Upkeep and electrification work on Israel railway tracks on Shabbat will be reduced and will take place instead overnight on weekdays, Transportation Minister Miri Regev said in a statement on Wednesday after meeting with senior Israel Railways officials.
According to the statement, the officials presented at the meeting a plan to reduce work on Shabbat based on the principles of "maintaining the status quo" and "maintaining works that are life-saving." The work plan that was presented at the meeting included "spreading some of the work planned for Shabbat over a number of nights throughout the week." Regev directed the officials to ensure that this does not affect the train's services to the public, the statement concluded.
An official who was present at the meeting added that "lifesaving" work will be conducted on Shabbat by non-Jews, Walla reported.
The decision was made after Housing Minister and United Torah Judaism chairman Yizhak Goldknopf requested last week that Regev halt work on Shabbat. The letter led to public criticism, as this meant that the work would take place during the weekdays and disrupt routine transit.
This is not a trivial matter, as the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) ministers will not continue as members of the government if, under their watch, there is public desecration of the Sabbath, Goldknopf wrote.
After receiving the letter, Regev, along with the deputy transportation minister and UTJ MK Uri Makleb, met with senior railway officials last week in order to discuss the issue. Regev said following the meeting that the status quo regarding construction work on Saturdays will remain as it did under the previous Netanyahu governments.
However, the current decision suggests a change that could delay long-term infrastructure projects, such as the electrification of all of Israel's railway tracks, which lead to better precision and thus the ability to increase frequency. This in turn would lead more people to use the train instead of cars, and thus contribute to easing congestion on the roads. The electrification of the train tracks also makes the train less pollutive, and fewer cars on the road also contribute to this.
Israel Railways announced earlier this week that they had finished the electrification of the route between Tel-Aviv and Binyamina, and have also reached the 60% mark of all of Israel's train tracks, approximately a year ahead of schedule. The electrification work cannot be carried out while trains are running, and therefore the lion's share is done between late Thursday night and early Sunday morning. However, the work is also already done overnight on weekdays – and it is therefore unclear what Regev meant in her statement. It is also not clear how her decision will affect the project's schedule.
Michaeli, Liberman attack plan to reduce Shabbat train work
"This is an embarrassing spin," Labor chairwoman and former transportation minister MK Merav Michaeli wrote on Twitter. "There is no way to move train work from Shabbat to the weekdays without damaging its service, simply because every free hour during the night is already being used. During my tenure as minister, we accelerated the work on Shabbat in order to speed up the return to improved service. Miri and Bibi are surrendering to the haredi extortionists and are damaging the train and the service. We will replace this disgrace."
Yisrael Beytenu chairman and former finance minister MK Avigdor Liberman responded on Twitter, "Miri Regev has no stomach aches about traffic jams on the roads. This disgraceful decision by Netanyahu and Regev is the continuation of surrendering to the extortion of the haredi parties at the expense of the general public.
"Bibi promised not to touch the status quo, but as always, he lied. We will demand a special debate in the Knesset and act with all of the tools at hand to overturn the decision," Liberman said.