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IR goes for intermodal

01 Jun 2002

FORTY YEARS ago, for the usual reasons, Israel Railways abandoned haulage of high-value export goods such as citrus fruit. With a maximum possible haul of little more than 150 km on an under-developed rail network, road transport looked the natural choice for this small country; railways seemed destined to wither. But IR has confounded conventional wisdom, first in the 1980s by establishing bulk haulage of its valuable export phosphates traffic and vital imported coal, and more recently by rapid development of its passenger business which has been repaid by substantial growth.

Reporting a 16% increase in journeys for the first quarter of 2002, IR General Manager Yossi Snir announced on May 13 that the time had come to start cutting the number of lorries on Israel's congested roads. The New Deal aims to shift large quantities of freight back to rail, challenging the notion that non-bulk trains can hardly be economic on hauls of less than 1000 km. Three major transfer terminals are planned, at the ports of Haifa and Ashdod, and at a location chosen to serve other main population centres, probably at Shefayim or Netanya on the Haifa-Tel Aviv main line. Trains of up to 4000 tonnes will ply between these terminals, from which distribution and collection will be by road.

A number of intermodal systems are being looked at, amongst them RoadRailer, Translift and rolling motorway, and up to US$1bn investment may be sought for a freight network operating concession. Brave or foolhardy? Israel is acutely conscious of its precarious environmental situation and the damage done by unrestrained traffic; given the right mix of carrot and stick, might IR succeed where bigger railways are still floundering?