Mofaz threatens defense budget over rail changes

Arrangement eliminates free rides for soldiers on most rail lines on Sunday mornings.

By JPOST.COM STAFF
January 22, 2012 08:56
3 minute read.
Israrail train by Bombardier

Israrail train Bombardier 311. (photo credit: Bombardier)

Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) threatened Sunday to hold up the defense budget until the issue of soldiers traveling on trains is resolved.

On Sunday, a new arrangement between the IDF and Israel Railways came into effect, eliminating free rides on most trains between the hours of 6 and 9 a.m. on Sundays. The arrangement is expected to save the IDF money and to reduce overcrowding during those hours.

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Mofaz criticized the new arrangement, saying it is unacceptable to turn IDF soldiers into "second-class" commuters in order to save money, speaking with Israel Radio.

"Until the new arrangement is canceled and soldiers are still unable ride the train for free, i have no intention of approving the transfer of funds" to the defense budget, Mofaz said during a Foreign Affairs and Defense Commitee tour at Tel Aviv's central railway station Sunday morning.

MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) also condemned the move saying, "the implementation of the arrangement simply looks like an experiment with human subjects."

"At the end of the day, the burden falls on the soldiers and their families, he added."

MK Miri Regev said of the new rules, "If there is no other option we'll cancel the arrangement with legislative means."

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) also threatened legislation to reverse the decision, saying Kadima would pass a law prohibiting such changes.

"After throwing women to the back of the bus they're throwing soldiers off of the train," Livni said in a written statement.

The opposition leader said it was a soldier's "right" and the state's "duty" to provide free rail-transportation for soldiers, and threw her support behind planned demonstrations for Sunday morning. The policy is aimed at reducing the number of passengers on Israel Railway's busiest day of the week

"Kadima MKs have started to sign a law that would ensure [free transportation for soldiers] if the government does not steer from its course," she said.

The arrangement stipulates that during the blackout hours soldiers will be offered free bus rides between train stations in Tel Aviv and north and to their bases throughout the country.

A senior IDF officer said on Thursday that the military agreed to the change in an effort to improve the quality of service for civilians who pack into the trains on Sunday.

“Soldiers will instead ride in comfortable, convenient buses that will take them directly to their bases,” the officer said.

On Sunday mornings train stations across the country are jammed with soldiers making their way to their bases after weekend leave. One of those soldiers, Noa, who serves in the Caracal Battalion in the Southern Command, said the changes would dramatically increase the time it took her to go from her home in Moshav Ramot on the Golan Heights to her base near the Egyptian border.

Noa said that with the train she has to leave home at 4 a.m. and make her way to Haifa where she boards an express train to Beersheba, and arrives at her base around 2 p.m. If she has to take buses, not only will it be much less comfortable, but she will probably arrive an hour or two later.

“We are soldiers serving our country in the army; we deserve to be able to ride the train in the morning,” Noa said.

On the other hand, Mark Weiss, the father of a seaman serving at a naval base outside Haifa, said the change would not have a major effect on his son.

“He can still ride the shuttle bus, so we’ll have to wait and see how it works out. It may take a bit longer if there’s traffic, but it’s not like now he’ll have to be paying out of his own pocket.”

Weiss added: “In the worst-case scenario, he may have to leave a bit earlier in the morning on Sundays.”

Yaakov Katz and Ben Hartman contributed to this report.


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