Postcard from... Rayak


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The Independent Online

Hundreds of train carriages dot the landscape, their locomotives overgrown with shrubs and trees. Green paint peels off the rusting metal frames, the bricks of the buildings that used to shelter them crumbling.

The train station at Rayak was once home to the Arab world’s first rail line and a flourishing train factory. The abandoned site remains a symbol of Lebanon’s illustrious railway history, and a reminder of its bleak present.

The Lebanese railway, started in 1895, linked the country with Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria and even Paris. But after the outbreak of war in 1975 the railways fell into disrepair. Hayssam Bourji, 60, has come to Rayak with his grandsons. “I used to ride the trains to Syria and back, just for fun. I would sit on top of the carriage,” he says.

Elias Maalouf, the founder of Train Train, an NGO which aims to revive the crumbling rail network, has been trying to relaunch the line between the coast cities of Byblos and Batroun.

Although many carriages and stations have already been sold off, Mr Maalouf and other train enthusiasts still believe there’s a future for rail in Lebanon. “We have to show people that if we had railways 120 years ago, we can have them again now,” he says.