Reforms, Not Threats

There is no doubt that Israel Railways needs an urgent shake-up; but empty threats to shut the company down are not the way.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz added this week to the superficial and irresponsible statements by his cabinet colleagues when he shot from the hip with a threat to shut down Israel Railways. He would do so, he said, if the company did not submit a plan to change its structure within four months. Katz also quoted his ministry's director general, Maj. Gen. (res. ) Dan Harel, who said that if the army had a unit with the same level of maintenance and safety, it would be shut down.

The threats by the minister and the director general come against the backdrop of train accidents and safety deficiencies that have cost lives and damaged a great deal of property - and these officials are directly responsible. An investigative report by the Hebrew edition of TheMarker published yesterday also detailed the deplorable inefficiency in the way the company is run. There is no doubt that Israel Railways needs an urgent shake-up organizationally and safety-wise. But shooting from the hip and empty threats to shut the company down are not the way.

Israel Railways is not a unit of the Israel Defense Forces, nor is it a firm that can be shut down with the wave of a ministerial declaration. People who need the trains deserve safe and efficient service - and the transportation minister must ensure that they get it. If he cannot do so, he is not doing his job properly and must bear the consequences.

Last summer, Katz crudely intervened in the appointment of the Israel Railways CEO; he worked to disqualify the leading candidate for the post, Oren Most, using methods that raised many questions. That has been the gist of his intervention at the failing enterprise under his aegis. Now he is threatening to shut it down, something that has already led to counter-threats of a strike by Israel Railways' powerful workers committee.

It is incumbent on cabinet ministers, including transportation ministers, to efficiently lead their ministries and bear responsibility for what goes on in them. Israel Railways is an essential part of our economic infrastructure, and the threat to shut it down is not serious. There are no "alternative solutions" for the people who take some 30 million train trips each year.

So Katz should leave his threats aside and start working to implement extensive reforms at Israel Railways, including replacing the current poor management. He should do so without damaging a service that is essential to its customers - civilians and soldiers alike. But he doesn't use this service.