The tender for the Red Line of Tel Aviv's light rail project was awarded on Sunday to a consortium that includes billionaire Lev Leviev, paving the way for construction to begin on the first of four planned lines designed to ease traffic congestion in the greater Tel Aviv area. Working in tangent with the Israel Railway System, which will feed passengers from around the country into the metropolitan region, the rail network will connect TA's outlying areas to the city center. If the timeline for the project is adhered to, construction on the 22 km. of track will begin in 2007 and be completed by 2012. NTA, the government-owned company running the project, awarded the NIS 7.1 billion project to the MTS concessionaire, which includes Leviev's Africa Israel as well as Egged, Germany's Siemens, China's CCECC and Portugal's Soares Da Costa. The group beat out the Metro Rail concessionaire, also composed of Israeli and international companies, for the contract. MTS's 7.1b. bid was below the NIS 7.75b. cap the NTA had put on possible tenders, and gives responsibility for building and maintaining the Red Line exclusively to MTS as part of a public-private partnership between the two groups. NTA awarded the project to MTS based largely on the better price offered in its proposal with such factors as the quality of its engineering plans coming in a distant second, according to Shay Sohleberg, NTA deputy manager for legal and economic issues. Leviev, whose company will share with the other MTS partners in an equal 20 percent of the investment, said Africa Israel brings local expertise to the project while the other companies can offer technical and operational capabilities. "It is a very complicated project and Israel does not have any experience in building a light rail. Nevertheless, I believe our teamwork will make the project a great success and will solve many of the [traffic] problems," Leviev predicted. The Red Line will run from the bus station in Petah Tikva along Jabotinsky Road through Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan. It will also pass through the central railway station and central business district and continue down Jerusalem Blvd. in Jaffa to Bat Yam. Complete running time from one end of the line to the other will be 47 minutes, but reaching the center of town from the outskirts of the city should take an average of just 20 minutes, officials estimate. During rush hour, trains will leave end stations every three minutes, passing each other in the center of town every 1.5 minutes. "There is no missing the train when you are talking about the light rail," said Yishai Dotan, CEO of NTA. "The train will be waiting for you." During off-peak hours, the train will run every 3-6 minutes and is tentatively set to operate daily from 5:30 a.m. until midnight. The NTA expects between 100 and 120 million passengers to utilize the Red Line in its first year of operation, pumping between NIS 500 million and NIS 700m. NIS into the local economy. Each train can carry 500 passengers - equal to 10 Egged buses or 400 private cars. Most of the economic benefits to the city will come from time saved by taking the train as opposed to traveling in cars or buses on the highly congested roads in the area, Dotan said. "If you are a driver and you invest one hour in travel instead of being at work, that is one hour that is gone. The light rail will save millions of hours per year that can be invested in work instead of being invested on the road," he said. Meanwhile, according to government estimates, an average of 8,500 new jobs will be created during construction of the rail and an additional 2,000 new jobs will be needed to maintain the Red Line after its completion, including the establishment of food and beverage stands. MTS will recoup some of its investment costs through ticket prices, which will be set by the NTA at an estimated 10 percent above bus fares. The rest of the costs were taken into account in the awarding of the tender and were covered in the NTA grant. Tenders for the remaining three lines have not yet been issued, although construction on the Green Line is expected to commence a year after construction on the Red Line begins.