CEREMONIES were held in Beer Sheva on September 26 to mark the inauguration of Israel Railways’ new city centre station. With traffic on the Beer Sheva line up by 500% this year, IR is stepping up the daily service from 18 to 28 trains each way, and plans a further jump to 32 when new stock arrives in June 2001. IR General Manager Amos Uzani was joined by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who cut the inaugural ribbon, Transport Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and the local mayor Brigadier-General Yaakov Terner.

After the ceremony, Uzani outlined IR’s development plans for the next year; the Finance Ministry has allocated US$200m for operations and US$225m for capital projects in 2000-01. Last month was due to see the opening of University station in Tel Aviv, and another five stations are under construction on the lines to Haifa and Kfar Sava. The branch to Ben Gurion airport is expected to open by the end of 2002.

IR has allocated US$2·5m for detailed design of 25 kV 50Hz electrification, which will initially be installed on the Binyamina - Tel Aviv - Ashdod corridor, and then on the Tel Aviv - Kfar Sava suburban branch. Double-tracking between Lod and Rehovot and upgrading of Rehovot - Ashdod are to be completed by May 2001, cutting journey times by around 10 min. Tenders have been called for rebuilding the line from Rosh-Ha-Ayin to Kfar Sava, and bids will be invited next year for a new line from Beer Yaakov to Rishon-le-Zion.

Uzani is awaiting final clearance to order a batch of tilting DMUs for the Tel Aviv - Beer Sheva service, which is expected to carry around 250000 passengers a month. By the end of the first week, patronage at the new station had risen to over 2000 passengers a day.