CEL - Chemin de Fer de l'Etat Libanais
Lebanese State Railways
Riyaq - Damascus
The Syrian part of the line is only a shadow of its former self. Kanawat station was closed to railway traffic several years ago although the building itself is still open for visits and there's a good cafe there. The track south as far as Cadem was lifted and the route excavated to a depth of many metres as a preliminary to building an underground standard gauge line into the city. That's as far as the work got and the site has been abandoned for five years or so now. The northern part of the route through Serghaya also closed several years ago as a result of rockfalls in the gorge which have never been cleared. Today trains start at Hame station, on the old Damascus-Beirut road in the north west of the city, and run north west for about 10kms. The stock for this, 3 of the Swiss 2-6-0T's and no, 90, a Hejaz 2-8-0, are kept in the open at Hame with several carriages. I've seen recent reports that they have recently been joined by one of the Beirut Mallet tank locos. Cadem depot has recently been cleared up and turned into a rudimentary museum.
It's only the 1.05m gauge line south of Kanawat which has been dismantled. The standard gauge line to the north from Cadem is still very much in business and seems to be a pretty efficient operation. I watched a train arriving with through carriages from Haydarpasa more or less on time and there are a lot of freight wagons around Cadem which looked well used as well.
The Beirut line runs as far as Ain-Fijeh, almost entirely for day trips for the Damascenes and for the past few years during the summer only, though this year there have been suggestions that the operation may continue through the winter. It seems to be a popular excursion for the locals to escape the heat of the city during the summer. The line is blocked beyond Ain-Fijeh which is why the train now terminates there. Apparently there are several restaurants etc. there where the passengers can have an extended lunch break before the train returns.
The Hejaz railway kept going with a daily freight train to Dera'a until the Spring of 2007 and twice a week, I think it was, a passenger carriage was attached. Usually the train was hauled by one of the Romanian-built diesels but towards the end these had become increasingly unreliable and it was worked by one of the Hejaz 2-8-2's instead - and I think it was the motive power problem which caused the service to stop as much as anything. Now it's only chartered trains, usually for enthusiast groups, which run over the line and the same is true of the Hejaz line in the Amman area. Further south there's a stretch still in regular use for trains carrying minerals which are shipped out through Aqaba. In Saudi Arabia there's been a concerted drive to rescue several of the locos which have been lying out in the desert since World War 1 and a museum has been set up in the loco shed at Medina. One of the Hartmann 2-8-0's there has been restored to working order and the Syrians send down a loco driver from Damascus from time to time to drive it - though the first driver after the restored train got going a few years ago was a Muslim from, I think, Bangalore. Unfortunately of course the whole area is basically closed to non-Muslims though I gather that there's a German railtour operator who's been negotiating for some time to run a group visit there. Apparently it is technically only the holy sites in Medina which are off-limits to westerners and this doesn't include the area around the station. However I shall believe it when it happens!
- James Waite, 18 Dec 2009
When I first travelled on the line in 2008 the only serviceable loco was 755, and the station at El Hame where it was stored was very 'run down' and untidy with several other derelict locos there. There were no regular sevices running and it all looked (through 'European eyes') as though operations might cease altogether.
On return in 2009 the station had been thoroughly tidied up and extra sidings put in to accommodate stored stock. Stock movement by road had been undertaken and refurbished bogie coaches with air conditioning (ex Hedjaz Railway stock) were in service along with the old four wheelers. A regular sevice was once again running from May to September, and loco 962 was also in service.
In 2010 loco 805 was in service, as well as 962, whilst no 90 (a Hedjaz 2-8-0 of 1907) had been running and was available. 755 was 'under repair'. Service had been extended from Ain Fije to Zebdani through the spectacular Barada gorge.
Whilst in 2008 operation was from Rabweh (just beyond the old Damascus Baramke station) to Ain Fije, some 18km, the extension on to Zebdani in 2010 takes that up to 43km. However, only certain trains run from Rabweh, and if El Hame is considered the starting point then the distances are 10km and 35km respectively. In addition, the intermediate stations at Deir Kanum, Suk Wadi Barada and Et Tekkie have all been very well repainted and tidied. It does give one optimism that the reopening to Serghaya (another 11 km) will not be too far away as work is in progress on that section.
As with any transport related project in the area, it is impossible to predict accurately what may happen next, but certainly the activities of the last two years have seen considerable progress. It is sad, from a railway enthusiast perspective, to see the total lack of interest on the other side of the border. However as I have never been to Lebanon I do not fully appreciate the circumstances there.
- Geoffrey Robinson, 18. Dec. 2010