RECORDS are tumbling month by month as passenger traffic continues to boom on Israel Railways. Director-General Amos Uzani announced on June 12 that for the first time more than 1 million passengers had been carried in May, a 50% rise on May 1999. In the first five months of this year 4·73 million journeys were made, a staggering 68% rise year-on-year.

This is all the more remarkable for the fact that the rebuilt line between Tel Aviv and Rosh Ha’Ayin did not open until the timetable change on June 3, along with intermediate stations at Brei Brak and Segula. With nine pairs of train operating daily between Tel Aviv Savidor and Rosh Ha’Ayin, a journey that took up to 90min by car or bus during commuter peaks can now be completed in 17min.

The new timetable increases the number of trains operated daily by 24% to 201, and passenger journeys in 2000 are expected to top 12·5 million. This represents an astonishing fivefold increase on the 2·5 million carried a decade earlier in 1990, when there seemed little prospect of growth and the sinuous line to Jerusalem faced closure. Today, the talk is of 15 million journeys in 2001, and perhaps 30 million in 2005. Nor is freight static. May 2000 also saw 1 million tonnes moved in a month for the first time, with 10·5 million projected for the whole of this year - a 46% rise since 1990.

Substantial investment in rolling stock and infrastructure will be needed to sustain the extraordinary growth, and the government seems more than willing to oblige. Several more commuter routes around Tel Aviv are expected to go ahead, but the big decision is whether to spend US$500m on a new line to Jerusalem or US$80m upgrading the present route.

The fact that tilting trains are being acquired (RG 6.00 p334) implied that the choice has been made. However, on June 8 the General Council for Design & Building approved the Option A alignment for a new line, including a branch to Modi’in, as well as upgrading of the existing one (Option G) as a short-term measure. Both options must be approved by the Finance and Transport ministers.