Spectacular growth in passenger traffic is forcing Israel Railways to shop around for quick fixes to raise capacity. Since the launch of a new timetable last March offering more trains and shorter journey times, traffic has been growing steadily with 35% more trips made in the first 11 months of last year than in 1998.

Some routes have been particularly successful, with traffic up 157% between Tel Aviv and Beer-Sheva and 163% on the line linking Ashdod to Haifa and Nahariya. During November IR was looking for trains to lease or purchase, and it has already decided to increase the number of double-deck trains on order from Bombardier in Germany from four to eight. Spending on the Tel Aviv suburban network is expected to reach US$200m this year.

Meanwhile Transport Minister Yizhak Mordecai has set in motion the oft-discussed process to separate IR from the Ports & Railways Authority.