JULY 4 has been set as the deadline for proposals to electrify 300 route-km of the Israel Railways network; a request for information was published by Israel Railways at the beginning of June.

This followed a call by former transport minister Avigdor Liebermann on May 31 for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to declare the scheme a project of national importance. Expected to cost around US$350m over the next five years, the electrification is expected to reduce IR's operating and maintenance costs by US$66m a year.

On June 11, IR confirmed that it was ordering another 47 double-deck push-pull coaches and seven driving cars from Bombardier at a cost of US$94m, bringing the total fleet to 147. IR has exercised an option of 23 cars in its original order and added a further 31, which will be delivered between the end of 2005 and mid-2006.

Meanwhile, IR has started detailed design work for a rail link to Eilat, which is expected to open within five years. A study for the Ministry of Finance by Mercator Transport Group showed that the project would be viable. Construction of the 180 km link from Beer Sheva would create an Eilat - Ashdod landbridge at an estimated cost of US$860m. According to Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, journey time between Tel Aviv and Eilat will be 2h.