Katz to shut down trains unless new safeties implemented

Required changes must be made to Israel Railways by August 17 to avert closures; workers union says they are 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 announced Sunday that he would shut down train services, unless a new rail safety plan is implemented by mid-August. Katz presented the plan, which was submitted by Israel Railways, in a Tel Aviv press conference.
The plan, which follows a string of train malfunctions and safety failures over the past few months, includes three main elements: upgrading staff training and licensing, improving maintenance procedures and establishing a national rail authority to supervise standards and procedures.
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According to Katz, if the required changes are not made by August 17 he will close down all train services and transfer the public carrier responsibilities to bus companies until the rail company can be reorganized from scratch.
Transportation Ministry director-general Dan Harel said the ministry has already practiced emergency scenarios with the bus companies, adding that should the trains shut down, passengers needs would be adequately substituted by buses.
“This battle will be settled very clearly, and if the public has to suffer than they’ll suffer, because they understand what we are fighting for,” Katz said.
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 Be’er Ya’acov after smoke entered the rear car, resulting in the closure of several lines.
In December an electrical malfunction sparked a fire on board a train near Yakum, forcing an emergency evacuation of the train and resulting in multiple injuries.
Among the plan’s features is the mandatory testing and licensing of various positions, including drivers and engineers; the formation of a standards assurance unit that will test the regular maintenance of the engines and carriages; and the establishment of a national trains authority, under the auspices of the transportation ministry, to oversee employee recruitment and licensing, network maintenance standards and customer service benchmarks.
The authority will also employ an independent accident-investigation unit that will inspect safety violations and report on them to the minister.
The biggest challenge to Katz’s plans comes from the rail workers union.
The union, which went on strike for one day last month over fears that safety changes would come at their expense, issued a statement supporting the concern for safety – but demanding that any changes to the company’s structure or practices be coordinated with the workers.
“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],” read the statement.
Referring to the tense labor relations, Katz said at the press conference that he had no plans to fire any of the workers, but stressed the importance of making the changes.
“We’re not going to fire workers,” Katz clarified, but “we cannot be operated like a minimarket.”
He said that the workers’ refusal so far to accept changes was irresponsible, claiming that when it came to safety it was intolerable that the union would put up a fight.
Israel Railways is a governmentowned company responsible for the development, management, maintenance and operation of the railway infrastructure, employing roughly 2,000 workers.
Train use has gone up significantly in recent years with the addition of new lines and more carriages.