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Israel Railways is to release guidelines in the coming weeks for the tender to electrify the rail network. The move is being made in order to obtain comments from potential bidders, in accordance with a decision of Israel Railways' directorate and because this is the first tender of its kind in Israel, acting director-general of Israel Railways, Yossi Mor, said last week. He expects the actual tender to be issued around two months afterward.

The tender is valued at around NIS 1.6 billion and will include electrification of 300 of the 1,000 kilometers of track currently in active use. According to Mor, international companies specializing in electrification will compete for the tender. He said it is possible there will be a single winner or several winners, with each one responsible for a group of tracks. The tender winner will be responsible for both planning and operation (the turn-key method) and will be obligated to maintain the system for a 10-year period.

The tracks that are to be electrified are Nahariya-Tel Aviv, Lod-Ashkelon, Tel Aviv-Kfar Sava, Tel Aviv-Jerusalem (1A) and Tel Aviv-West Rishon Letzion.

Transforming the tracks into electricity-operated ones will be executed in stages and should be completed by 2008. Changing the rail network in Israel from diesel-powered operation to electricity-powered entails putting up electricity lines between pillars along the length of the tracks, which will receive electricity from power stations to be built alongside the routes. An upper cable (pentograph) will be installed on the trains and will conduct electricity to the locomotive engines.

A feasibility study done around a year and a half ago by the TDM Engineering firm on the electrification of the rail network using the existing iron track network found that the tracks are suitable as a basis for building an electrical-powered rail network. However, one problem that did emerge is the height of the bridges spanning the tracks. According to the international standard for passage of electric-powered trains under bridges adopted in Israel in 1994, a minimum distance of 6.5 meters between the bridge and the track is needed to enable the laying of electricity cables alongside the tracks. But 73 percent of the bridges - or 56 - are lower than the height required by the standard.

Israel Railways officials say the solution in cases where the bridge height is lower than the standard is to lower the tracks or install cables on the sides of the train and not on top of it. According to them, this may be a solution that is more costly than installing an upper cable, but it is a reasonable and doable option.

Today Israel Railways is acquiring only equipment that can be converted for electricity-powered use. The conversion of the rail system requires the replacement of locomotives only and therefore it will be possible to continue using the existing train cars.