Railway maintenance work scheduled for each Shabbat will be reduced to four locations from 12, under a compromise crafted Thursday that was still being discussed late into the night.
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Under the deal between Labor and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz and Israel Railways, only the most crucial work will be done on Shabbat, because moving it to weekdays would seriously disrupt railway operations. Still, the work that was canceled for Shabbat will cause local suspensions of rail service, particularly on the line between Be’er Sheva and Dimona.
The Shabbat work will include periodic adjustments to the train-signaling system and infrastructure work on the Ayalon track. It will also include electrifying the tracks as part of the construction of the fast train to Jerusalem, which is due to begin running in four months.
Late Thursday night Katz was presenting the outline agreement to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The deal was also being reviewed by the ultra-Orthodox parties, which are pressing to have all railway work on Shabbat stopped.
The fear is, however, that the problem of Shabbat work will be raised every week. The government is advancing a bill that would let the labor and social affairs minister take Jewish tradition into account when granting permits for Shabbat work. Last Friday, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman threatened to resign if railway maintenance work was done.
Recently the chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), refused to bring to a vote a request for 558 million shekels ($159 million) for railway work because of Shabbat work. These budget allocations are approved in accordance with the progress of projects, which in this case includes the building of the fast-train line to Jerusalem and the Sharon line, which is to run alongside Route 531.
The money has already been allocated by the Finance Ministry but its transfer to contractors requires the approval of the finance committee, which was due to discuss it during a hearing addressing changes to the 2017 budget. Committee members say disagreements in the governing coalition regarding other allocations led Gafni to adjourn the hearing before the railway budgets came up, not a specific objection to that allocation.