In an effort to improve safety, Israel Railways is launching a comprehensive project to close level crossings - where roads cross railway tracks at ground level - on the Tel Aviv-Beersheba line.
The estimated NIS 110 million project, to be carried out by the Shomroni and Malibu companies, will involve road infrastructure and bridges, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2007. Work will commence on Thursday at four sites between Na'an and Kiryat Gat.
IR director-general Ofer Linczewski said, "Israel Railways sees the closing of level crossings as a central priority. The construction of grade separations between railways and roads throughout the country is intended primarily to increase safety. Starting in July 2005 we have closed all the level crossings that were not protected by barriers on passenger lines, and we have decided to get rid of all unprotected crossings. All the new lines are to be built without level crossings."
In November Israel Railways established in conjunction with the Transportation Ministry a grade separation administration, which will work to abolish all level crossings throughout the country.
There have been several accidents on level crossings, when road vehicles have become stuck on the railway track. The most serious was in 1985, when 22 schoolchildren and their escorts were killed after their bus stalled on the railway line near Moshav Habonim.
Last June eight train passengers died and 190 were injured when a train hit a farm vehicle on an unguarded crossing near Moshav Revadim.
Many less high-profile accidents have claimed the lives of car drivers and their passengers when they drove onto level crossings even after warning bells started ringing and the safety barriers had begun to descend.
At the end of December a disaster was narrowly averted when the driver of a minibus managed to get his passengers out in the nick of time after the vehicle stalled on the level crossing in Binyamina.