Israel Railways mulls buying more polluting diesel engines

Diesel train Photo: Shutterstock ASAP Creative

Due to delays in electrification, Israel Railways will likely buy more diesel engines which are more polluting, twice the price, noisier and slower.

As a result of delay in the railway electrification project and increasing passenger crowding on railways throughout Israel, Israel Railways is considering the purchase of diesel locomotives that can operate on either diesel or electricity, sources inform "Globes." These train engines will cost NIS 300 million, twice as much as the same number of ordinary electric locomotives. The purchase will be made in early 2019.

The reason for the expensive purchase is the intermediate period caused by delays in the ambitious railway electrification project, which will cause a severe shortage of locomotives.

The purchase of 15 dual-use locomotives will provide Israel Railways with flexibility while electrification work is going on. These locomotives can travel on both an ordinary track and an electrified one. A dual-use locomotive costs €5 million, compared with €2.5 million for an electric locomotive. At the same time, although they are more expensive, the dual-use locomotives cannot be used on the high-speed line between Ben-Gurion Airport and Jerusalem because of demands by Israel Fire and Rescue Services, which bans the use of diesel locomotives in long tunnels.

In recent weeks, the Ministry of Finance and Israel Railways have been discussing a new railway carriages and locomotives procurement plan. The new plan maps Israel Railways' needs in the coming years. According to transportation industry sources, a large part of the future procurement is due to delay in the railway electrification project, reported by "Globes." The cost of this procurement plan is over NIS 1 billion, sources inform "Globes."

Within a few months, when the plan is solid enough, decision-makers will have to decide how to implement it and with whom to reach an agreement. The first option is to buy diesel carriages from Bombardier, with which Israel Railways has a questionable contract that drew severe criticism from the State Comptroller. The second option is through tenders.

The state chose the cheap bid and paid dearly

The electrification project - converting the railways from polluting diesel fuel to clean electricity - is critical in the developed countries. Israel trails far behind many countries in which railways have been powered by electricity for many years. The problem with diesel, however, is not merely the pollution; diesel is also more expensive, noisier, and slower. In certain places, such as the high-speed route to Jerusalem, diesel cannot be used because the pollution and smoke created by diesel in the long tunnels on the route cannot be ventilated. It is believed that a large proportion of Israel Railways' purchases were designed to provide solutions for equipment shortages (carriages and locomotives) resulting from delays in the railway electrification project.

The first line in the electrification project, the high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem line, was launched later than the planned timetable, and even now, only half of it is completed. This is only the first of 13 lines designated for electrification and waiting for the beginning of work that should have been begun many months ago.

According to Israel Railways' recent reports, the official date for completion of the electrification project is still the end of 2021, when 330 carriages already purchased from German company Siemens at a total cost of NIS 4 billion will arrive. The emerging delay in finishing the project means that these carriages will be stored in warehouses until electrification work is completed.

In December 2015, when Israel Railways declared Spanish company Semi the winner in the tender for building infrastructure for the electrification project, the state saved $100 million, but the damage liable to accumulate from the delays have long since exceeded this amount. In addition to the equipment that Israel Railways will have to buy because of the delay in the electrification project, there are also damages that are more difficult to quantify: air pollution, noise pollution, and traffic jams.

In addition, as reported in "Globes," Israel Railways is now talking about purchasing dozens of diesel railway carriages it needs to fulfill the growing demand for the railway and in order to fully operate the Ben Gurion Airport-Jerusalem route (four trains an hour in each direction, compared with two at present). Furthermore, Israel Railways will need the diesel carriages in order to reactivate the Rishonim railway station in Rishon Lezion, which was shut down, and to operate the Ra'anana-Tel Aviv line, for which the infrastructure is already prepared. Siemens is to supply 330 carriages starting in 2021, but since the electrification infrastructure will not be ready, ordering more diesel carriages cannot be avoided.

Sources also told "Globes" that due to the electrification delays, Israel Railways has already asked to delay its order of electric locomotives from Bombardier. "Instead of picking up wooden slivers in the electric garage, which is not ready yet, it would have been better to postpone their arrival," an Israel Railways source told "Globes." Due to the delay, Israel Railways will have to pay the company a NIS 10 million penalty to cover expenses.

State Comptroller warned, and the situation did deteriorate

A year ago, the State Comptroller commented in his report, "The many delays in promoting the electrification project have required an urgent purchase of carriages." The situation has only worsened since then - the new lines have been opened and the passenger loads on the trains have increased. All of this has aroused serious public criticism of what is going on at Israel Railways.

Speaking at a meeting of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, Israel Railways chairperson Dan Harel admitted last week, "We don't have enough mobile equipment; the government and we did not prepare well enough." The transition from diesel to electrified trains is Israel Railways' biggest challenge in the coming years. It is also the key to increasing the proportion of railway travel in Israel, which is currently one quarter of the OECD average proportion. The original estimated cost of converting trains, railway tracks, and other accompanying systems to electricity is NIS 12 billion.

The Ministry of Finance said in response, "We are currently working on a joint team with Israel Railways to map Israel Railways' needs and to procure carriages and locomotives as soon as possible."

Israel Railways said, "We do not comment on tender that have not yet been published."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 22, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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Diesel train Photo: Shutterstock ASAP Creative
Diesel train Photo: Shutterstock ASAP Creative
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