(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Residents of the southern cities of Sderot, Netivot, Ofakim and the surrounding communities will be eligible for 50 percent discounts on train tickets to any destination nationwide through the end of 2017, Transportation Minister Israel Katz declared on Thursday.
Katz made the announcement two days prior to the opening of the new “Negev Railway” line, which will be conveying passengers from Ashkelon to Beersheba and back beginning on Saturday night. The journey between the two cities will take about 50 minutes, with stops at Ashkelon, Sderot, Netivot, Beersheba North/University and Beersheba – and by the end of the year, also at Ofakim.
“The railway lines between Ashkelon and Beersheba will allow thousands of passengers daily to reach the cities of Beersheba and Tel Aviv quickly and easily, as well as expand employment opportunities for residents,” Katz said on Thursday.
The decision to provide 50% ticket discounts to the residents of Sderot, Netivot, Ofakim and the surrounding areas occurred in conjunction with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the Transportation Ministry explained.
The discounts, Katz said, are intended to encourage settlement in these Negev cities and increase the number of both residents and businesses in the region. In addition to the two-year discounts, residents using the new stations will be able receive free trips for three months, the minister added.
Katz took an inaugural ride on the new train line on Thursday morning with Israel Railways officials and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who discussed how railways are “linking the North and the South to the Center” and “turning the country into one unit.”
“This creates different socioeconomic possibilities,” Netanyahu said. “It is absurd that in our small country one needs to travel for hours on the roads, through junctions and traffic jams. We are eliminating this and are simply building highways in the Negev, the Galilee and the center. We are changing everything.”
The NIS 2 billion Negev Railway contains a double 70 km.
track and will feature about 25 trains running in each direction daily. The Sderot train station opened in December 2013, while the Netivot train station did so this February.
Construction of the Ofakim station, however, faced delays due to last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, according to Israel Railways. The station is slated to open within the next couple of months, the Transportation Ministry said.