CEL - Chemin de Fer de l'Etat Libanais
Lebanese State Railways
Salim `Ali Salam
Translated by Toufoul Abou-Hodeib
The Railway Beirut and Damascus
It is well-known that the railway beween Beirut and Damascus is narrow guage and crosses the distance between the two cities, which is 140 kilometers, in 9 hours plus. Because of the building of a railway line between Haifa and Damascus, known as the Hijaz Railway, and a line between Tripoli and Homs connecting to the wide gauge, the people and merchants of Beirut feared for their mercantile and economic center. They thus thought of establishing a wide gauge line connecting Beirut to Damascus and for these purposes formed a committee of Beirut notables and merchants under my leadership. The committee met and elected me and the deceased Nakhlah Musa Sursuq and Yusuf Bayhum to go to Damascus and form a committee there as well in order to unify our efforts towards achieving this goal. So, I headed with the aforementioned and after several meetings with notables and merchants from Damascus they decided to elect a committee under the leadership of the deceased Ahmad Pasha al-Sham`ah to unify the efforts towards the railway which was envisioned as the basis of a future line to Baghdad. After exchanges between our committee and their committee, we decided to submit our request to the government. Since, according to the technical report, the railway line was to cost around two million Ottoman Lira, the interest on this amount over a hundred years would reach 120 thousand Lira. The two committees agreed to ask the government to add this interest to municipal property [tax] and to cash in the returns from this line. In the mean time, I was elected representative to the Ottoman parliament and was given the task of following up on the project. As soon as I reached Istanbul, I was joined by Omar Bey al-Da`uq and the deceased Yusuf al-Hani. So, I met the deceased Jawid Bey, who was minister of finance at the time, and presented him with all the details saying: We, the people of both cities, with our full consent and of our free will, accept that you add the interest of the amount to be spent on this line to our property taxes. He said: And what is the estimated amount? I said: According to the engineers around two million Lira. He said: We are prepared to build this line at the expense of the government. We can borrow this amount for reduced interest for public service. As for imposing a new tax, property cannot take any new taxes. Property tax at the time was eight thousandth. Because of the beginning of World War, all endeavors in this matter were put to a halt.