The first train arrived in Sderot from Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning, pulling into a rocket-proof station and marking the end of a years-long project to extend Israel’s rail network to the poor, missile-battered desert town located less than a mile from the Gaza border.

“In the annals of Sderot, this will be remembered as the end of one era and the beginning of another, more promising one,” Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi said in a statement. The new rail line will bring young families from the center of the country seeking “quality housing at a sane price, a high quality of life in a pastoral setting, an all-in-one package accessible to everywhere,” he said.

It marked “the opening shot for the strengthening and expansion of the city.”

The new station, which lies a few kilometers outside the city, is the first one in Israel to be armored against rocket fire – “the first of its kind in Israel, and probably in the world,” according to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz – and cost some NIS 50 million ($14 million) to build.

“Today is a great day for Sderot, for the Negev and for me personally,” Katz said Tuesday. “The new train station in Sderot, which I initiated in the framework of the ‘Negev train’ line between Beersheba and Ashkelon, has started operations.”

The new line will lead to “prosperity and development for the whole region,” said Katz.

A ceremony to inaugurate the new station, held at the site Tuesday morning, was attended by Katz, Davidi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and a handful of other area mayors and local officials.

Travel on the new line to Sderot will be free for the next three months for residents of the area, and for students at Sderot’s Sapir College, the Transportation Ministry announced.

New rail stations are also slated to be opened in the nearby Negev towns of Netivot and Ofakim in the coming year, further extending the country’s rail network southward into the Negev Desert.