Environmental and civic groups have written to Finance Minister Yair Lapid, asking him to freeze plans for construction of a rail line to Eilat. The groups say that the cost of the electric train line could reach NIS 30 billion ($700 million) – money that could be better spent on urban projects that will be less damaging to the environment.
The groups say that the line will serve only about 3 million people a year, and will constitute a hazard for desert animals, who may be injured or killed by the high-speed trains traversing the Negev desert. In addition, track construction could cause extensive environmental damage to a delicate ecosystem.
Instead, the groups say that the state could get a lot more for its money with the construction of urban transportation projects. One way to cut down on traffic in cities and encourage public transportation use, said the groups, was to increase the number of main streets with bus lanes. For NIS 4 billion, dozens of new lanes could be built in 30 of the country's largest cities. For another NIS 2 billion, the Transport Ministry could develop another 1,000 kilometers of bike lanes in cities. And for only NIS 8 billion, a light rail system connecting Tel Aviv with its suburbs could be constructed, providing easier and faster transportation options for millions of commuters.
The Eilat train project was authorized last October. The line, starting in Tel Aviv, is to run a total of 350 milometers, 240 of them between Beersheva and Eilat. Transport Ministry studies place the travel time between Tel Aviv and Eilat at between two and three hours.