Railway to Beersheba
The Railway to Beersheba (Hebrew: מסילת הרכבת לבאר שבע, Mesilat HaRakevet LiV'er Sheva) is the common name for the railroad which currently stretches from central Israel to the Zin Factories (Mount Zin) in southern Israel, with a spur to the Be'er Sheva Center Railway Station and branch lines to Ramat Hovav, the Arad phosphate mines and factories in Tzefa, and a future connection to the Ashkelon-Beersheba railway. 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 Station in 2005, it has been used for passenger service from Nahariya to Beersheba Center and from Be'er Sheva North to Dimona. The other two branches are used exclusively for freight services.
The railway traces its origins to the Ottoman rule in Palestine and the Sinai and Palestine military campaign of World War I. The main Turkish objective in the Middle East during WWI was to either capture or disable the Suez Canal, which would have put the British Empire at a great disadvantage. However, transporting troops and supplies from Constantinople to the front lines took months by camel caravan.
After his ill-fated assault on the British garrison along the canal in January-February, 1915, Jamal Pasha enlisted the help of the German engineer Heinrich 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 (Lod) section of the Jaffa–Jerusalem railway, as well as the extension to Acre of the Jezreel Valley railway were 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 Jenin, Tulkarm and the Eastern railway, and offered continuous service from Damascus to 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 the line from Beersheba further south to Kusseima in the Sinai Peninsula, a section of which can be seen (complete with an old boxcar) adjacent to the Ramat HaNegev Regional Council buildings on Highway 40 near Mashabei Sadeh. The line was connected to the coastal line with Qantara by the British near Rafah by 3 May 1918, and the old connection to the north through Wadi Surar was discarded because it was not standard gauge. In July 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 and train frequency constrained as the long stretch of railway from Lod to Beersheba still consisted of only a single track with sharp curves and other geometrical deficiencies as well as many at-grade road-rail intersections.
To alleviate the aforementioned issues, from Q3 2004 to Q2 2012, the entire line was double tracked and rebuilt on an improved route in many places with its curves straightened and all level crossings replaced by grade separations, while station capacity was increased as well. This effort faced many bureaucratic challenges and the need for extensive right of way purchases thus raising land owners' objections, and was further complicated by the fact that the existing line had to remain operational during the extensive works. The total length of this project, which began at the Lod Railway Station was 87 km and cost NIS 2.8 billion. The rebuilt line has reduced train delays, enabled many more trains to operate along the route and shortened the travel time from Tel Aviv to Beersheba from over 80 minutes before the works began to about 55 minutes after the project was completed, with the possibility of further reductions in travel time when faster rolling stock will be added to Israel Railways' fleet in the future. In the years since the line's reconstruction there has been a significant increase in the number of train passengers to and from Beersheba thanks to these improvements.
There are currently three Israel Railways passenger lines using the railway to Beersheba. The Nahariya-Beersheba and Tel Aviv Center-Beersheba services are deployed on the same route, via Lod. Some of these trains also pass through Ben Gurion Airport, running on a section of the new railway to Jerusalem and a section of the Eastern Railway north of Lod. The line, south of Na'an junction, has the following stations:
Current status and future plans
Currently in the design and permitting phase are plans to electrify the line, with electrification works expected to take place starting in the mid-2010s decade. In 2012, preliminary design began on extending the line southwards through the Arava, in order to provide both passenger and freight service to the Red Sea port city of Eilat, although no funds have been appropriated for construction (which is estimated to cost the equivalent of several billion US dollars), and with the plan also facing strong opposition from environmental groups.
In 2004, a southern extension to the Ramat Hovav and Ramat Beka industrial zones was opened, and a passenger service will become available to the City of Training Bases, a future southern Israel Defense Forces base in the area. A line to Arad will also be built, via the Nevatim Airbase and Kuseife.
- Cotterell, Paul (1984). "Chapter 3". The Railways of Palestine and Israel. Abingdon, UK: Tourret Publishing. pp. 14–31. ISBN 0-905878-04-3.
- Cotterell, Paul. "The Land of Israel between World Wars". Make Straight the Way (in Hebrew). p. 56.
- "Doubling Lod–Beersheba Line" (in Hebrew). Israel Railways. Retrieved 2008-10-23.