Construction on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem express train (file)
Construction on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem express train (file) Kobi Gideon/Flash90

Construction on the high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem express train may be delayed two years behind schedule, after the Economy Ministry declared that all work would stop on Shabbat (Saturday), so as not to desecrate the Sabbath. 

The Ministry, headed by Economy Minister and head of the haredi Shas party Aryeh Deri, has already declared that all work on the line will stop as of this weekend. 

The Economy Ministry claims that continuation of work on Shabbat is pending a letter from Transport Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud), Army Radio reports Friday - but the Transport Ministry insists that the sole responsibility for the work is in the hands of Deri's ministry. 

Meanwhile, workers at Israel Railways noted to the Israeli media that the order effectively bans all repair work over Shabbat on operating lines as well - and the delays could leave thousands of Israelis stranded over Shabbat, with IDF soldiers particularly at risk. Such maintenance work includes safety testing and emergency repairs, and is often performed by non-Jews. 

Cargo shipments will also be affected, and could see trains left on the tracks to sit over Shabbat - leaving the rails crowded for when service reopens. 

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) sharply criticized the decision, saying that it "first and foremost hurts the status quo" and "violates the idea of sustainable and public passenger transport." 

Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Liberman agreed, insisting that Shas has overstepped its boundaries. 

"The Economy Ministry's decision is yet another link in the chain of decisions of the government that has made the public a hostage of the haredi parties in the coalition," Lieberman said. "A two-year delay in construction for the high-speed line to Jerusalem and the elimination of the last trains on Friday and the first trains on Saturday night is a serious blow to many soldiers and civilian commuters." 

"This is something illogical and untenable that can't exist in a normal country," he continued, calling on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to personally intervene.