Libano: un treno veloce per salvarsi dal traffico?

(The Daily Star, July 5 2010)

A high-speed national rail network is being advanced by leading government figures as the solution to Lebanon’s enduring congestion crisis, US Transport Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters Friday on the inaugural part of his three-day visit.

LaHood – a frequent visitor to the region and the only Arab-American member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet – met with President Michel Sleiman on Friday and Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Saturday to discuss cooperation on transportation and road safety.

“We know that rail transportation would ease congestion in the country and so we are going to continue to work with [Sleiman and Hariri] as we make our plans for rail transportation,” LaHood said. “The fact that the prime minister and president talked to me about transportation issues and safety, I think, shows [that] there should be a big ray of hope,” he said.

The question of how to ease traffic congestion is one of the biggest infrastructure challenges facing the country. It is thought that only some 10 percent of Lebanese use public transport, while the most recent statistics – last available for 2004 – show that Lebanon has the world’s second-highest person-car ratio, falling only behind the US.

The national rail system, which runs along the coast and connects Lebanon with Syria, has not functioned since the start of the 1975-90 Civil War and vast stretches of track are in a state of irreversible disrepair.