NEXT STOP: I Am a Museum

Start Date: October ,1 2009
End Date: April ,1 2011
Location: Beirut, Lebanon
Architect: Urban Planner: Sarah Lily Yassine

Next Stop: I am a Museum is a project produced for the workshop "On Mar Mikhail" organized in October - November 2009 by the 98 Weeks Research Project under the umbrella of "Beirut Every Other Day" workshop series.

Inspired by the Highline project in New York City, my concept envisions a multi-functional railway museum and urban park for the disused Mar Mikhail train station, addressing the urgent need for open spaces in Beirut.

In the absence of human use, the once lively train station has evolved into a wilderness garden. Through adaptive re-use of the historic building and preservation of the naturalized landscape, I propose to open the site for public use as a "museum park."


The program for intervention for the museum park includes educational, recreational, fund generating, and art related activities (please see the proposed concept land use map).

Lebanese Railways History


The Ottoman Empire grants the French established Société des Chemins de Fer Ottomans Economique de Beyrouth-Damas Hauran a concession to build the first railway from Beirut to Damascus.

This is part of the 'Tanzimat,' infrastructural reforms planned by the Empire to modernize regions under its rule. The envisioned idea is to provide the city of Damascus with direct access to the Port of Beirut, the French project comes as a response to the British plan to connect the then city of Jaffa to Damascus. Had this plan materialized, it would have been an economic threat to the role of Beirut, port of the Northern Levant. Clearly, both French and British powers had seen the opportunity of investing in the railway system to mark a strategic presence in parts of the Ottoman Empire in decline.


A concession is granted to the 'Société des Chemin de fer Damas-Hama et prolongements' (DHP) to build the Rayaq-Aleppo railway with a branch to Tripoli.


The Beirut-Damascus line is built across the mountain terrain and begins operating on August 3rd of the year 1895.

The Northern coast of Beirut is still pristine with olive groves, agriculture fields and large plains marking the landscape. Mar Mkhael then outside the boundaries of municipal Beirut, is strategically located between the two hills of Ashrafiyeh and Ras Beirut, but also close to the port and in proximity to the Hamidiyat Square and Souks, heart of economic activity in Beirut towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Mar Mkael site is therefore chosen to serve as the Western terminus station of the Beirut Damascus railway.


French concession undertakes operation of the Rayaq Baalbak branch.


From Mar Mkhael train station, a branch of the railway is extended to serve the port strengthening the role of Beirut, gate of the Northern Levant.


Baalbak - Aleppo service begins operating.


The Homs-Tripoli line opens.


Allied troops extend the railway from Tripoli port via Beirut to Haifa.


Regular military traffic takes place between Haifa and Beirut. A plaque is placed to commemorate this historical event at Nahr-el-Kalb River, North of Beirut. From Haifa, passengers can continue their journey to Cairo via the railway built during World War One by the British army and thus travel from Europe to African becomes possible.

Also at the same period, the Orient Express arriving from Paris stops at Istanbul. There, the Taurus Express takes over, serving the Rayaq station three times a week, and therefore enabling commuters to travel to either Beirut or Aleppo. After World War Two the Taurus Express terminates in Beirut, allowing transport of merchandise from Lebanon to Europe.


The Arab-Israeli conflict begins. The Tripoli, Haifa, Beirut connection discontinued, the train now stops at Nakoura, South of Beirut.


The railways become state owned by the ‘Chemin de Fer de l ‘Etat Libanais ‘ (CEL).

During the 1960’s railway traffic declines as cars, and buses become more popular. Excursionists are often, the sole train passengers. Compared to bus rides train journeys are much slower, for example Beirut-Alley takes about 30 minutes by bus while the train journey is completed in two hours.


The railways witness the onset of political unrest in Lebanon, trains are often the target of hostilities.

The Lebanese civil war causes great damage to the railways and service is disrupted. As of 1976 operation gradually ceases, the year 1977 marking the last journey for a cement train from Chekka towards Beirut.

No legislation is issued to terminate the operation of the railways and the Railway Authority remains in existence under the budget of the Ministry of Transport and Public Works.

