Closed and abandoned since the Lebanese civil war, the Rayak historical train railway connecting Beirut and Damascus was opened last weekend to celebrate its 124th anniversary. The event was under the patronage of his excellency Lebanese president General Michel Aoun and counted with the presence of many public figures.
The event was organized by the Train/Train NGO and the Rotary Club of Chtaura – Bekaa gate in collaboration with the Railway and Public Transportation Authority (OCFTC) and with the support of “I Have Learned Academy”. The ceremony took place on Saturday afternoon, whereas Sunday was destined for people touring the area around it and visiting the station.
An exhibition of paintings by the Lebanese and British artist Tom Young and of snaps by Lebanese photographer Eddy Choueiry was organized on the occasion in order to draw attention to the old Lebanese rail days. The symphonic orchestra of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces performed specially for the occasion accompanied by many other important performers.
In addition to the neglect the railway suffered during the civil war, the Syrian army occupied the station, which was already affected by many bombings. Young’s series of fifteen pictures depict the railway in both its present stale state and in its past vigorous state. According to him, many of these pictures have been painted on-site during the weeks before the exhibition.
Choueiry was also inspired by the site’s view of the station. He states that he has been working for twenty years in the pictures that he presented during the celebrations of this anniversary. Once, he recalls, on the first time he came to Rayak, a Syrian army was based there and he had to ask for permission in order to take the pictures. A Syrian soldier followed him the whole time.
Even though it has been closed for a long time, this railway is significant to the inhabitants of the Rayak area. The older citizens nostalgically remember the times before the war, when the train was always under full motion and surrounded by life activities. One old man is even reported to cry every time he looks at the station and sees it closed.