Rail transport in Israel

National railway Israel Railways
Infrastructure company Israel Railways
Major operators Israel Railways
Ridership 53 million (heavy rail in 2015)
Freight 7021.6 kilotons (2010)
System length
Total 1,001 km (622 mi)
Electrified 13.8 kilometers
Track gauge
Main 1,435 m
No. stations 60
Highest elevation 750m

Rail transport in Israel includes heavy rail (inter-city, commuter, and freight rail) as well as light rail. Excluding light rail, the network consists of 1,001 kilometers (622 mi) of track, and is undergoing constant expansion. All of the lines are standard gauge and as of 2016 the heavy rail network is in the initial stages of an electrification programme. A government owned company, Israel Railways, manages the entire heavy rail network. Most of the network is located on the densely populated coastal plain. The only light rail line in Israel is the Jerusalem Light Rail, though another line in Tel Aviv is currently under construction. Many of the rail routes in Israel date back to before the establishment of the state – to the days of the British Mandate for Palestine and earlier. Rail infrastructure was considered less important than road infrastructure during the state's early years, and except for the construction of the coastal railway in the early 1950s, the network saw little investment until the late 1980s. In 1993, a rail connection was opened between the coastal railway from the north and southern lines (the railway to Jerusalem and railway to Beersheba) through Tel Aviv. Previously the only connection between northern railways and southern railways bypassed the Tel Aviv region – Israel's population and commercial center. The linking of the nationwide rail network through the heart of Tel Aviv was a major factor in facilitating further expansion in the overall network during in the 1990s and 2000s and as a result of the heavy infrastructure investments passenger traffic rose significantly, from about 2.5 million per year in 1990 to about 36 million in 2010.

Israel is a member of the International Union of Railways and its UIC country code is 95.[1] Currently, the country does not have railway links to adjacent countries, but one such link is planned with Jordan. Unlike road vehicles (including trams), Israeli railway trains run on the left hand tracks.


The first Jaffa–Jerusalem train arriving in Jerusalem

Ottoman Empire

Rail infrastructure in what is now Israel was first envisioned and realized during the Ottoman period. Sir Moses Montefiore, in 1839, was an early proponent of trains in the land of Israel.[2] However, the first railroad in Eretz Yisrael, also known as Palestine, was the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway, which opened on September 26, 1892.[3] A trip along the line took 3 hours and 30 minutes.[2] The line was initiated by the Jewish entrepreneur Joseph Navon and built by the French at 1 m gauge.[3] The second line in what is now Israel was the Jezreel Valley railway from Haifa to Beit She’an, which had been built in 1904[2] as part of the Haifa-Daraa branch, a 1905-built feeder line of the Hejaz Railway which ran from Medina to Damascus.[3] At the time, the Ottoman Empire ruled the Levant, but was a declining power and would succumb in World War I. During the Ottoman era, the network grew: Nablus, Kalkiliya, and Beersheba all gained train stations.[3] The First World War brought yet another rail line: the Ottomans, with German assistance, laid tracks from Beersheba to Kadesh Barnea, somewhere on the Sinai Peninsula.[3] (This line ran through trains from Afula through Tulkarm.[2]) This resulted in the construction of the eastern and southern railways.

Mideastern regional rail travel: the British Mandate

Main article: Palestine Railways

The British invaded the Levant, demolished the Kadesh Barnea line, and built a new line from Beersheba to Gaza, allowing a connection with their own line from Egypt,[3] running through Lod to Haifa.[2] In 1920 a new company, called Palestine Railways was established, which took over the responsibility of running the country's rail network. During the British Mandate, rail travel increased considerably, with a line being built between Petach Tikva and Rosh HaAyin, and Lydda (which was near the main airport in the area) becoming a major hub during WWII.[3] Also during the war, in 1942, the British opened a route running from Haifa to Beirut and Tripoli.[2] Shortly after the war expired, the Rosh HaNikra tunnel was dug, allowing train travel from Lebanon and points north (and west) to Palestine and Egypt.[3]

Starting in 1917–18, the British converted the Ottoman 1.05 m gauge southern, eastern and Jerusalem railways to standard gauge, though not the Jezreel Valley railway and some of its branches which remained narrow gauge and thus incompatible with the rest of the railways in Palestine. The British also extended some of the existing railways and connected them with adjacent countries and built 600 mm (1 ft 11 58 in) gauge lines in Jaffa and Jerusalem. After the First World War ended, the British nationalized all railways in the Palestine mandate and created the Palestine Railways company to manage operations.


