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The proposed rail line from Eilat to the center of the country is economically worthwhile, according to Uri Yogev, the former Finance Ministry budgets director.

Speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv this week on "Infrastructure's contribution to Economic Growth," Yogev, who currently serves as an advisor to Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reported that a cost-benefit analysis had been conducted on the planned freight and passenger service, and the conclusions were positive. The analysis was carried out by an American consulting firm on behalf of the National Infrastructure and Transportation Ministries. The final report on the analysis is due to be presented to the government within a couple of weeks, Yogev said.

The costs of laying a rail line from the Red Sea resort to the center of the country are below the NIS 3 billion projected, Yogev told the audience.

Under the five-year development plan that the government approved for Israel Railways, Yogev noted, any funds not used for their original planned projects are to be used on the Eilat route. However, the route has not yet received official approval. If it does, he said, the government will have to add to the NIS 20 billion already budgeted for Israel Railways' expansion plans.

Minister in the Finance Ministry Meir Sheetrit said that he understood the urgency of the rail link to the Red Sea resort. However, he has not yet seen the plans, he admitted.

The country's current rail network extends south as far as Tsin, some 175 kilometers north of Eilat. But the continuation of the line would not be straightforward, said one industry source, because of the topography, which includes a drop in height of some 400 meters over the route. There would also have to be bridges and tunnels as part of the line, the source added.

The source noted that over the past 30 years, various cabinet ministers have checked the viability of the line at least eight times. Yet each time, they concluded that it was not economically worthwhile to extend the network.