The first railway on the island was the Cyprus Government Railway, which in 1905 opened a line from the principal port, Famagusta, to the capital, Nicosia. The 2ft 6in (760mm) gauge railway was some 37 miles (59 km) in length. The line was extended in 1907 from Nicosia to Morphou (24 miles, 39 km), and in 1915 from Morphou to Evrykhou (15 miles, 24 km). Closure began as early as 1932. The first section to open was also the last one to close, in 1951.
In 1916, the Cyprus Mines Corporation (CMC) was formed to exploit extensive deposits of ore in the area around Lefke. Copper ore had been mined in Cyprus since prehistoric times (indeed, the metal takes its name from that of the island); the deposits in question were rich in copper and also contained small but commercially significant quantities of gold. CMC opened a new mine at Skouriotissa. Initially, ore for export was taken by the Government Railway to Famagusta, but later CMC built its own railway, also of 2ft 6in (760mm) gauge, to a new port and processing facility at Xeros. A further railway brought ore to Xeros from another CMC mining development at Mavrovouni, near the town of Lefke.
The mines and railways of the CMC ceased operation in 1974 following the occupation by Turkish troops of the northern part of the island. They never reopened.
A number of relics of both railways remain in situ, although most are in poor condition. A notable exception is Cyprus Government Railway No.1, which has been cosmetically restored at occupies a plinth at the site of the former Famagusta station.
The island today is effectively divided into two parts. Most, though not all, of the railway remains are located in the northern part.
The Republic of Cyprus, now part of the European Union, makes up the greater part of the island.
In 2011, the Cyprus Minister of Communications announced that a study was under way for a new high speed passenger rail network, with the possibility of a tram system in Nicosia.
The northern part of the island seceded from the rest of the island in 1985. The new state has never been recognised internationally; however, UN attempts at a reunification settlement have failed and the area remains a de facto state in its own right, outside the EU.
Photo images © 2003 David A. Pritchard
Flag image from CIA World Factbook