SIDON, Lebanon: A new initiative in the southern city of Sidon aims to preserve what is left of the railway there and turn the area into a recreational park for local residents.
The “Shajar w Bashar” (trees and people) project comes as the railroad is being slowly eaten away by illegal construction. Recently, a stretch of track near the southwestern corner of the village of Rmeileh was destroyed by bulldozers.
“Our goal is to utilize and increase public space in the city of Sidon, and to educate people on the importance of public spaces and how to use them,” Project Coordinator Abdel-Razzak Hammoud said.
The campaign targets abandoned and neglected areas along the railway, which stopped running with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1975, with the intention of transforming them into public spaces to benefit local communities. The organizing committee has already identified its first location, a stretch of railway nearly 2 kilometers long and between 8 and 16 meters wide in the area known as Zaroub Hashishou in Maksar al-Abed, at the northern entrance of Sidon.
Hammoud said the committee had begun drawing up a legal petition but had already received verbal approval from the Railway and Public Transport Authority.
The park will be landscaped, handicap accessible and dotted with benches throughout, with walking and bike paths, Hammoud said, and pollutants such as water pipes and cigarettes will be banned.
The park with also “preserve much of the industrial and cultural heritage” of the area, he said.
Tawfik Ghazzawi Saqallah, a Sidon resident who lives near the abandoned tracks, welcomed news of the initiative.
“In the old days, I used to feel joy when the train passed right in front of my house,” he said. “It’s been many years since then, and the area is now infested with snakes and rodents.”
According to Hammoud, the project will cost around $250,000, which the committee will seek from local businessmen as well as local and international foundations. The committee has already established contact with the Sidon Municipality and the Hariri Foundation for Human Development, although Hammoud emphasized that the project was apolitical and the committee neutral.
In addition to giving local residents an outdoor space, the park will also offer a chance for a new generation that has never taken the train to become acquainted with its history. The committee is petitioning for control of the area “until the trains start running again” – an unlikely prospect, given how little track is left and the amount of land that has been sold off or built on.
Resident Ihsan al-Gharbi, 70, said the train was a “dream” that disappeared and should be brought back.
“However, this dream is unlikely to be realized, so let them plant the area and make it beautiful in order to show it to a new generation that knows nothing of the train.”