Israel announces plans for West Bank train network

Palestinians refuse to cooperate in planning; scheme may hinder Palestinian development in land slated for tracks

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

An Israeli train station in winter (illustrative photo credit: david55king/Flickr)
An Israeli train station in winter (illustrative photo credit: david55king/Flickr)

The IDF’s Civil Administration revealed on Wednesday plans for a fast train network throughout the West Bank. The network will connect all major Palestinian cities with Israeli population centers, the Gaza Strip and the border crossings into Jordan and Syria, and will serve both Palestinians and Israelis.

Construction on the new rail system won’t begin for several years, according to the Transportation Ministry, but the existence of the plans could prevent Palestinian development of lands slated for the tracks.

Since the planned routes of the network extend throughout the West Bank, including into areas A and B, which are governed by the Palestinian Authority, construction cannot begin without Palestinian cooperation, a Transportation Ministry official told The Times of Israel Thursday.

Palestinian officials have refused to cooperate publicly with the proposal, but the official insisted that Palestinian Authority officials quietly acknowledge that the plans, if implemented, would bring enormous economic benefits to PA-controlled areas.

“They support keeping the lands available for the trains,” the official said.

The new rail network will include 473 kilometers (293 miles) of track and 30 stations, and is expected to carry 30 million individual rides annually by the year 2035, according to Israel Railways planners quoted in Haaretz Thursday. It is expected to cost hundreds of billions of shekels due to the dozens of tunnels and bridges that must be built to allow the fast trains to travel quickly through the West Bank’s mountainous terrain.

The plans also call for extending the existing Israeli train network to the Gaza border, creating a direct train link for Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza.

The astronomical price tag for the network will likely delay construction for years, while Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz’s office said “there is no intention to advance the plan to the implementation stage at this time.”

“This is just on paper. It’s not going to be built for years,” the Transportation Ministry official confirmed.

The plans will be formally publicized in 30 days, at which point the public will be able to submit objections.

Daniel Halimi, head of the Chief Planning Commission that will oversee planning, said Wednesday he “hopes the Palestinians will now cooperate on this issue,” according to Haaretz.

Katz’s office said the plans were announced years ago, when the government decided to begin construction on the fast train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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