New Bridge of Peace? Trains to link Jordan to Israeli ports

Transportation minister announced plans to build two-billion-shekel train system to connect Israeli seaports with Jordan—and perhaps even beyond.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Yisrael Katz, Minister of Transportation, had Middle East peace on his mind when he announced Monday that NIS 15 million has been allocated in the 2019 budget to extend the Israeli railroad from Beit She’an to the Sheikh Hussein crossing at the border with Jordan.

The immediate result of such an extension would be the reduction of the number of trucks on the road, which carry a significant amount of cargo from Israel’s land-locked neighbor between the border and Israel’s ports, and are a substantial traffic hazard. But Katz called it “a bridge of peace,” as his vision is to see it eventually connect Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to the port in Haifa, once hostilities between the Arab states and Israel finally cease.

Exporting to Europe via Israel would certainly make sense in economic terms for Arab countries, Katz pointed out. “The line … will serve as an alternative to the sea route, which circles the Arabian Peninsula.” Becoming a transportation hub in the Middle East would also obviously strengthen Israel’s economy immensely.

For now, there already is a temporary cargo terminal in Beit She’an, with a permanent one in the works nearby. Another terminal for freight trains would need to be built at the Jordanian crossing. But the biggest cost would be the construction of 15 kilometers of double tracks, bridges and tunnels, some of which would have to run through terrain that would require unique engineering solutions. The total price would run to at least NIS 2 billion.

This initiative was raised during recent meetings that Katz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held in Israel together with Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s special envoy and chief Middle East negotiator. The idea met Greenblatt’s approval. America would reportedly not be funding any part of the project.

Though the project was described by some in the Israeli media as “visionary,” there was also mention of the importance in solving ordinary transportation problems faced by Israeli commuters within the country, first and foremost the hours wasted getting to and from work every day. On Sunday, a group of transportation NGOs organized a protest, demanding the Transportation Ministry adopt a plan to alleviate the chronic traffic jams, with drivers honking their horns in unison at 9 a.m. for a full minute in a brief but loud demonstration of their frustration with current road conditions.