ISRAEL RAILWAYS' mothballed rail link to Jerusalem should be reopened within 18 months, following the approval in principle of an investment package by the government. The announcement followed a meeting on April 17 between IR General Manager Amos Uzani and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is currently responsible for transport.

Subject to final clearance by the Ministry of Finance, IR will get US$70m for upgrading the sinuous alignment between Naan, Beit-Shemesh and Jerusalem to permit the 160 km/h operation with tilting trains. The aim is to cut the Tel Aviv - Jerusalem journey time to 55min, compared with the 110min required before services ceased last year.

Fiat Ferroviaria has been selected to supply the tilting trains, ahead of a rival bid from Talgo. IR has been allocated US$30m, and plans to order an initial batch of four 4-car units. Each will be powered by six underfloor Cummins diesel engines through Voith transmissions. IR eventually hopes to order 25 sets at a total cost of US$100m. The first four would cover both the Jerusalem service and selected express trains on the Tel Aviv - Beer Sheva route, where traffic is running 213% ahead of last year, and services are to be stepped up from 4 to 18 per day with the June 3 timetable change.

Trains are also due to start running this month on the first stage of the Tel Aviv suburban line to Bnei Brak and Rosh-Ha-Ayin. Mr Barud has allocated a further US$60m for the restoration and reopening of the next 18 km between Rosh-Ha-Ayin and Kfar Sava.

IR passenger traffic continues to climb steeply: the April total of 865423 journeys was 55% up on April 1999, with the average for the first four months of 2000 no less than 74% up on the same period in 1999. To handle the growth, IR has decided to order a further four double-deck trainsets, and has exercised a US$25m option for a further 10 MEGA diesel locos from Alstom Transporte.