ISRAEL Railways called tenders on May 4 for construction of a station at Rishon-le-Zion West (Moshe Dayan), which is to be served by a new 16 km branch through the southwest suburbs of Tel Aviv. Bids for infrastructure works were to be called before the end of the month.

According to Transport Minister Avigdor Liebermann, the US$436m branch will open in the first half of 2007. Diverging from the Tel Aviv - Lod main line near Tel Aviv South, it will serve Holon and Bat Yam, with four intermediate stations. The four-platform terminus will have parking for 800 cars, and will be served by five trains/h reaching Tel Aviv Hahagana in 13 min.

In the longer term, IR hopes to connect the line with the Beer Yaakov - Rishonim branch opened last year to create a loop through Rishon-le-Zion Central. Another extension parallel to the coast south would provide a shorter route to Ashdod.

Funding for these extensions will come from a US$5·3bn five-year investment package approved by Liebermann and Finance Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on May 4. The deal will also fund a US$261m rolling stock programme drawn up by Louis Berger for 2005-06 which was announced by IR the previous day. This includes purchase of 54 more double-deck push-pull cars from Bombardier, 113 single-deck push-pull vehicles and six diesel locos.

With passenger traffic increasing at 14% per year, IR is to buy 10 IC3 DMUs from Swedish operator SJ AB. Due to be made redundant by electrification to Kristianstad in June 2005, the units will be refurbished at Bombardier's Randers plant and fitted with uprated Deutz engines.