The International Steam Pages

The Railways of Lebanon, May 20th - 24th 2016
The Infrastructure of the 1050mm Gauge Line to Syria

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:

1. Beirut – Zahle – Rayak – Jisr Remani (– Damascus, Syria), 1050mm gauge, 144.5 km (incl. 84 km in Lebanon) was built by the majority French-owned ‘Société Ottomane du Chemin de fer de Damas – Hama et Prolongements’ (DHP) in 1895. The cross-border section from Rayak to Serghaya in Syria was closed to passenger traffic in 1964 and to freight traffic between 1976 and 1978/79, while the line from Beirut to Rayak closed to all traffic between 1976 and 1980/81 as a result of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). Some steam-hauled weekend excursion trains however continued to operate over a short section out of Beirut until 08/1989. In Beirut, a 3 km long dual gauge line linked the station with the port.

Between Beirut and Saïd-Neil (km 52), the line crossed the Mt. Lebanon range with the help of Abt rack sections over a distance of about 20 km and two reversals. At the summit in Deir-el-Beidar (km 37.5), the line reached an altitude of 1487 m. The line featured four tunnels and three major viaducts.

I have found two different kilometre indications for the line, so am showing both below.

Km 0 / alt. 15.8 m – Beyrouth St. Michel (Beirut Mar Mikhael):

The station is located in an Armenian neighborhood and was linked by a 3 km branch (dual gauge) to the port of Beirut. After closure of the railway, the station is still in use as the administration of ‘Office des Chemins de Fer et du Transport en Commun de Beyrouth et de sa banlieue’ (OCFTC), the government body into which CEL was integrated and which operates urban bus lines in Beirut. A large covered bus garage is located on part of the site. Five steam 1050mm gauge DHP steam locomotives can be found on the tracks in front of the shed. Four of these have recently been incorporated into an open-air bar (with the cab of B class No. 8 turned into the DJ’s cabin), as has the turntable (now covered by a glass dance stage), a four-wheel wagon frame as another dance stage) and the water tower used as a storage space for drinks. The workshop still houses some ancient belt-powered machinery (including a Hartmann drill), as well as 1050mm gauge diesel 201 and standard gauge four-wheel coach 72.

In the yard, a number of four-wheel and bogie freight wagons are stored at various locations, including some ‘C.F. Syriens’ (CFS) and two modern ‘Hedjaz Jordan Railway’ (HJR) covered bogie wagons K 4035 and K 4114, stranded here since the outbreak of the Civil War, as well as at least five 1050mm gauge four-wheel passenger coaches, including C 15 and restored Cf 178 and Cf 180.

After leaving the station, the line crossed Rue du Fleuve (now Armenia St.) on a steel bridge.

Km 3 – Furn al Chebak station: in use as private housing. Shortly after this station, the dual gauge ended with the standard gauge line entering Beirut NBT station. Further south, both lines crossed on the level.

Km 6.3 / 7.1 / alt. 81.1 m – Hadeth: station building formerly used as private housing, now abandoned.

Km 8.9 / 9.8 / alt. 203.9 – Babda: station building used as private housing, rack-equipped track section.
Km 11.9 / 12.8 / alt. 381.0 – Jamhour: station building used as private housing.
Araya tunnel.
Km 16.9 / 16.1 / alt. 555.9 m – Chouit-Araya: 1st reversal station, abandoned.
Km 20.2 / 20.4 / alt. 820.0 m – Aley: 2nd reversal station, used as municipal office.
Km 27.2 / 26.4 / alt. 1073.1 m – Bhamdoun: station abandoned.
Km 31.5 / 30.6 / alt. 1280.1 m – Aïn Sofar: station used as garage.
Km 32 / ? Medaïrije /Mdeyrej Tunnel: the western portal has been bricked-up, while the eastern portal is located inside a military check-point.
Km 37.6 / 37.6 / alt. 1487.0 m – Dahr-el-Beidar: the highest point on the line, with snow galleries on both sides.
Dahr-al-Beidar tunnel.
Namlieh/Khan-M’Rad viaduct: this three-span viaduct was blasted during the Civil War, with only the abutments remaining. These have now disappeared after it was filled in to allow the motorway across.
Km 43.8 / 46.7 / alt. 1198.1 m – Mrejatt: station abandoned.
Km 47.5 / 46.7 / alt. 1004.9 m – Jditha-Chtaura: station abandoned.
Nahr Djellal viaduct: four-arch masonry viaduct.
Km 52.0 / 51.8 / alt. 914.1 m – Saïd-Neil: the station has been restored by the municipality and A class No. 32 placed on tracks in front of it together with a bogie passenger coach and a four-wheel tank wagon (S.A. des Ateliers Nicaise & Delcuve, La Louvière, Belgique). Prior to the restoration of the station, the train used to be plinthed in the middle of the main road through the town. (See the locomotive section for a picture of 32.)
Km 56.0 / 55.9 / alt. 920.1 m – Zahlé-Mallakah: prior to the opening of the standard gauge line from Rayak to Homs, this was the principal station on the Beirut-Damascus line. There was a two-road loco shed. The mostly Greek Catholic town was the theatre of heavy fighting during the Civil War and all that remained was the ruins of the loco shed and the water tower. Since then, the loco shed appears to have been cleared as well to make way for the local branch of Mechanik, the government road vehicle inspection agency.

Rayak Ateliers: the 1050mm gauge line from Beirut and the 1435mm gauge line from Homs joined here, and a major workshops was built, as well as a two-road loco shed. During the war, the site was occupied by the Syrian Army. The whole has been left in the condition it was after the Syrians pulled out in 2005 after having removed much of what could be taken away, only with more growth. There are a total of twenty steam locomotives (thirteen 1050mm gauge and seven standard gauge), Dodge shunter conversion 209, five passenger coaches (incl. std. gauge C 81 and 1050mm Cf 179), numerous freight wagons of both gauges and a 1050mm gauge four-wheel hand crane (5000 kg, Sté. La Metallurgique, Ateliers de La Samure, Charleroi – Belgique, 1891) here. At the back of the foundry a stationary steam engine used to power belt-driven machinery.

Km 66.0 / 65.1 / alt. 929.0 m – Rayak Gare (last 3 pictures): two daily trains used to connect Beirut with Damascus. The passenger on the morning trains would get to their destinations the same evening, but the passengers on the midday trains would have to spend the night at the hotel at Rayak station. Stored on the track furthest from the station is a long line of 1050mm gauge four-wheel and bogie wagons.

Km 78.2 / 77.1 / alt. 1135.9 m – Yahfufa: this was the last station in Lebanon before the border at Jisr Remani (km 79.8/84.0/alt. 1319.7m) and on to, Serghaya (km 86.5) and Damas Kanawat (Damscus, km 144.5). We did not visit.

Rob Dickinson