Nor can the prime minister. Forty-two per cent of all pollutants in Beirut come from cars. I am not interested in all this political ‘thing’. I don’t believe in borders. I believe in trains.”

According to Mr Maalouf, less than five per cent of railway land has been “encroached”, illegally or “legally” but “if you don’t preserve it, it will go”. He believes that the current tracks should be turned into UN heritage sites in order to protect them. He even has an ingenious plan to take over the front pages of the Lebanese press when the country celebrates the 120th anniversary of its first steam train this August.

“We’re building big replicas of the first locomotive and its carriages and we’re going to have the old steam-train drivers and crews push the train on wheels from outside what was the central station all the way to the parliament building,” he said. “And there the engine will become a permanent exhibit.”

In a country without a president and a functioning government, small gestures become revolutionary acts. Barring bureaucracy. And corruption. And the continuation of the Syrian war.

source independent
 
Sorry, someone elaborate... what stops the private renovation of tracks, purchase of land under which tracks will be placed on, and the buildings that were/are train stations?

One could easily renovate the tracks, either replace the metal, or remove the rust, and push trains down them, no?

This isn't about corruption. If the now-worthless land can have it's owner found, can't it be purchased for cheap, and then used for business?
 

DLT

Well-Known Member
Orange Room Supporter
Sorry, someone elaborate... what stops the private renovation of tracks, purchase of land under which tracks will be placed on, and the buildings that were/are train stations?

One could easily renovate the tracks, either replace the metal, or remove the rust, and push trains down them, no?

This isn't about corruption. If the now-worthless land can have it's owner found, can't it be purchased for cheap, and then used for business?

and who takes the money? : D
 
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