Israel Railways has been unable to resolve the problems posed by its Tel Aviv - Jerusalem line. Expensive to operate and maintain because of tortuous curves and severe grades, neither the infrastructure nor rolling stock is exactly state of the art. There were six derailments alone last year. The main stations are remote from the business centres, and initiatives such as opening new stations have only prolonged the agony.

Although more expensive, the buses are faster and more comfortable - and link convenient city centre terminals several times each hour. Effective rail competition has been impossible. IR has put forward upgrading and new line proposals, but has been unable to secure a decision from the government. In an attempt to force their hand, IR General Manager Amos Uzani bowed to the inevitable and suspended services on July 13.

The 10 km western section between Lod and Naan is being rebuilt as part of the upgrading of the route to Beer-Sheva (RG 5.98 p294), which would also form part a proposed a new line to Jerusalem via Bet Shemesh. But that is costed at over US$500m. Whether the government feels strongly enough about maintaining a rail service to the most disputed city in the world remains to be seen. o