Railway to Beersheba
The Railway to Beersheba ( _he. מסילת הרכבת לבאר שבע, "Mesilat HaRakevet LeVe'er Sheva") is the common name for the railroad which currently stretches from central
Israelto the Zin Factories ( Mount Zin) in southern Israel, with spurs to the Be'er Sheva Center Railway Station, Ramat Hovavand the Arad phosphate mines and factories in Tzefa. It is part of the main line of Israel Railways, of which the northern starting point of the line designated as the "line to Beersheba" is usually indicated as beginning at Na'an junction, where the railway splits to Beersheba and Jerusalem. Because the line is not limited to Beersheba, it is often called the Southern Railway in Israeli context.
Since the opening of the
Dimona Railway Stationin 2005, it has been used for passenger service from Nahariya to Be'er Sheba Center and from Be'er Sheva North to Dimona. The other two spurs are used exclusively for freight services.
The railway traces its origins to the Ottoman rule in
Palestineand World War I. The main Turkish objective in the Middle East during the war was to either capture or disable the Suez Canal, which would have put the British Empireat a great disadvantage. However, transporting troops and supplies from Constantinopleto the front lines took months by camel caravan.Cite book|title=The Railways of Palestine and Israel|author=Cotterell, Paul|publisher=Tourret Publishing|location=Abingdon, UK|isbn=0-905878-04-3|year=1986|chapter=Chapter 3|pages=pp. 14-31]
After his ill-fated assault on the British garrison along the canal in January-February, 1915,
Jamal Pashaenlisted the help of the German engineer Heirich August Meissner, who also planned the Hejaz Railway, to help him find a more efficient method of logistics. Meissner started constructing a railway to the south of the Palestine region, with the Wadi Surar ( Nahal Sorek) station serving as the starting point. Two railways were originally built: one to Beit Hanoun, and the other to Beersheba. The two lines were collectively called the 'Egyptian Branch'.
Because construction costs were high and materials hard to come by, the
Jaffa-Lydda section of the Jaffa–Jerusalem railway, as well as the extension to Acre of the Jezreel Valley railwaywere dismantled and their infrastructure reused on the Beersheba section. The Lydda-Wadi Surar section, previously of 1m narrow gauge, was converted to the Hejaz railway width of 1.05m narrow gauge standard, in order to be of use with the lines to the south. In the north, the Hejaz railway was connected to Lydda (now Lod) via Tulkarm, and offered continuous service from Damascusto Beersheba.
The line to Beersheba opened for traffic in the middle of October 1915, just 9 months from the start of construction. The rest of the planned Egyptian branch was never completed, although Meissner managed to continue to line from Beersheba further south to
Kusseimain the Sinai Peninsula. The line was connected to the coastal line with Qantarah by the British near Rafahby May 3, 1918, and the old connection to the north through Wadi Surar was discarded because it was not standard gauge. In 1927, the line between Beersheba and Qantara was also discontinued, citing low usage and high maintenance costs.
After the Israeli War of Independence the route was slowly refined and converted to standard gauge by Israel Railways, and was originally meant for freight-only service. The new line was completed in 1956 and passenger service was added. Construction on the extensions to
Dimona, Zin and Tzefa began shortly after. In 1967 the line reached Dimona, Oron in 1970 and Mount Zin in 1977. With the eventual decline of Israel Railways's passenger business, the passenger service to Beersheba was halted in 1979.
In the early-to-mid-1990s the line underwent another renovation which facilitated the renewal of passenger service, first to Beersheba North in 1997, then extended to the city's center with the opening of Beersheba Center in 2000. Nevertheless, the ride from Beersheba to Tel Aviv remained lengthy due to the long stretch of railway from Lod to Beersheba consisting only of single track with sharp curves and other geometrical deficiencies as well as several at-grade road-rail intersections.
There are currently 3
Israel Railwayspassenger lines using the railway to Beersheba. The Nahariya-Beersheba and Tel Aviv Center-Beersheba services are deployed on the same route, via Lod. In the 2007 timetable, this line also passed through Ben Gurion Airport, running on a section of the new railway to Jerusalem. The line, south of Na'an junction, has the following stations:
*Be'er Sheva North
*Be'er Sheva CenterAn additional station is planned near
Kfar Menahemand Route 383, mainly to serve the nearby city Kiryat Mal'akhiand the bus terminal at Mal'akhi Junction.
Current status and future plans
Today (2008), the entire line is being essentially completely rebuilt, with its its curves straightened, the entire line double tracked, and all at-grade intersections being separated by bridges or tunnels. By 2011 this work is expected to greatly reduce the travel time from Tel Aviv to Beersheba and allow many more trains to operate along the route at any given point.
Plans have been approved for the line to be further extended southward, through the Arava, in order to provide both a passenger and freight service to
Eilaton the Red Sea.Cite news|url=http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3520156,00.html|title=Mofaz Decided: A Railway to Eilat Will Be Built|author=Hazelkorn, Shahar|date=2008-03-17|accessdate=2008-04-19] A line to Arad will also be built, via the Nevatim Airbaseand Kuseife. An extension will also be built for the Ramat Hovavand Ramat Bekaindustrial zones to the south,Cite map|year=1999|publisher= Survey of Israel|title=Railway Network Map - Israel Railways] with a passenger service to the City of Training Bases, a future southern Israel Defense Forcesbase in the area.
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