Main article: Israel Railways

When Israel gained independence in 1948, the state created Israel Railways as a successor to the British company. During the 1948 War of Independence, much damage was done to the railways in the country, especially the Jezreel Valley railway, which was not rebuilt due to financial constraints and its incompatibility with the rest of the rail network.

In the first years of Israeli independence, rail passenger traffic grew rapidly, reaching about 4.5 million passengers per annum during the early to mid-1960s, at which point traffic began to slacken due to improvements in the road infrastructure, increases in the automobile ownership rate, lack of investment in the rail network, and a continued favoring of public transportation using buses over trains. This trend reached a low point of about 2.5 million passengers in 1990, which on a per-capita basis represented about a 75% decrease from the heyday of the 1960s. Then in the 1990s, a wave of railway infrastructure development began, leading to a resurgence of the railways' importance within the country's transportation system.

Rail infrastructure

Heavy rail

Map of Israel Railways lines and stations
Approved long-term plans for railways in Israel. Black signifies existing lines, red—lines under construction, and purple—planned lines.

As of 2010, the rail network in Israel spans approximately 1,000 km (620 mi), with around 250 km (160 mi) additional expected to be under construction in the early 2010s decade. The majority of the network has been double tracked, the result of extensive works which have been ongoing since around 1990 to increase capacity throughout the network.

The rail network includes the coastal railway line spanning from Nahariya in the north to Tel Aviv in the south, through Acre, Haifa (with a spur to eastern Haifa), Netanya and other cities. A small commuter line goes from Kfar Saba in the north to Tel Aviv, and connects to a freight-only line from Rosh HaAyin to Lod, part of the partially defunct Eastern railway. Plans exist to rebuild the eastern railway from Hadera to Rosh HaAyin, with a spur to Afula.

Six lines go south from Tel Aviv, including two lines to Rishon LeZion, one of which continues to Yavne with a section from Yavne to Ashdod currently under construction; a line to Ashkelon through Lod and Rehovot with a spur to the Port of Ashdod; a line to Modi'in through Ben Gurion International Airport; a line to Jerusalem, which is part of the historical Jaffa–Jerusalem railway; and the railway to Beersheba, with branches to Ramat Hovav and the Israel Chemicals factories through Dimona. The railway to Beersheba is also connected to the line to Ashkelon through the Heletz railway.

In the early 2000s, the Israeli government embarked on a major project to upgrade the existing rail network and build a number of entirely new lines. This includes rebuilding the railways to Kfar Saba and Beersheba, while converting them to double-track and constructing dozens of grade separations between road and rail. Then in the 2010s decade, rebuilding the Jezreel Valley railway and creating new lines: the Railway to Karmiel, the High-speed railway to Jerusalem, a line from Ashkelon to Beersheba through Sderot, Netivot and Ofakim, and a railway as part of the Route 531 project. Some of these projects were initiated in the 2000s but were eventually frozen, with work on some resuming in 2009–2010, when they were included in a major government plan to connect almost all cities in Israel to the rail network.

The long-term plan also calls for rebuilding the Eastern railway, a railway to Eilat (Med-Red[4]), a line to Arad through Nevatim and Kseifa, a line from Modi'in to Rishon LeZion via Highway 431, a line to Nazareth and continuing the Karmiel and Jezreel Valley lines to Kiryat Shmona, Safed and Tiberias.


As of December 2015, Israel Railways relies solely on diesel locomotives and DMUs. In the spring of 2010, the government of Israel voted to appropriate the sum of NIS 11.2 billion out of a total NIS 17.2 billion (appx. US $4.5 billion) necessary to implement the first phase of Israel Railways' electrification programme.[5] This phase includes electrifying 420 km of railways using 25 kV 50Hz AC, the construction of 14 transformer stations, the purchase of electric rolling stock, and upgrades to maintenance facilities as well as to signalling and control systems (including the installation of ETCS L2 signaling throughout the network). Preliminary design for the electrification effort was conducted by TEDEM Civil Engineering in the early 2000s, while Yanai Electrical Engineering was selected by Israel Railways in 2011 to carry out the detailed design of the system. In December 2015 Israel Railways announced that the Spanish engineering firm SEMI won the tender for constructing the electrification infrastructure.[6]

Technical characteristics

The following standards are employed throughout the mainline heavy rail network in Israel:

Future standards

Sandwich stations

An interesting character of the current Israeli railway network is that many of the new tracks and railway stations are located in between the Israeli highway system. The first station built in between the two directions of a highway was the Tel Aviv Savidor Central Railway Station between the Ayalon Freeway.

Light rail

The only light rail line in Israel is the Jerusalem Light Rail, opened in 2011. The line is 13.8 km (8.6 mi) long and goes from Mount Herzl in the west, with an extension planned to Ein Kerem, to Pisgat Ze'ev in the east, with a planned extension to Neve Ya'akov.

A major LRT/BRT network is planned for the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, spanning five light rail lines for a total of 82 km (51 mi). The first (red) line will go from Petah Tikva in the northeast to west Rishon LeZion in the southwest, with a significant portion of it underground. As of 2015 the line is under construction. The second (green) line will go from Rishon LeZion and Holon in the south to north Tel Aviv. The third (purple) line will start in central Tel Aviv, go around the city and turn east. It will split into two in Kiryat Ono and reach Yehud and Or Yehuda.

In addition, a funicular underground rail line, the Carmelit, was opened in Haifa in 1959.

A tram-train linking Haifa and Nazareth is also being planned.[7]

Passenger traffic

Tel Aviv HaShalom, one of the most recognizable railway stations in Israel

The heavy investments in the rail infrastructure beginning in the early to mid-1990s made train travel more appealing, especially given the ever-increasing road congestion, and consequently passenger use began rising rapidly—by a factor of about fivefold over any given ten-year span during the 1990s and 2000s. With several large-scale railway infrastructure projects still underway and more planned in the future, the growth in passenger numbers is expected to continue.


The following table includes ridership statistics for heavy rail only.

Passengers (millions)[8]45.1[9]48.5[10] 53
Source: Israel Railways[11]

