IN A CEREMONY on December 31, Israeli Finance Minister Abraham Hirschson, Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz and representatives from the project manager NTA announced that the MTS consortium had been selected as concessionaire to develop the Tel-Aviv light metro Red Line between Bat Yam and Petach Tikvah.

Headed by local firm Africa-Israel Investments Ltd, MTS includes Siemens, bus operator Egged, China Civil Engineering Construction Corp and Soares da Costa SA of Portugal. Rival bidder Metro Rail was led by Arison Holdings with Ashtrom Properties, Alstom, Connex-CGEA, Vinci and Zublin.

The government had promised up to US$1?82bn towards the estimated total cost of US$2?35bn. The MTS bid asked for US$1?69bn compared to US$1?76bn for Metro Rail. The municipality has agreed to provide US$69m, of which US$28m will be raised through property taxes on landowners along the route.

MTS is expected to sign the concession contract within 60 days of the announcement and achieve financial close by the end of this year. This would allow construction to start in 2008, with the 22 km line opening in 2014. The Red Line is forecast to carry 400 000 passengers/day.