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The first railway in Syria opened when the country was part of the Ottoman Empire. The line from Damascus to the port city of Beirut in present day Lebanon opened in 1895. It was built to the unusual gauge of 1050mm. Most later lines in the country were built to standard gauge (1435mm), but the famous Hejaz railway, opened in 1908 between Damascus and Medina in present day Saudi Arabia, used the 1050mm gauge.

In the early 21st century there was a standard gauge network of some 2750km, operated by Syrian Railways. There were international connections with Turkey. A link with Iraq, severed in the Iraqi war of 2003, was restored for a time but subsequently closed again. Links with Lebanon closed in the mid 1970s. A section of the narrow gauge Hejaz Railway, running from a point on the outskirts of Damascus into Jordan, carried an infrequent service until closure in 2006. In 2010, Jordan Hejaz Railways resumed a weekly passenger service between the Jordanian capital, Amman, and the Syrian city of Daraa, but this lasted only until the following year. The standard gauge network was extensively damaged with the outbreak of civil war in the country. By 2012 no trains were operating.

In 2015, passenger services resumed between the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartous, away from the main areas of conflict, a distance of about 80km. Trains may also carry freight as required.

In 2017, passenger services resumed between Aleppo and Jibrin, about 140km. Trains may also carry freight as required.

In September 2018, a frequent passenger service operated during the Damascus International Fair between Al-Qadam station (south of the city centre) and the site of the fair near the Airport Highway to the southeast of the city, a distance of about 18km.

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