TRANSPORT MINISTER Meir Shitrit announced on February 15 that Israel Railways had started work on building a 70 km double-track railway between Ashqelon and Be'er Sheva, which is due to be completed by 2010.

Expected to cost US$300m, the line will serve the towns of Sederot, Netivot and Ofaqim. The initial section as far as Sederot is expected to open in 2008, offering a journey time of 52min from Tel Aviv. This will be cut by 10min when the direct line from Tel Aviv to Ashdod through Rishon Le-Ziyyon is completed. In the longer term, ISR anticpates a Tel Aviv - Ofaqim journey time of 59min.

On the previous day, the Minister formally started work on construction of a new station at Ganei-Aviv on the Tel Aviv - Lod route, costing US$4·25m. During the ceremony he announced that rail investment between now and 2012 will be increased by US$2·1bn to US$6·4bn. This will allow ISR General Manager Ofer Linchevsky to finalise investment plans for 2010-12.

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