Rail transport in Lebanon

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Map of the Lebanese rail network when it was in operation.
Beirut main railway station in 2007

Rail transport in Lebanon began in the 1890s and continued for most of the 20th century, but has ceased as a result of the country's political difficulties.


The Ottoman Empire[edit]

The first railway in Lebanon was built while Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Empire, with the French-established Société des Chemins de fer Ottomans économiques de Beyrouth-Damas-Hauran being granted a concession in 1891.[1] This railway, which came to be known as DHP for Damas, Hamah et Prolonguements, was intended to link Beirut (now the capital of independent Lebanon) and Damascus (now the capital of neighbouring Syria), providing Damascus with port access.[1] A contemporary British plan to link Damascus with Jaffa was seen as a threat to Beirut's status as the primary port of the northern Levant, and the French project was largely in response to this.[2]

Track gauge[edit]

The Beirut-Damascus line was built to a 1,050 mm (3 ft 5 1132 in) gauge, across mountainous terrain, and opened on 3 August 1895.[1][3] The summit at Beidar 37 kilometres from Beirut was 1487 metres above sea level. To make this climb, extensive sections of rack operation were used.[3] At around the same time, a line from Riyaq to Aleppo via eastern Lebanon's Beqaa Valley was approved.[1] Although it was intended to provide service between Damascus and Aleppo, it was built to standard gauge, and as a result, traffic between those two cities needed to change trains at Riyaq. In the north, the city of Tripoli was also connected to Homs (now in Syria).

World War II[edit]

These lines continued to operate after the French replaced the Ottomans as the ruling power, and in World War II, the railways saw significant military use.[1] Under British direction, the coastal line was linked to Haifa (in today's Israel, see Coastal railway line) and extended to Tripoli (See Tripoli Railway Station), all in standard gauge[4] – this meant that it was now theoretically possible to travel from Europe to north Africa without changing trains.[2] except for a train ferry across the Bosphorus.

Lebanese independence[edit]

When Lebanon obtained its independence, the parts of this rail system which were within its territory came into state control, eventually being organised as Chemin de Fer de l'Etat Libanais (CEL).[1] CEL was formed in 1960.[3] The Lebanese Civil War caused considerable damage to the rail network, however, and services gradually ceased. A 1974 article revealed that the 1.05 metre DHP system was still fully working but uncompetitive and loss making.[3] It was entirely steam worked at the time. The last regular rail operations in Lebanon were trains carrying cement from Chekka to Beirut in 1997.[1]

Cross border line[edit]

A very short length of the Syrian Homs-Tartus line crosses the border into Lebanon. This happens because the railway was built before this border was defined. See top of map above.

Rolling stock[edit]


Class Image Axle Formula Number Year in Service Power
Constructor Notes
Uerdingen railbus 54-12-Schienenbus-Libanon.jpg 12 Former German railbuses, in 1982–83 acquired from DB via MAS. Last one delivered in 1986–87. Apparently all destroyed during Lebanese Civil War.

798 672-2 > A 10450
998 143-2 > B 10450
998 771-0 > C 10450
798 789-4 > A 10451
998 032-7 > B 10451
998 876-7 > C 10451
798 707-6 > A 10452
998 010-3 > B 10452
998 672-0 > C 10452
798 708-4 > A 10453
998 153-1 > B 10453
998 862-7 > C 10453

Planned revival[edit]

There have been a number of proposals for reviving the Lebanese railway system, but as yet, none have come to fruition.[2][6][7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Al Mashriq. CEL – Lebanese Railways. Retrieved 24 August 2008.
  2. ^ a b c Section Libanaise de l’Association Française des Amis des Chemins de fer. Un bref aperçu de l’histoire des chemins de fer au Liban. Retrieved 24 August 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d "The Beirut Damascus Railway" article by J. W. Knowles in Continental Railway Journal 18, June 1974, pages 117-123.
  4. ^ Australian Railway Construction in the Middle East Knowles, J.W. Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, November, 1978 pp244–259
  5. ^ HaRakevet: Rothschild PhD, Rabbi Walter (march 1991), Schienenbusse for Lebanon. Issue 12
  6. ^ Section Libanaise de l’Association Française des Amis des Chemins de fer. Actualité. Retrieved 24 August 2008.
  7. ^ Lebanese railway revival to be studied [1]. Retrieved 23 August 2013.

External links[edit]