Transportation minister pushing for West Bank light rail

Israel Katz asks transit authority to assess three route options; all three reach the city-settlement of Ariel and will likely extend to flashpoint Tapuah Junction

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Illustrative: The Jerusalem Light Rail passing the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
Illustrative: The Jerusalem Light Rail passing the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Transportation Minister Israel Katz announced Wednesday that he had instructed authorities to advance plans for a new light rail train that will roll through the northern West Bank upon its completion in 2025.

The plan is to connect the the city-settlement of Ariel to central towns within the Green Line. Katz said that the project “will significantly reduce traffic congestion in the area.”

“The majority of Ariel residents work along the route of the [planned] train, which passes through the Barkan industrial zone. The new light rail will enable them to reach their workplaces, shopping centers, or entertainment venues quickly and safely,” the minister added.

The project, which is still in its early planning stages, is expected to cost at least NIS 4 billion ($1.16 billion), according to Transportation ministry officials.

Israel’s Transporation Minister Yisrael Katz (L) stands with Netivei Israel CEO Shai Baras, later arrested for cronyism, as they inspect the construction of a new highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, on June 12, 2013. (Flash 90)

Katz instructed the National Transport Infrastructure Company Netivei Israel to test three different options for the new line. All of them will run from Ariel, stopping at the settlement’s university and continuing along Route 5 through the Barkan industrial zone up to the Green Line.

Once having crossed into Israel proper, one option would see the train roll to a final stop in northern Rosh Ha’ayin, a second would continue through central Rosh Ha’ayin and reach the town of Kiryat Aryeh, and a third possibility would run through southern Rosh Ha’aayin and end in Petah Tikvah.

A spokesman for the transportation ministry told The Times of Israel that the intention is for the train to reach the Tapuah Junction east of Ariel. The flashpoint crossing has been the site of numerous stabbing and car-ramming attacks over the past decade.

Katz, who has served as transportation minister since 2009, announced six years ago plans to begin the construction of a similar line that would have also run through the settlements of Etz Efraim, Elkana, and Oranit.

This Sept. 20, 2010, aerial file photo, taken through the window of an airplane, shows the West Bank settlement of Ariel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

However, the planners he had reached out to for assistance for the plan in Israel’s NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System said the project was unfeasible. Now, the transportation minister and top Likud lawmaker is hoping to have better luck with Netivei Israel.

Other major transportation projects, like the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed train, have faced setbacks when international companies have refused to work on parts of the route that run through the West Bank.

Praising the plan, Ariel Mayor Eli Shaviro said it sends “an important message regarding the importance of the continued development of the city.”

Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan said the new train would effectively serve the settlements under his jurisdiction, “making Samaria not only geographically but also practically the center of the country.”

Most Popular
read more: