The Bottom Line / A Slow, Empty Train to Dimona

The train from Be'er Sheva to Dimona is a huge failure. Only 80 people ride the train on an average day, only 2.5% of the predicted traffic, reveals an internal Finance Ministry document obtained by TheMarker.

The Israeli Railways projected 866,000 passengers a year for the route - which would make the investment economically worthwhile. But last year, only 22,600 people took the train between the two southern cities, only about 80 per day on a line with five or six trains a day.

To increase ridership, the Railways has instituted a free bus service from the center of Dimona to the railroad station outside town. However, this has had little effect on traffic.

Dimona residents still prefer to take the bus or drive to Be'er Sheva, even though bus fares are more expensive than the train. The subsidized price of a train ticket is NIS 11, compared to NIS 12.60 for the bus. Over 1 million passengers take the Be'er Sheva-Dimona buses annually, for an average of 3,635 a day.

There are several reasons why the train line failed. First, the Dimona train station is about 2 kilometers from the city center.

Passengers are interested in the total door-to-door travel time, and not just the time it takes the train to travel between the two cities. The buses between the two cities run much more often, and have more seats in total.

The road between Be'er Sheva has four lanes and does not have heavy traffic. So in the end, taking the bus or driving are faster and easier than the train.

This makes the line a waste of taxpayer money. The treasury says the route is a clear example of an unnecessary expenditure, which comes at the expense of other public transportation projects in places with real overcrowding and traffic issues - such as in the center of the country.

The treasury warns the planned Haifa-Beit Shean route, at a cost of NIS 2.7 billion, will have a similar fate. The plan predicts 663 passengers a day. But the Beit Shean train station will also be outside the city center, and the town has no traffic problems.

Behind the scenes, the treasury is waging a huge battle against the Prime Minister's Office on Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to invest NIS 51.8 billion in the railways over the coming decade, including train lines to Kiryat Shmona and Eilat. The treasury calls these expenditures a huge waste of public funds, which are needed elsewhere.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is also interested in building train lines. Last week he declared he would see to having the Acre-Carmiel line built - at a cost of NIS 2.5 billion. There is a good road between the two cities, and no traffic problems, which makes that line's fate similar to that of Dimona.