For Tsaffrir Zor, getting from Kiryat Malachi to Tel Aviv University every day takes nearly two hours – time, he says, that is being unnecessarily wasted.
“Right now I have to drive all the way to Yavne, which, with the traffic jams in the morning, [means] I have to get out of the house 50 minutes before it stops at Yavne,” Zor told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Zor and other Kiryat Malachi region residents are pressing the government, particularly the Finance Ministry, to complete the half-finished, NIS 60 million station in their midst. About 75,000 people live closer to this station than to any other, and some 4,000 students attend the nearby Achva Academic College – 1,000 of whom live in towns along the rail track in question, said Zor, a doctor of biochemistry at Tel Aviv University.
The government approved plans about a decade ago to construct the Kiryat Malachi train station, located between Kfar Harif and Kfar Menachem parallel to Road 6, as part of a plan to double the rail tracks to Beersheba, Zor explained. Work began on the Kiryat Malachi station around the end of 2011, but with expenses on the larger rail project piling up, authorities decided on a temporary halt in construction in Winter 2012. Nearly half of the required NIS 60m for the station has already been spent, and a passenger platform was built during the track doubling work, he said.
“This is a unique situation where you already have half a station,” he said.
The Knesset Public Petitions Committee held a meeting on the subject on May 26, during which Zor said he and his fellow residents were surprised by the difference in attitudes between the Transportation and Finance ministries.
Transportation Ministry representatives expressed confidence that the station would be economically viable, while Finance Ministry representatives were more cautious in their assessments.
Amit Blogovski, Economy and Budget Coordinator at the Transportation Ministry, said during the meeting that his office stands behind the ministry’s assertion that the station “will be completed.”
When authorities recognized that the cost of the rail-doubling project had increased, the Kiryat Malachi station construction plans were split into two stages: first, the underground infrastructure, platforms and initial tracks, and second, a new development plan for the rest of the tracks, Blogovski explained.
“We are currently in discussions with [Israel Railways] on the new development plan,” he said. “This station has passed a feasibility test.
In our opinion it is also an important station. It passed a feasibility test and is economic.”
Vladimir Simon, Head of the Transportation Ministry’s economic planning department, confirmed that at the Finance Ministry’s request, the Ministry performed a feasibility study on the station over the past three months. It was recently completed.
“In our view the project is economically viable for the market,” Simon said.
The development plan for the second stage will be concluded in the coming months, Blogovski added.
Moran Mazor, Head of the Finance Ministry’s transportation division, stressed that although the feasibility study came out on the positive side, the results were still borderline.
There is no need for a project to have a big payoff economically, but it is important from a professional standpoint to conduct such evaluate the issue, Mazor said.
During the Knesset meeting, Achva Academic College President Alean al-Krenawi reiterated the importance of finishing the train station for the benefit of his students, particularly those coming from Rahat and other Beduin communities.
“The train can definitely provide access to higher education,” Krenawi said. “A lot of students that use the train sometimes request to go home a little earlier because the buses don’t operate during later hours. Sometimes they miss classes, and faculty members come and complain to me. As the head of an academic institution in the region, where the role of an academic institution is, among other things, to leverage the [resources of the] area, I think that a train can provide excellent economic, social and educational benefit to the whole area.”
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), who attended the committee meeting, pointed out that the government decided to invest NIS 50 billion in another rail plan, the railway to Eilat which will be a completely new line where there are no tracks and no stations at present and there will always be only a few passengers. The cost of finishing the Kiryat Malachi station, on an existing train line, is low in comparison, and “the small sum can provide transportation, social and economic benefits,” Zandberg argued.
“This small connection can give such a great value by connecting the periphery to the center,” she said.
Hoping that the project’s completion would be accelerated, Zor told the Post he was confident the Kiryat Malachi station would have wide appeal to riders in the region.
Meanwhile, he and his fellow residents are continuing to talk to as many politicians as possible to convince decision- makers of the site’s importance, he said.
“It’s going to be much more heavily used than other train stations that exist,” Zor said.