Katz: I'll shut Railways if it doesn't improve safety

Israel Railways workers committee called a labor dispute in response to the attacks by Transport Minister Israel Katz.

"I have notified the management of Israel Railways that unless it presents me with a detailed plan to solve its safety problem within four months, I will close the railways down," said Minister of Transport Israel Katz at a press conference today. Katz was responding to a number of rail accidents and breakdowns in recent months.

"I won't compromise on passenger safety, and allow a situation in which people are afraid to take the train. The railway is not supposed to be a battlefield, but a safe and convenient means of transport."

On Thursday, Katz discussed Israel Railways' safety problems with its acting chairman, Ori Yogev. Katz ordered Israel Railways to establish proper procedures.

As an interim measure, Katz ordered the installation of safety measures on trains, including cameras in the drivers' cabins. Katz is expected to announce reform of Israel Railways.

Katz ordered the Ministry of Transport director general to draw an alternative mass transit plan if he orders the shutting down of the railways. "This won't be a plan of a bus here and a bus there, but a comprehensive plan to implement if necessary," he said.

Katz did not hesitate to make personal attacks against Israel Railways' employees and managers. "The locomotive cabin is not a nightclub. It's one of the most sensitive and important workplaces there is. Train drivers should know that they are being supervised. If a driver is suspected of running a red light and causing a collision, he should be investigated and indicted through proper channels, like everyone else." He added that current procedures are "unreasonable".

Katz compared the railways to security organizations. "If the IDF had a unit with this level of maintenance and service, it would be closed. We don’t want to reach the step of closure, because I believe that Israel Railways' management and employees are doing important work, and will do what is necessary to fix the flaws."

The latest railway accidents were as follows:

  • January 24 - near Beer Yaakov, a train was evacuated after smoke entered the last car. Israel Railways attributed the smoke to a fault in the parking system. The breakdown closed down several lines.
  • March 14 - near Nahariya, a train was evacuated after smoke entered one of the cars. No one was injured after the driver made an emergency stop. An investigation traced the smoke to a fault in the brakes.
  • April 7 - two double-decker trains collided south of the Netanya station, injuring 60 people. The Tel Aviv-Haifa line was closed for a full day.
  • In addition, on March 14, Israel Railways CEO Yitzhak Harel announced his resignation, after three and a half years in the job. On April 4, Israel Railways shut down the country's rail network from Tel Aviv to the south for track work, resulting in sever traffic jams.

    Criticism of Israel Railways has been rising lately, including several investigative reports in the media about alleged problems in the conduct of its management and the non-implementation of supervisory procedures recommended in the aftermath of previous safety problems. The company has also suffered from frequent replacements of its CEO, problems in executive appoints, and budget problems.

    Israel Railways workers committee called a labor dispute in response to the attacks by Katz. The dispute was called within two hours of Katz's press conference through a telephone vote of members. The workers committee was already in dispute with management over the decision to outsource maintenance work and is therefore entitled to call a strike in less than 14 days.

    Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 17, 2011

    © Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011

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