Jerusalem train station 390.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The National Council for Planning and Building approved plans on Tuesday to
build a 260-kilometer railway stretching from Beersheba to Eilat.
decision came after the Southern District Committee for Planning and Building
approved the final and most controversial portion of the railway – the route
from Dimona to Hatzeva – in mid- February, which followed previous approvals of
the Beersheba- Dimona and Hatzeva-Eilat sections.
Carrying out the entire
project will be the national roads company, Netivei Israel – National Transport
Infrastructure Company Ltd.
The Eilat railway will include a 240-km.
passenger route and a 260-km. freight route, traveling at speeds of between 220
kph and 260 kph, according to the Transportation Ministry. In addition to
including eight operational stations and four cargo terminals, the new rail line
will have five new passenger stations – at Dimona, Sapir, Ketura, Ramon and
Eilat, the ministry said.
Environmental groups had particularly opposed
plans for the Dimona-Hatzeva stretch, saying it was potentially destructive to
nature that had thrived since the biblical area.
The Israel Nature and
Parks Authority (INPA) had therefore come up with an alternative that would
shift this 60-km. section southwest and include tunnels to minimize
The district committee, however, favored the original
plans of Netivei Israel and the Transportation Ministry as much more
cost-effective, stressing that the tunnel option would also risk obstruction and
reduce operational capacity.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz welcomed
the council’s decision to approve the project, noting that the plans would bring
the periphery much closer to the Center of the country.
The project will
be one of strategic national importance, and will also allow for the passage of
goods from Asia to Israel via the Red Sea, and then on to Europe, the minister
“The project will be a blessing to factories in the South, and will
be a large and significant ingredient in Israeli export in the Negev and the
Arava, and in tourism in Eilat and the South,” he said. The railway will also
significantly reduce air pollution by reducing the need for polluting trucks,
and will directly contribute to the lives of the 700,000 people living in the
South, he added.
In response to the council’s decision, the Society for
the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) warned that the plans posed a serious
threat to nature.
“Unfortunately they sell us high-speed passenger trains
in attractive packaging, but in practice, this is a destructive mega-project,
which will transform the Negev and the Arava and all the natural assets and
scenery unique to them into fields of infrastructure, while abandoning the Gulf
of Eilat,” an SPNI statement said.