Katz: I’ll shut down Israel Rail unless it improves safetyW

Workers call labor dispute after threats by transportation minister

By AMIRAM BARKAT / GLOBES
April 17, 2011 23:18
2 minute read.
POLICE AND RESCUE workers survey the scene of a tr

israel railways 311POLICE AND RESCUE workers survey the scen. (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz threatened on Sunday to shut down Israel Railways within four months if its management does not show how it will solve safety problems that have led to a number of recent rail accidents and breakdowns.

“I have notified the management of Israel Railways that unless it presents me with a detailed plan to solve its safety problems within four months, I will close the railways down,” Katz said at a press conference on Sunday.

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“I won’t compromise on passenger safety, and allow a situation in which people are afraid to take the train.

The railway is not supposed to be a battlefield, but a safe and convenient means of transport.”

On Thursday, Katz discussed Israel Railways’ safety problems with its acting chairman, Ori Yogev. Katz ordered Israel Railways to establish proper procedures.

As an interim measure, he ordered the installation of safety measures on trains, including cameras in the drivers’ cabins.

Katz, who is expected to announce the reform of Israel Railways, ordered the transportation ministry’s director general to draw an alternative mass transit plan if he orders the shutting down of the railways. “This won’t be a plan of a bus here and a bus there, but a comprehensive plan to implement if necessary,” he said.

The minister did not hesitate to make personal attacks against Israel Railways’ employees and managers.

“The locomotive cabin is not a nightclub. It’s one of the most sensitive and important workplaces there is.

Train drivers should know that they are being supervised.

If a driver is suspected of running a red light and causing a collision, he should be investigated and indicted through proper channels, like everyone else.”

Adding that current procedures are “unreasonable,” Katz compared the railways to security organizations. “If the IDF had a unit with this level of maintenance and service, it would be closed.

We don’t want to reach the step of closure, because I believe that Israel Railways’ management and employees are doing important work, and will do what is necessary to fix the flaws.”

In the latest railway accident on April 7, two doubledecker trains collided south of Netanya station, injuring around 60 people and causing the Tel Aviv-Haifa line to shut down for a full day. On March 14, a train was evacuated near Nahariya after smoke entered one of the cars, while on January 24 a train was evacuated near Beer Yaakov, after smoke entered the last car, forcing the closure of several lines.

Criticism of Israel Railways has been rising lately, including several investigative reports in the media about alleged problems in the conduct of its management and the non-implementation of supervisory procedures recommended in the aftermath of previous safety problems. The company has also suffered from frequent replacements of its CEO, problems in executive appoints, and budget problems.

The Israel Railways workers committee called a labor dispute in response to the attacks by Katz. The dispute was called within two hours of Katz’s press conference through a telephone vote of members. The workers committee was already in dispute with management over the decision to outsource maintenance work and is therefore entitled to call a strike in less than 14 days.


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