Slamming the Eilat railway project for its exorbitant price tag and
environmental risk factors, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel
(SPNI) called for an immediate halt to the train plans in a comprehensive report
The environmental organization – in conjunction with the
Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Shasha Center for Strategic Studies – submitted
the 132-page report on the subject to Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment
Committee chairwoman MK Miri Regev (Likud) during a committee session on the
subject that morning. In addition to its prohibitive costs and risk factors to
nature, the project would probably not be able to meet a large chunk of its
stated goals, the authors argued.
“It’s hard to find even one piece of
logic that justifies the construction of the project,” a team of seven experts
wrote in the SPNI report. “If it goes through, Israel will have to bear the
economic and social implications for many generations.”
From a wide
variety of fields, the experts responsible for drafting the report were
Eran Feitelson of Hebrew University’s Geography Department, SPNI
ecologist Dr. Ofri Gabay, Dr. Moshe Givoni of Tel Aviv University’s
transportation research unit, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevi, Prof. Ilan
Salomon of the Hebrew University’s School of Public Policy and Administration,
shipping and logistics expert David Rosen, and Israel Nature and Parks Authority
Eilat bay ecologist Dr. Asaf Zevuluni.
First and foremost, the authors
pointed out that the pricey project will cost more than NIS 23 billion, not
including the costs of mobile equipment and the connection to the port of Eilat
– which raise the price to about NIS 40b. Although upon initial examination, the
project would seem to have sensible goals, a deeper analysis would indicate
otherwise, the report explained.
The first such goal presented in the
report is the creation of a land bridge for cargo from the Far East to Europe by
connecting the Eilat and Mediterranean ports with the railway.
effort, however, would prove unsuccessful, as the railway would provide an
expensive and unreliable service in comparison to the transport provided by the
Suez Canal, the authors argued.
As opposed to the Suez Canal route, which
allows for shipping a container for $30 in 35 days, the more prohibitive Israeli
land bridge would require $800 and take 56 days, the report said. Not only would
the land bridge provide a lesser contender to the Suez Canal, it could pose a
perceived threat to Egypt’s economy, adding stress to an already sensitive
relationship, the authors wrote.
In addition, because most Israelis visit
Eilat for vacation purposes in families or groups, train travel may not be the
least expensive option, the authors argued.
Despite the fact that the
project’s goal was to reduce the travel time from Tel Aviv to Eilat to two hours
or less, the currently planned time is two hours and 27 minutes, they
The rail line alone could not lead to a significant benefit to
tourism in Eilat, and would require a simultaneous expansion and upgrade of
hotels and attractions in the city, the report said.
operation of an international cargo land bridge could lead to a more prosperous
Eilat, the probability of this occurring is negligible due to the unlikelihood
of the land bridge’s success, the authors continued.
challenged by the authors was the notion that the railway’s implementation would
reduce traffic accidents on Road 90. In light of the upgrade of Road 90 and the
planned separation of the opposing direction lanes on this highway, the number
of fatal and serious accidents is likely to diminish without the addition of the
railway, they argued.
Israel might find itself failing to realize yet
another goal presented by the project, that of strengthening the country’s
international status through engagement with foreign governments, the report
said. In particular, the authors expressed concern that tentative plans for a
Chinese firm to construct the project could damage Israel’s relationship with
the United States.
In addition to challenging the relevance of the
project’s goals, the authors criticized its planners for failing to adequately
assess environmental impacts. The railway would “irreversibly change landscapes,
soil, flora and fauna” in its path, as it involves a huge amount of
infrastructural change, the report said. Not only affecting the flora and fauna
themselves, these changes would negatively impact the human beings that benefit
from an enjoyment of the nature there. A bustling Eilat port could threaten the
coral reef ecosystem in the Red Sea as well, the authors explained.
is a project with a very high environmental price,” they
Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz meanwhile stressed at
the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee meeting that the railway planners
will need to get consent for every single removal of nature reserve area,
reminding them that the train route destroys no less than six
“Only after I give my consent can detailed planning begin,”
Peretz said. “I will not agree to be divided among lovers of the Negev and
lovers of animals and the environment.
I love both the Negev and the
environment and animals, and there is no contradiction there. Exactly the
At the session’s conclusion, Regev vowed that she would not
allow the project to “gallop ahead” without a series of comprehensive
During an Economic Affairs Committee session also on the
Eilat railway that followed, Transportation and Road Safety Minister Israel Katz
defended the plans for the railway and stressed that “there is no train that is
economic except maybe the light rail.”
“But the result will be economic
at the national level,” Katz continued. “If an economic examination had been
conducted, I also assume that the state would not have been established.”