Last week's opening of Ramon Airport in Timna near Eilat is an excellent opportunity to ask what happened to the vision of a high-speed railway line between Tel Aviv and Eilat.
In the previous government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz obtained cabinet approval for a railway to shorten travel time between Eilat and Tel Aviv to two hours. Netanyahu imagined a Japanese-style bullet train flying through the Arava on the way to Eilat at 250 kilometers an hour.
The Ministry of Finance warned Netanyahu that this toy would cost NIS 50 billion. "When it gets to NIS 100 billion, let me know," Netanyahu responded.
Only one transportation project competed with the enthusiasm of Netanyahu and Katz for building a railway to Eilat: a high-speed railway from Karmiel to Kiryat Shmona with 60 kilometers of track, including 22 kilometers in tunnels under Mount Meron. This package was to cost "only" NIS 10 billion, a bargain in comparison with the Eilat Railway.
The escalating problem of congestion in metropolitan Tel Aviv made Netanyahu and Katz realize that there were more urgent transportation projects than bullet trains to Eilat and Kiryat Shmona. The two projects were put in the deep freeze, but not before quite a bit of money was spent on planning them.
A probe by the Ministry of Finance revealed that planning for the high-speed route to Eilat has cost NIS 70 million to date, while NIS 50 million more allocated to the project has not yet been used. NIS 50 million has been spent on the railway to Kiryat Shmona. NIS 120 million was spent on planning projects that were unnecessary and will not happen in the next decade. If they are ever carried out, they will have to be planned again in any case, because the circumstances would have changed. This money could have been used for adding to the National List of Reimbursed Drugs, improving safety in the workplace, and innumerable better purposes.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 28, 2019
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