Much of the coastal property belonging to the Lebanese State Railway and Public Transport Authority is built over with illegal construction.


The dedicated railroad workers guarding the railway heritage during war years operate repair works between Beirut and Jbeil inaugurating the Peace Train in 1991 to symbolize the end of armed conflict.


Despite a laisser-faire approach, coupled to lack of vision and momentum, piecemeal efforts are implemented to rehabilitate the railway network.

French consultants Sofrerail and the SNCF (Socité Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français) study opportunities to operate a line between Tripoli and Tyr.


Three kilometers of the Rayaq–Damascus line are restored to potentially serve as a tourist attraction.

A cargo line from Tripoli to the Syrian border at Abboudieh is also approved by the Lebanese government, funding is to be secured by the Council for Development and Reconstruction. Ships would unload containers destined for Syria, Jordan and Iraq at the Beirut port and transport them by rail to a free trade zone in Rayaq. The Railway Authority purchases material to secure rehabilitation of the proposed service between Tripoli to Abboudieh but the Lebanese government fails to secure funds to sustain the financing and implementation of the plan.

Next Stop?

The Railway and Public Transport Authority owns about 401 km of railway in Lebanon.

Suspended in time and pending decision making of stakeholders, the railway condition is a reflection of the political instability in the Middle East. With tensed relations with its Northern and Southern neighbours an inter-Arab railway throughout Lebanon cannot be envisioned.

Today, the fate of the railways, train stations and stockyards, remains unknown.

What will happen to the railways once the remaining railroad workers retire? Who will guard the living museum of Lebanon's early industrial heritage?

Disused train stations have evolved into wilderness gardens, landscapes overgrown with spontaneous vegetation along the length of the railway corridor.

Museum Park should be their next stop!


1. Al Mashriq-the Levant-Lebanon and the Middle East, The Railways in Lebanon, their History and Present State,, accessed 2011.

2. Middle East Railways by Hugh Hughes (1981) in The Continental Railway Circle 4. MIDDLE EAST FORCES [pp. 45-48] in Al Mashriq,, accessed 2011.

3. Section Libanaise de l'Association Francaise des Amis des Chemin de Fer,, accessed 2011.

3. Sarah Lily Yassine conversation with Mr. Bechara Assi, RailRoad Workers Syndicate President, 2009.

5. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Fact Book,, accessed 2011

Sarah Yassine is an urban planner and environmental management consultant. She holds an MSc in Environmental Planning, Policy and Regulation from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences and a BSc in Environmental Health from the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut. She has worked on urban planning and environmental management projects both in London and Beirut.

"I benefit from an interdisciplinary background that enables me to weave the practices of urban planning, environmental science, and ecological economics into my approach. I look at "THE CITY" through the lens of a planner, an ecologist, a policy maker, a designer, and most importantly that of a citizen, who in my view, is the ultimate urban manager."

The Way I Work

When working on cities, I begin by researching their history, in an attempt to understand the challenges they face, and how they were formed. The proposed concepts and land use plans that emerge from this exercise are based on place-making principles, in the hope of contributing to the creation of sustainable neighbourhoods. I ensure that every project is informed by the existing landscape and social heritage, as well as by the appropriate green design standards and requirements for impact assessment on ecology. Equally important are policy objectives and economic growth strategies that help in unfolding how the place would evolve over time.


I have always been fascinated by landscapes. At six, I was passionate about painting and wanted to be a professional photographer. When I was a teenager, I read 'A Brief History of Time' by Stephen Hawking. By then the cosmos had become my main inquiry, and I had decided I would study astrophysics to understand the order of things. Listening to rock music perhaps rendered my interests more earthly as I became curious about design, ecology, urban culture, graffiti, and railways.

I can spend hours exploring cities, attempting to capture their movement with a camera or a sketch. I observe street life, how people move and use space. I often ask locals about their neighbourhood stories and the origins of street names.

Why Cities?

My objective is to develop expertise in projects that provide relevant and responsive strategies to improve the public realm and enhance the pedestrian experience in cities. I am also interested in opportunities to rethink derelict urban landscapes through implantation of ecological preservation zones and green public spaces.

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