Katz: Implement safety measures or trains to shut down

Transportation minister sets summer deadline for the implementation of his rail safety program; workers union says ready to negotiate.

israel railways 311POLICE AND RESCUE workers survey the scen (photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
israel railways 311POLICE AND RESCUE workers survey the scen
(photo credit: Nir Elias/Reuters)
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz threatened to shut down Israel Railways if it doesn't implement a new plan to improve safety, he said during at a press conference Sunday morning.
The plan, whose basic principles were unveiled at the press conference, follows a string of accidents and technical problems that have plagued Israel's national train carrier in recent months. Katz made it very clear just how serious he is about the reforms, saying: If the safety shortcomings are not improved, "I'll shut down the trains."
RELATED:Katz: I’ll shut down Israel Rail unless it improves safetyLabor court orders rail workers to halt strikeLast week, the basic elements of Katz's safety program were leaked, including increased monitoring and enforcement of railroad activity, toughening the criteria for recruiting new employees (for example, by forcing train conductors to undergo extensive training and professional testing), and regular testing of train cars, among other elements.
"We're not going to fire workers," Katz clarified, but "we cannot be run like a market."
Katz threatened that if the new safety plan is not implemented, "the train[s] will be shut down on August 17 until it is organized from scratch." He added, "If we reach a situation in which the trains are interrupted, we'll require further decisions. I am adopting the program's principles and the train management, beginning tomorrow, will sit with representatives of the workers and hear their comments."
At the end of the day, the transportation minister said, workers' comments will be considered in an effort to increase safety.
Criticism of Israel Railways has been rising lately, including several investigative reports in the media about alleged problems in the conduct of its management and the non-implementation of supervisory procedures recommended in the aftermath of previous safety problems. The company has also suffered from frequent replacements of its CEO, problems in executive appointments, and budget problems.
In the latest railway accident on April 7, two double-decker trains collided south of Netanya station, injuring around 60 people and causing the Tel Aviv-Haifa line to shut down for a full day. On March 14, a train was evacuated near Nahariya after smoke entered one of the cars, while on January 24 a train was evacuated near Beer Yaakov, after smoke entered the last car, forcing the closure of several lines.
Responding to Katz's threats and criticism, the Railway Workers Union emphasized its commitment to the safety of passengers and employees, and welcomed the desire to improve train safety in Israel, it said in a statement Sunday. "We call on the minister of transportation to instruct the CEO's office and the railway's management to enter into the conference room along with the employees, and immediately conduct discussions on the implementation of thorough safety [measures]."
Globes contributed to this report.