News / Middle East

    Lebanon’s Auto Addiction Sparks Fight to Revive Phantom Railways

    Lebanon's Traffic Congestion Sparks Calls to Revive Railway Systemi
    X
    February 18, 2016 5:24 AM
    Formerly a crucial, mass transport hub for the MIddle East, Lebanon's once-flourishing rail system is now defunct, with once-busy railway stations used as bars or left to deteriorate. However, some activists are calling for restoring Lebanon's railways as a way to curb traffic congestion and even to help bridge divisions stemming from the country's civil war. Reporter John Owens in Beirut has more in this report.

    In traffic-choked Lebanon, efforts to resurrect a grand relic from a bygone era are at the center of a debate about curbing the country’s automobile addiction.

    For decades, Lebanon’s railways acted as the beating heart of a network that spanned three continents, fueling growth across the region.

    Killed off by a fatal combination of the growing automobile industry and Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990, it has lain neglected and left to perish in plain sight.

    Yet with attention turning to a congestion problem that threatens to reduce the country’s economic powerhouse of Beirut to a crawl, there are growing calls to put long-defunct lines back into use, with or without the government’s help.
     
    Paralyzed
     
    “People are paralyzed in wars, but countries can be paralyzed too,” Elias Maalouf, founder of NGO TrainTrain, told VOA News.  “We are in a paralyzed country and we’ve been in a paralyzed country for more than 30 or 40 years now.”
     
    His NGO has pushed to get the issue of public transport back on the agenda, with the revival of at least a portion of Lebanon’s 408 kilometers of train tracks central to its efforts.  He argues that re-establishing the rail system could also help Lebanon play a crucial role in the post-war reconstruction of Syria.  

    Maalouf criticized authorities for their approach to railways.  He says an offer by his NGO to take responsibility for the restoration of a short stretch of train line along Lebanon's coast was rebuffed.

    But with interest in TrainTrain rising, Maalouf asserts a civil society movement that flexed its muscles with mass protests in response to the country's recent trash crisis will not tolerate inaction for much longer.  

    “They can feel the energy of the civic society,” he added.  “The government can feel this and they know that something is happening.”

    • Rayak train station, in Lebanon's Bekaa region, was built in 1891 and played a major role in developing the area. (Photo - J. Owens/VOA)
    • In its prime, Rayak was one of the most important stations in a rail network that spanned three continents. (Photo - J. Owens/VOA)
    • Though sometimes guarded, many of the stations are visited by sightseers or locals who are curious about what lies within. (Photo - J. Owens/VOA)
    • There are 408 km of tracks in Lebanon. Many, like these running through a Beirut neighborhood, are hiding in plain sight. (Photo - J. Owens/VOA)
    • Tripoli train station, as a number of the other biggest stations left in Lebanon, is guarded by members of the country's Rail Authority. (Photo - J. Owens/VOA)
    • There are a number of rare trains housed in Lebanon's train stations. (Photo - J. Owens/VOA)
    • Weakened by the increased use of cars, the train lines in Lebanon were mainly killed off by the start of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. (Photo - J. Owens/VOA)
    • A photo from the archives of NGO TrainTrain.
    • Elias Maalouf is founder of TrainTrain, which campaigns for the restoration of train lines in Lebanon. (Photo - J. Owens/VOA)
    • Congestion has reached a crisis point in Lebanon, especially around and within Beirut. Some see trains as the answer. (Photo - J. Owens/VOA)
    • Maya Alameddine, a photojournalist who lives in Lebanon's second-largest city of Tripoli. (Photo - J. Owens/VOA)
    • Graffiti is seen at the Rail Authority's Beirut headquarters in what used to be a train station. (Photo - J. Owens/VOA)


    Signs of progress?
     
    A 2005 study by the Ministry of Environment estimated traffic is costing eight percent of the country’s GDP, an estimate made well before the Lebanon’s population of around four million shot up with the arrival of more than a million Syrian refugees.

    Lost among Lebanon’s many afflictions, corruption, political stalemate, regional interference or the impact of war in neighboring Syria, congestion has not registered highly on the government’s agenda.   But according to World Bank transport expert Ziad Nakat, who is overseeing plans to create a bus rapid transit system for Beirut and the coast, this is changing.

    “It took some time to create awareness about public transport and a lot of decision-makers were skeptical,” he said, “but the urgency to find solutions has created a momentum around the agenda.”

    A European Investment Bank-backed study is looking into the prospects for the stretch of line heading north from Beirut to Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city.  It was welcomed by Lebanon Rail Authority chief Ziad Nasr, who said the problem of congestion has “to be tackled now”.

    But Nasr says the international community needs to step in, especially in light of the strain on the country’s infrastructure from its role of hosting refugees.

    “There should be some kind of commitment from the [international] funding agencies towards Lebanon, because Lebanon is carrying a lot of the burden,” he told VOA.
     
    Priceless
     
    Bringing train stations back to life will carry a considerable price tag, but for some the value of such a network stretches well beyond GDP measures.

    Photojournalist Maya Alameddine lives in Tripoli, the Sunni-majority city often considered neglected by the state.   For her, an intra-city train network represents mobility, opportunity and the possibility of overcoming boundaries.

    It is a powerful concept in a country whose constitution recognizes 18 different religious groups, and whose political present is all-too-often characterized by division.

    “It will be easier for people to interact from all societies, sects, all regions, all levels of society - they will be reunited,” she said.

    It is this sense of unity that Arpi Mangassarian, whose father worked at the Rayak train station in the Bekaa region, recalls fondly.  Now a sprawling graveyard of rusting locomotives and overgrown workshops, Rayak was once a bustling hub for travel across the region that spawned a town after its completion in 1891.

    Eyes glistening at the memory of riding the train along the eucalyptus-lined tracks as a teenager, Mangassarian recalled the profound impact of these journeys on her outlook and offered support for TrainTrain’s efforts.  

    “It gave you a sense of freedom, and you had all kinds of people sitting together in that carriage,” she explained.  “There was no feeling of having a frontier.  People connected, and we were like a big family, even if just for those few hours.  To lose that has been a loss for Lebanon and its people.”

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Norma from: Beirut
    February 20, 2016 3:20 AM
    Hope to see the Lebanon train station network revived!

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora