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Labib Mansour 07 Nov 2022

Historical Snapshot: Lebanon’s Last Train

Finally, to round up our overview of Lebanon’s rail network, we will be examining the case of Lebanon’s last ever train. After the civil war waged its fury on Lebanon’s rail network, the country’s residents were left with basically no functioning public transport. The post-war reconstruction process, informed by the emerging neoliberal ethos of the time, did not seem interested in reviving this historic network.

Yet, in 1991, the Lebanese government relaunched service on the Dora and Jbeil line, promising to take a more positive approach to rail transport in the country. After a year of operations, the line stopped consumer operations for maintenance and upgrade but continued to carry freight till 1994. Maintenance and upgrades were never completed.

Several more projects were proposed throughout this period to revive Lebanon’s rail network, including a connection with Syria from Tripoli, and a service connecting Tyre-Beirut-Tripoli, but these never materialized. Whether it was high expenses, political crises, strategic delay, or just plain incompetence, Lebanon’s rail could never go from the planning to the implementation stage after the civil war.

The last regular service to operate in the country was a freight connection between Chekka and Beirut. Here a Polish class SP45 locomotive would burn diesel to carry cement between the two points. In 1997, its operations also ceased, officially ending all regular rail operations in the country.

Today, cars have become the dominant mode of transport, cutting through communities, keeping people stuck in traffic, and spreading toxic fumes across the country. Someone from a local NGO, or even sometimes the government, pops up every few months to declare the revival of rail in Lebanon, all to no avail.

Still, we have hope that one day we can return to the glorious days of collective public transport on Lebanon’s high speed rail networks.