train - Daniel Bar-On - October 2 2011
Passengers at the Arlozoroff Train Station in Tel Aviv. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Israel's cabinet on Sunday morning approved construction of a new high-speed train line between Tel Aviv and the southern port city of Eilat.

The electrified rail line will reach top speeds of 186 miles (300 km) per hour, allowing it to complete the trip in two and a half hours. The 220-mile long (350 km) route will include 63 bridges and five tunnels.

"For 63 years, there has been talk about linking up the periphery to the center, but nothing has been done," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that the new rail line would "change the face of the country."

Netanyahu emphasized the line's advantages as an overland route for passenger and cargo traffic. "We have the ability to create an alternative transportation route that bypasses the Suez Canal – this is an insurance policy," he said.

A team led by the Prime Minister's Office Director-General Harel Locker is considering various funding options for the project, and is expected to make a recommendation to the government within 90 days.

Transportation Minister Yaakov Katz, who submitted the proposal to the cabinet, said he had reached an agreement with his Chinese counterpart to pursue cooperation between the two countries on transportation projects, including the new train line to Eilat.

Finance Ministry officials, however, objected to Katz's proposal that the project be carried out by China, saying it would not be possible to advance such a project without issuing a tender.

Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich also criticized the transportation minister's intention to entrust the project to China, which would involve importing thousands of foreign workers from China to construct the project.

"The Chinese will doubtless be deeply grateful to Transportation Minister Israel Katz, but the government's first responsibility is to its citizens," she said.

Statutory planning of the line has already begun, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2012. Construction is expected to take another four years.

The cabinet also decided on Sunday to move forward with a plan to evacuate Dov Hoz Airport (known in Hebrew as "Sde Dov"), located in northern Tel Aviv.

A team, also led by PMO Director-General Locker, will formulate a detailed plan for transferring the airport's civilian and military activities to alternative sites. Thousands of apartments are expected to be built on the site following the airport's closure.

Read this article in Hebrew