A town that has been plagued with rocket fire, on and off, for the past decade had reason to celebrate on Tuesday, with the opening of a new, armored, Sderot train station.

Government officials, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, visited the station for a launch ceremony on Tuesday morning, which preceded the public opening at 4 p.m.

The Sderot station is the new southern end point of the train line that until now began in Ashkelon, continued to Ashdod, Yavne West and Rishon Lezion before heading to Tel Aviv.

The journey from Sderot to Tel Aviv takes slightly over an hour, according to Israel Railways.

“Today is a great day for the Negev, for Sderot and for me personally,” said Transportation Minister Israel Katz. “This is the first armored station in Israel and probably in the world.”

Prior to launching the new station, Katz announced that Sderot area residents – as well as those from Netivot, Ofakim and the regional councils of Sdot Negev, Sha’ar Hanegev, Merhavim, Eshkol and Bnei Shimon – would be eligible to travel for free, on the train, for three months’ time, as of Wednesday.

Students and professors at Sapir Academic College are also able to take advantage of this benefit, the ministry said.

Applicants must arrive with photo identification to designated booths within the station, or in several other locations around Sderot, between now and January 24.

The card is initially valid 30 days from the date of issuance, and can be extended for two more 30-day periods immediately afterwards, Israel Railways said.

By allowing Sderot area residents to ride free for three months, throughout the country, the Transportation Ministry hopes to see a rise in public transportation use, over private cars in the region, Katz explained.

In 2014, the ministry aims to see stations at Netivot and Ofakim added to the national railway network, as part of a NIS 2 billion project to connect Ashkelon to Beersheba by train, he added.

Already, thousands of area residents have signed up for the free rides, and Katz stressed that he hoped the station’s opening would spur “momentum and development” for the region.

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