The International Steam Pages

The Railways of Lebanon, May 20th - 24th 2016
The Infrastructure of the Standard Gauge Railways

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:

Standard Gauge Railways

The standard gauge line from Rayak (km 66 on the Beirut – Damascus 1050mm gauge line) north to Baalbek (km 26.8), Ras-Baalbek (km 72.1) and across the border (km 90.3) to Koussaïr (km 101.1) and Homs (km 136) in Syria was also built by DHP and opened in 1902. Major workshops were built just north of Rayak station, the section from there to the station was dual gauge. It also closed in 1978/79. After the opening of the coastal line, this line was used mainly to transport livestock.

Km 26.8 – Bâalbek station (site of the Baalbek Ruins) was the major intermediate station on the Lebanese section of this line.

Along the coast from the north, DHP opened a standard gauge line from Homs and Akkari (km 62.3) in Syria across the border (km 61) to Tripoli (km 102.3), in 1911. It also closed in 1978/79. Between Akkari and Homs the line again crossed into Lebanon over a distance of 12 km, serving El-Amader station. In May 1983 it was replaced by a new 14 km section entirely on Syrian territory.

The line along the coast from Haifa in Palestine across the border (km 40) via Naqoura, Tyre (km 63.7), Saïda (km 100.5), Beirut (km 143.6), Jounieh (km 162.5), Jbail (km 160.4) and Batroun (km 197.7) to Tripoli (km 229.7), where it linked up with the DHP line from Homs in Syria, was built by the British during World War II and opened in stages in 1942. At first known as Haifa-Beirut-Tripoli Railway (HBT), it was purchased by the Lebanese Government in 1946 and then became known as Naqoura-Beirut-Tripoli (NBT). The cross-border section into Palestine was closed in 06/1946 immediately after the end of the war and prior to the creation of the state of Israel.

Km 44 (from Haifa) Naqoura station was 4 km north of the border with Palestine/Israel. In South Lebanon little track and few items of the infrastructure (of which there was not much in the first place) remain. A permit is needed for foreigners to enter the 20 km zone north of the border.

Km 63.7 – Tyr/Sour: two water towers remain at the station site, the southern across from a military camp and the northern in a tree nursery. Just to the north the railway crossed through a section of the Al Bass Archaeological Site (which comprises a Roman necropolis and the largest and best-preserved Roman hippodrome in the world) where the track is still in place.

Km 92.6 – Zahraniyé Raffinerie (ARAMCO): On the southern part of the NBT line, petrol trains were operated between this refinery south of Saïda and Ra’s en-Nabi Younés power plant to the north until 1983/84.

Km 100.5 – Saïda/Sidon: only the station’s water tower remains, located inside a military checkpoint in the NW corner of Ein-el-Hilweh refugee camp (SE of town).

Km 115.6 – Ra’s en-Nabi Younés power plant at Jiyeh: a number of wagons are still stored here (19 Polish tank wagons, one four-wheel tank wagon and two four-wheel covered wagons), most damaged by the Israeli Air Force bombardments of the power plant on July 13 and 15, 2006.

Km 143.6 – Beirut NBT: the NBT’s main operating centre with depot and workshops was located inland at the site of the Furn-al-Chebak stockyards. From here a branch joined with the DHP 1050mm gauge line (dual gauge) to reach Beirut Port via Beirut St. Michel station. After the end of operations most of the CEL’s standard gauge stock was stored here (as well as OCFTC buses), but much of it has been cleared out gradually since 2005. Half of the site has been taken over as the main operating base of the Ministry of Interiors Rapid Reaction Force and permission is needed to access the shed where the remaining diesel locomotives are stored. Outside the gate in the goods yard there are still three long lines of mostly covered wagons, as well as the remains of a Dodge shunter and of a few buses. A new parking garage was being built on part of the site at the time of our visit.

On the northern part of the line petrol trains between Beirut NBT, the petrol terminal at Borj Hammoud and Zouk Mkayel power plant (km 156) south of Jounieh and a weekly mixed train between Beirut and the Chekka cement factory (km 208.5) south of Tripoli continued to operate from February 1985 until February 16th, 1994, after which the railway bridge at Nahr el-Khelb (km 155) south of Jounieh was dismantled in March 1995 to allow an extension of the coastal motorway. Until at least 2002, the engines of the diesel locos stored at Beirut NBT continued to be run once a month.

Km 157 – Zouk Mkayel power plant.

Km 162.5 – Jounieh station was cleared to make way for an extension of the coastal motorway. however, this bridge remains.

Km 166 – Maameltein: the crests of the Australian troops which built the line in 1942 can still be found on these bridge abutments south of Maameltein. North of Maameltein, the line run over this imposing embankment.

Km 173.5 – Nahr Ibrahim: level crossing south of town, well-preserved one-storey station building (typical for the NBT) in the centre of town, steel bridge north of town.

Km 177 Nahr Al Fidar bridge

Km 180.4 – Jbail/Byblos: a large steel bridge can still be found north of town.


Km 187.7 – Heloué

Km 193 Madfoun bridge, next to a military checkpoint.

Km 197.7 – Batroûn: steel bridge north of town.

Between Koubba (km 200) and Chekka a rocky promontory was crossed by drilling tunnels. Tunneling was done mostly by troops from British Basutoland (Lesotho).

Km 208.5 – Chekka: the railway used to serve the SCL (now HOLCIM) cement factory south of the village center and the SNC cement factory to the north. The station building south of town, next to HOLCIM, is used as private housing. There are about 17 freight wagons still stored here (15 covered and 2 flat cars).

Km 225.3 – Bahsas: station building and water tower.

Km 229.7 – Tripoli/Trablous: stored inside and in front of one of the sheds are six steam locomotives (2 Cail and 4 Prussian G 8). 

The station yard contains 40 freight wagons, including 15 derelict covered wagons and 25 tank wagons built in Poland in the 1970s. At the eastern exit of the station towards the Syrian border the line passes at the foot of Burj es-Sabaa (‘Lion Tower’, a 15th century Mamluk fortress).

Rob Dickinson