THE GOVERNMENT of Israel has introduced legislation to transfer control of the country’s railways from the Port Authority to a separate state-owned company. Intended to give the railways more independence and management flexibility, the move announced last year will efectively see IR revert to its pre-1988 status.

Director-General A Uzani will continue as chief executive, but a new board of directors will be appointed, including two representatives from the Ministry of National Infrastructure, one from the Finance Ministry and one from the Ministry of Transport.

As part of the process, National Infrastructure Minister Sharon has allocated US$70m for rail investment this year, paving the way for implementation of IR’s ambitious Rail 2000 strategy. Of this US$30m is allocated to upgrading the Tel Aviv - Beer Sheva route with some double-tracking and rebuilt stations; from 1999 there will be 14 passenger trains a day taking 50 min each way, compared with one 98 min trip at present. IR has started double-tracking the 18 km from Tel Aviv to Lod, at a cost of US$10m, and has awarded a contract to SEL-Alcatel for resignalling this section, with an option for the rest of the line.

Freight traffic on the Beer Sheva line is also set to grow, with a decision to ship domestic waste from the Tel Aviv region for dumping in disused phosphate mines in the Rotim Plain. Up to 3000 tonnes a day in 20 ft containers will be dispatched by rail from Lod. o