Did you know Lebanon has over 100 years of locomotive history? Neither did I and that’s why I’m so glad I attended today’s lecture at the “Train, Train” exhibit currently being held at the Souks of Beirut.
Though the tracks were halted in the early 1970s, Lebanon still retains a unique collection of old trains–some that can’t be found anywhere else–and yet our wonderful ministers attempted to sell them for scrap a few years ago. Thankfully groups like the NGO that put on this event are lobbying to create a train museum, preserve old stations and cars and even restore some of the tracks.
Today’s lecture covered Lebanon’s illustrious railway history and was given by one of the curators, Elias Maalouf.
In an effort to lobby for public transport alternatives to Lebanon’s exhaust choked highways, the Train Train group is trying to build 15 kilometers of track linking Jbeil and Batroun to prove to the state that reviving the rails is indeed possible and to ask “what are you waiting for?”
In fact, more than a few engineering feats were mastered over a century of track laying. Maalouf said the planners had built some of the steepest rails ever, while completing national links in record time, well before today’s technological advances.
Back in the day, Lebanon had some 115 stations including its own locomotive repair and production–yes production– facility at Riyaq station in the Bekaa. According to Maalouf, the factory was even used to produce five aircraft for the French during World War II and the first plane was named “Riyaq 43” in honor of the town where it was built.
By contrast, recent governments have been fumbling over plans to relaunch the railways for the last 20 years, carrying out costly study after study with no tangible results, Maalouf noted.
The exhibit has dozens of great pictures, like this 1973 Bhamdoun crossing:
The proud men who worked the lines:
And some cool old film reels, showing how tunnels were dug and when those engravings you see on the old sea road were actually chiseled:
It’s nice to know there was a time when Lebanese entrepreneurs not only bought and sold things but actually made things and contributed toward building industries that create skilled jobs people could be proud of.
I’m so thankful that folks like Elias and his organization exist. They serve as an essential watchdog on an infinitely corrupt state while informing the public about a rich heritage that would have otherwise been forgotten.
More importantly groups like “Train Train” remind us that there are indeed people in this country who think beyond their own wallet and help us imagine a future where more Lebanese would do that too.