ISRAEL: On January 2 Israel Railways marked the start of construction of Ofakim station on the new direct line between Ashkelon and Beer-Sheva. Participating in the stone-laying ceremony were Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, ISR General Manager Ofer Linchevsky and Mayor of Ofakim Avi Asraf.

Costed at US$400m, the 63 km line is expected to open in the third quarter of 2009. Construction work is underway between Ashkelon and Yad-Mordechai and between Beer-Sheva and Ofakim the central section is awaiting final planning approval.

The ceremony followed a decision on December 28 by Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson to release a number of railway construction projects that had been put on hold by the ministry's budget division. Work on the Karmi'el and Jezreel Valley lines remains suspended following a government decision to cut US$238m a year from ISR's development budget for 2007 and 2008.

  • ISR passenger services were stepped up by between 12% and 25% on December 30, with the start of a new timetable adding 250 trains per week. This saw the entry into service of the third track through Tel Aviv's Ayalon Corridor and the new curve allowing Tel Aviv - Lod trains to be routed via Ben Gurion airport. Tel Aviv - Jerusalem services have been split, with double-deckers serving the busy section west of Beit-Shemesh and an IC3 DMU shuttling between that point and Jerusalem.n