Tensions at top over ambitious Beersheva-EIlat Railway project

A passenger train in Israel. The proposed line would be the country’s first high-speed track (Photo: Flash 90)

A passenger train in Israel. The proposed line would be the country’s first high-speed track (Photo: Flash 90)

Last Sunday in Jerusalem, a ministerial committee authorised the construction of a 260km-long, fast railway line from Beersheva to Eilat.

The line will be the first high-speed track in Israel and is designed to cut the travel time from Tel Aviv to Eilat to two hours, as well as provide a cargo route that could become an alternative to the Suez Canal.

The project, due to take five years, is going ahead despite concerns voiced by former security chiefs over the expected involvement of a Chinese firm in building the track.

Five ministers voted in favour with only Environment Minister Amir Peretz opposing, over fears of damage to nature reserves in the Negev.

A map of the route from Tel Aviv to Eilat

A map of the route from Tel Aviv to Eilat

The project is expected to face intense scrutiny in the Knesset Finance Committee. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz are pushing the project hard, despite assessments that the number of potential passengers does not justify the expected cost of up to £6 billion.

A report by former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevi criticised the planned involvement of a Chinese construction company, citing the China’s close relations with Iran and that their involvement could harm Israel’s ties with the US. Transport Minister Katz replied: “I laughed at the superficiality and ignorance in (Halevi’s) opinion.”

DOES IT ADD UP?

£6bn
Estimated cost

260km
Length of high-speed track to be laid down

5 years
Time required to finish the project

2 hours
Tel Aviv-Eilat travel time with new line

Last updated: 4:45pm, October 10 2013