Syrian Railways: History and Current Situation

By Xavier Raychell Blancharde

Although the situation of the Syrian railways is currently quite dire, that hasn’t always been the case. Since 2011, however, Syria has been affeced by a brutal war, with much damage sustained to many of the rail lines, as well as the inoperability of the routes due to them having to cross frontlines. As such, almost all passenger services were halted, and only two passenger routes operate in the country today. I’ll talk about those routes later.

Our Syria Tour Leader, Xavi, in Jibrin, Aleppo, after riding a train to that village.

What is the history of Syrian Railways?

Syria’s first railway line dates back to 1895, during the Ottoman Empire, when a line was opened between Damascus and Beirut. The most famous historic railway in Syria, however, was the Hejaz railway, linking Damascus to Medina in Saudi Arabia in 1908, forming one of the most important pilgrimage routes for Muslims to perform Haj and Umrah. Over the following two decades, rail lines were expanded to Aleppo, Tripoli and Nusaybin. Much of the train lines at this point formed part of the Baghdad Railway, with Aleppo being a major stop on the route. During WWII, where Syria was a French mandate, the Allies used its railway networks to transport goods for military purposes.

Following WWII, railways in Syria ended up becoming nationalised, with further rail lines being developed over the years. Tartus, Latakia, Raqqa, Deir Ezzour and other major cities and towns across Syria were all connected to the Syrian rail network before the end of the 1970s.

Over the years, and following Syrian independence, international railway links remained with Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon. However, routes to Lebanon were ceased after the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s, routes to Iraq were ceased following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and finally routes to Turkey were ceased following the start of the Syrian war in 2011.

The Current Status of Syrian Railways

Right now (2023), to our knowledge, there are only two passenger train routes that operate in the entirety of Syria. The first route is between Latakia and Tartus cities (this region wasn’t affected by the war). The second route is from Aleppo city to a small town called Jibrin which is located just east of Nairab Refugee Camp in Aleppo countryside. Both trains run on a regular basis, but I can’t speak about the Latakia-Tartus train to fine details as I haven’t actually been on it.

I went on the train from Aleppo to Jibrin, however, last week (March 2023). I can confirm that the train runs twice a day, once at 7:15am and once at 3:15pm. It’s possible to ride both of these train lines as a tourist in Syria, and if that’s something you’d like to do in the country, let us know and we will arrange it on one of our tours! Below, you can watch a video I made about the train trip experience from Aleppo to Jibrin.

The railway line between Aleppo and Damascus is all under government control, and most of the country has now become safe for visitors. Hence, hopefully, once maintenence works are finished, this line will be up and running again. When that might be, however, who knows…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *