The Southern District Committee for Planning and Building approved on Monday the final leg of the future Eilat railway, choosing an eastern corridor alternative proposed by the Transportation Ministry.

Deciding on the missing piece of the railway, which will travel at speeds between 220 and 260 kilometers per hour, the committee reviewed three routes from Dimona to Hatzeva – the eastern path of the Transportation Ministry and Israel National Roads Company, the western route of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) and a third central route.

The committee approved the eastern route due to its engineering feasibility, low cost, minimal safety risks, low environmental impact and an operational convenience that will allow for the use of many trains, the Interior Ministry said.

The decision comes about two months after the committee approved the two other sections of the train route – from Beersheba to Dimona and from Hatzeva to Eilat.

“The project will bring a blessing to the factories of the South, which account for a large and meaningful component of Israeli exports,” Transportation Minister Israel Katz said, noting that there would be significantly fewer large trucks on Road 90 once the train begins operating.

With a rail link to connect the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, the country will see a swifter passage of goods to both Europe and Asia and a resultant strengthening of international relations, Katz said. In addition, the rail will improve tourism to Eilat and significantly reduce air pollution levels, he added.

“For the project, a social contribution is of top priority for the 700,000 people living in southern Israel,” Katz said.

Work on the Eilat railway, which will involve six planning firms, will include a 240- km. passenger route and a 260- km. freight route, the Transportation Ministry said. In addition, the plans involve eight operational stations, four cargo terminals and five new passenger stations – in Dimona, Sapir, Ketura, Ramon and Eilat, Israel National Roads Company CEO Shai Baras explained.

In addition to shifting the 60-km. section between Dimona and Hatzeva southwest, the alternative proposed by the INPA called for digging tunnels that researchers said would leave the surface of the desert nature untouched. This option, the INPA stressed, would reduce the need for 50- meter-high ramparts to elevate the train line, land bridges and flattening of open spaces.

While the alternative supported by the INPA and the Environmental Protection Ministry has several environmental benefits, it also has many disadvantages, the Southern District Committee decided. The alternative would reduce the operational capacity of the train by 30 percent so that fewer trains would be able to travel, and would add huge financial costs and safety risks posed by more than 13 km. of tunneling, according to the Interior Ministry. Tunnels also face ventilation problems and risk obstruction, and require escape hatches, the office said.

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