RECORDS have been shattered again as Israel Railways Ltd clocks up yet another huge increase in passenger travel.

Our correspondent reports that the total of 23 million passengers carried in 2004 was 15·3% higher than in 2003, exactly as predicted. At a press conference called to announce the 2004 figures, IR General Manager Yossi Mor said that in 2005 'the traffic forecast is for 26 million', adding that '65 million will be carried five years from now'. This would be an astonishing achievement, given that 15 years ago IR carried just 2·5 million passengers - at that time there seemed little future for the country's small network.

December 2004 saw a 35% year-on-year increase in traffic on the Tel Aviv - Rishon-le-Zion line with 630000 passengers carried, while there was a 25% increase on the route from Tel Aviv to Kfar Sava. Other lines witnessed smaller but significant gains, confirming that investment in modernisation and expansion is generating major growth.

Mor said that 55 km were added to the 679 route-km network during 2004, including the line to Ben Gurion airport. The year saw nine sets of double-deck coaches enter service, while orders were placed for 54 more double-deck cars and a fleet of 10 second-hand DMUs from Sweden.