Speaking of which; did you know that Aghata Christie wrote that renowned novel in Aleppo, my hometown? She’d even stayed in the quaint Baron hotel, another good reason for me to be a fan of both trains and mystery novels.
So perhaps again, it’s not a coincidence that Aleppo is where the headquarters of the Chemen de Fer du Syrie (Syrian Railways) are located. Geographically speaking, it’s a hub, and it’s the closest major town in the Levant to Turkey and Europe. It’s where the Railways track that stretches all the way from Western Europe, peels off to the east to continue its arduous trek to Baghdad, and dips to the south to eventually reach Mecca in current day Saudi Arabia.
But the evolution of the railway business in Aleppo was organically haphazard. There is a central station on huge plot of land downtown. Alongside this station you’d find maintenance depots, the simulator building, the painting workshops, the tanks, the shunting tracks, the railway institute, etc, all smack-bang in the middle of town. The central station itself is reached through an elevated track that cuts through town. Nothing like the Dubai Metro that is elevated on proper pillars and post-tensioned slabs, it’s actually much more plain and basic than that: the rail tracks of Aleppo run on an elevated mound of earth augmented with ballast and volcanic gravel, compacted together with the weight of million trains that had trudged over them throughout the decades. To the unassisted eye, the earthwork looks like a defensive rampart that belongs to long-gone ear.
I have many friends and family who work for the CFS (Chemen de Fer de Syrie). When I was little, my uncle was an inspector, and I used to take the round trip to Lattakia with him frequently. I’d just go and come back on the same train; I wouldn’t even depart the Lattakia station. But the trip was always worth it, since the natural scenery is breathtaking along the track. It’s fascinating, although, admittedly, the good part of the route is the one that falls within Lattakia’s province....:)
Homam Al Hut is a very popular guy, and he’s an engineer. So for years his suggestion, albeit delivered in a comedy set up, was a widely held belief. A Japanese expert who is, alas, not as famous, had once shattered this myth forever. A friend of mine who works for CFS told me that an expert from Jaica (Japanese International Cooperation Agency) had had a meeting once with engineers and planners from the Syrian railway, and my friend was present. Now Jaica is almost a charitable organization, it helps developing countries by giving expertise and sometimes even financial assistance if there are worthy projects. Jaica’s experts are mostly retirees, since there are no timeframes and no targets to be met; it’s whatever-you-can-do-to-help-these-struggling-countries kind of work. But nonetheless, Jaica’s experts, according to my friend, work as hard as an ambitious fresh graduate. So when this small, frail man from Japan was asked whether it was feasible to terminate the railway at the suburban station and bring passengers in by buses, he was soon on his feet pointing to projected charts he’d called on his laptop. He explained that trains are the most environmentally friendly and most feasible modes of transport. That the number of busses you’d need to transport a train-load of passengers would end up emitting more poisonous gasses, more noise, and causing more traffic than the train itself.
I’m a little disappointed though; the feeder bus route nearest to where I live is good 15 minutes walk away. I could do that in mild weather conditions, but not under the severe sun or the dusty air (which are, unfortunately, most often the case). So I'll put on my own expert outfit and dispense some unsolicited advice to the RTA, they may want to try to think of bisecting and splitting the feeder routes to cover more areas. Most of the feeders’ routes are short anyway, so instead of having one bus serving 10 blocks every 5 minutes, why not have two busses serving 5 blocks every 10 minutes? At a first glance the difference might sound marginal, but it’d really encourage the lazy and fastidious population like myself to seek the Metro instead of driving.