Lebanon’s tramway, despite the Ottomans taking credit for it, was actually a Belgian project which started in April 1908 in Beirut.
The tramway in Lebanon covered 12 Kilometers (7.45 Miles) around Beirut’s center and lasted up until September of 1965. As cars became more popular and widely adopted, the tram tracks were removed to make way for more cards. It was fully decommissioned in 1968.
The tramway wasn’t liked by everyone. It was dubbed douleb el shaytan, or Satan’s wheel. Drivers of horse-led carriages particularly disliked Lebanon’s tramway as it posed a risk to their business. It was basically what Uber is to taxis today.
There were protests against the tramway system and at times, it got quite violent. This resulted in the company hiring abadayet, basically local “tough guys, to protect it.
There were also incidents of pickpocketing, sexual harassment, and hijackings. This led to increasing the popularity of the service taxi that is still used up until today.
In 1923, the Tramway company went bankrupt and was merged with Lebanon’s Gas and Electric Company. The Beirut line would take passengers as far as Dora on the city’s east side, to Furn al-Chebek and Horsch Beirut in the south, and back to the city’s west side in Manara.
In the capital’s center, a circular line went from Martyrs’ Square to Riad el Solh and the harbor. A central depot was located in Rue du Fleuve.
The tramway operated from 6 in the morning all the way up till midnight and apparently, it was never late. People would set their clock according to the tram’s schedule.
People would often ride the trams for leisure to get a tour around Beirut. The seats, reportedly, were quite comfortable. There were 2 types of seats which different prices.
There were the upholstered seats that costed twice the price than the ordinary seats. The ordinary seat cost 5 piasters (basically a single coin at the time) while the upholstered ones were 10.
Government employees and students received exclusive passes. The tramway company apparently also issues special passes to VIPs. It is reported that Bechara el-Khoury and Riad el-Solh had free lifetime tram passes.
The tramway system helped electrify Lebanon is the first tramway required laying out electrical connections between the regions.
There is a theory that the tramway system was removed by the Lebanese regime to eliminate anything that is shared among the Lebanese people.
It is believed that it was a way to divide the people and destroy everything we had in common. People say that after the tramway was decommissioned, Muslim-Christian mingling was greatly reduced.
During the time of civil unrest, trams were attacked and burned… even blown up by devices hidden under passenger seats.
There’s also a song written about it called Tramway Beirut by Wael Amir: