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The Railway to Beershebamarker ( , Mesilat HaRakevet LiV'er Sheva) is the common name for the railroad which currently stretches from central Israelmarker to the Zin Factories (Mount Zin) in southern Israel, with spurs to the Be'er Sheva Center Railway Stationmarker, Ramat Hovavmarker and the Aradmarker 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 Jerusalemmarker. 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 Stationmarker in 2005, it has been used for passenger service from Nahariyamarker to Be'er Sheba Centermarker and from Be'er Sheva Northmarker to Dimona. The other two spurs are used exclusively for freight services.

History

Turkish railway station in Beersheba
The railway traces its origins to the Ottoman rule in Palestine and World War I. The main Turkish objective in the Middle East during the war was to either capture or disable the Suez Canalmarker, which would have put the British Empire at a great disadvantage. However, transporting troops and supplies from Constantinoplemarker 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 Sorekmarker) station serving as the starting point. Two railways were originally built: one to Beit Hanounmarker, and the other to Beershebamarker. The two lines were collectively called the 'Egyptian Branch'.

Because construction costs were high and materials hard to come by, the JaffamarkerLyddamarker section of the Jaffa–Jerusalem railway, as well as the extension to Acremarker 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 Tulkarmmarker, and offered continuous service from Damascusmarker 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 Peninsulamarker, a section of which can be seen (complete with an old boxcar) adjacent to the Ramat HaNegev Regional Councilmarker buildings on Highway 40 near Mashabei Sadehmarker. The line was connected to the coastal line with Qantaramarker by the British near Rafahmarker 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 Dimonamarker, 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.

Passenger service

The orange, red and pink lines use the railway to Beersheba
There are currently 3 Israel Railways passenger lines using the railway to Beersheba. The Nahariyamarker-Beersheba and Tel Aviv Centermarker-Beersheba services are deployed on the same route, via Lodmarker. In the 2007 timetable, this line also passed through Ben Gurion Airportmarker, running on a section of the new railway to Jerusalem. The line, south of Na'an junction, has the following stations: An additional station is planned near Kfar Menahemmarker and Route 383, mainly to serve the nearby city Kiryat Mal'akhimarker and the bus terminal at Mal'akhi Junctionmarker.

The second service is a low-capacity 2-station line from Beersheba Northmarker to Dimonamarker.

Current status and future plans

Since Q3 2004, the entire line was being essentially rebuilt, with its curves straightened, the entire line double tracked, and all level crossings being replaced by bridges or tunnels. The total length of this project, which begins at the Lod Railway Stationmarker is 87 km. 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.

The concept has been approved for the line to be further extended southward, through the Aravamarker, in order to provide both a passenger and freight service to Eilatmarker on the Red Seamarker, although no plans exist and the Israel Railways expansion plan does not include a budget for making a survey for the line. In 2004, a southern extension to the Ramat Hovavmarker 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 Aradmarker will also be built, via the Nevatim Airbasemarker and Kuseifemarker.

See also

References


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