Passenger stations

Acre עכו Acre Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Ashdod Ad Halom
Ashdod South
אשדוד עד הלום
אשדוד דרום
Ashdod Binyamina – Ashkelon
Ashkelon אשקלון Ashkelon Binyamina – Ashkelon
Atlit עתלית Atlit Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Bat Yam-Komemiyut בת ים - קוממיות Bat Yam / Holon Hod Hasharon Sokolov – Rishon LeZion Moshe Dayan
Bat Yam-Yoseftal בת-ים יוספטל Bat Yam / Holon Hod Hasharon Sokolov – Rishon LeZion Moshe Dayan
Be'er Sheva Center באר שבע מרכז Beersheba Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Tel Aviv Central – Be'er Sheva Center
Be'er Sheva North
באר שבע צפון
Beersheba Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Tel Aviv Central – Be'er Sheva Center
Be'er Sheva North – Dimona
Be'er Ya'akov באר יעקב Be'er Ya'akov Binyamina – Ashkelon
Ben Gurion Airport נמל תעופה בן גוריון Ben Gurion International Airport Nahariya – Modi'in
Beit Shemesh בית שמש Beit Shemesh Tel Aviv Central – Jerusalem Malha
Beit Yehoshua בית יהושע Beit Yehoshua Binyamina – Ashkelon
Biblical Zoo גן החיות התנ"כי Jerusalem Tel Aviv Central – Jerusalem Malha
Binyamina בנימינה Binyamina-Giv'at Ada Binyamina – Ashkelon
Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Bnei Brak בני ברק Bnei Brak / Ramat Gan Hod Hasharon Sokolov – HaRishonim
Caesarea-Pardes Hanna קיסריה-פרדס חנה Pardes Hanna-Karkur
Caesarea Industrial Zone
Binyamina – Ashkelon
Dimona דימונה Dimona Be'er Sheva North – Dimona
Hadera West חדרה מערב Hadera Binyamina – Ashkelon
Haifa Bat Galim חיפה בת גלים Haifa Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Haifa Hof HaCarmel – Kiryat Motzkin
Haifa Hof HaCarmel חיפה חוף הכרמל Haifa Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Haifa Hof HaCarmel – Kiryat Motzkin
Haifa Central חיפה מרכז Haifa Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Haifa Hof HaCarmel – Kiryat Motzkin
Herzliya הרצליה Herzliya Binyamina – Ashkelon
Hod HaSharon Sokolov
(Kfar Saba)
הוד השרון סוקולוב
כפר סבא
Hod HaSharon / Kfar Saba Hod Hasharon Sokolov – HaRishonim
Holon-Wolfson חולון-וולפסון Holon / Tel Aviv-Yafo Hod Hasharon Sokolov – Rishon LeZion Moshe Dayan
Holon Junction צומת חולון Holon / Tel Aviv Hod Hasharon Sokolov – Rishon LeZion Moshe Dayan
Hutzot HaMifratz חוצות המפרץ Haifa Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Haifa Hof HaCarmel – Kiryat Motzkin
Jerusalem Malha ירושלים מלחה Jerusalem Tel Aviv Central – Jerusalem Malha
Kfar Chabad כפר חב"ד Kfar Chabad Binyamina – Ashkelon
Kfar Saba – Nordau
(Hod HaSharon)
כפר סבא נורדאו
הוד השרון
Kfar Saba / Hod HaSharon Hod Hasharon Sokolov – HaRishonim
Kiryat Gat קרית גת Kiryat Gat Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Tel Aviv Central – Be'er Sheva Center
Kiryat Haim קריית חיים Haifa (Kiryat Haim) Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Haifa Hof HaCarmel – Kiryat Motzkin
Kiryat Motzkin קריית מוצקין Haifa (Kiryat Shmuel)
Kiryat Motzkin
Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Haifa Hof HaCarmel – Kiryat Motzkin
Lehavim Rahat להבים רהט Lehavim Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Tel Aviv Central – Be'er Sheva Center
Lev HaMifratz לב המפרץ Haifa Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Haifa Hof HaCarmel – Kiryat Motzkin
Lod לוד Lod Binyamina – Ashkelon
Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Tel Aviv Central – Be'er Sheva Center
Lod Ganei Aviv לוד גני אביב Lod Hod HaSharon Sokolov – HaRishonim
Modi'in Central מודיעין מרכז Modi'in Nahariya – Modi'in
Nahariya נהריה Nahariya Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Netanya נתניה Netanya Binyamina – Ashkelon
Netivot נתיבות Netivot Hod Hasharon – Netivot
Pa'atei Modi'in פאתי מודיעין Modi'in Nahariya – Modi'in
Petah Tikva Kiryat Arye פתח תקווה קרית אריה Petah Tikva Hod HaSharon Sokolov – HaRishonim
Petah Tikva Segula פתח תקווה סגולה Petah Tikva Hod HaSharon Sokolov – HaRishonim
Ramla רמלה Ramla Tel Aviv Central – Jerusalem Malha
Rehovot רחובות Rehovot Binyamina – Ashkelon
Rishon LeZion HaRishonim ראשון לציון הראשונים Rishon LeZion Tel Aviv HaHagana – HaRishonim
Rishon LeZion Moshe Dayan ראשון לציון משה דיין Rishon LeZion Hod HaSharon Sokolov – Sderot
Rosh HaAyin Tzafon ראש העין צפון Rosh HaAyin / Neve Yerek Hod HaSharon Sokolov – Sderot
Sderot שדרות Sderot Hod HaSharon Sokolov – Sderot
Tel Aviv HaHagana תל אביב ההגנה Tel Aviv Binyamina – Ashkelon
Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Tel Aviv Central – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Hod HaSharon Sokolov – HaRishonim
Tel Aviv HaShalom תל אביב השלום Tel Aviv Binyamina – Ashkelon
Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Tel Aviv Central – Be'er Sheva Center
Hod Hasharon Sokolov – HaRishonim
Tel Aviv Central
תל אביב מרכז
Tel Aviv / Ramat Gan Binyamina – Ashkelon
Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Tel Aviv Central – Be'er Sheva Center
Hod Hasharon Sokolov – HaRishonim
Tel Aviv University
Convention Center
תל אביב אוניברסיטה
מרכז הירידים
Tel Aviv Binyamina – Ashkelon
Nahariya – Be'er Sheva Center
Nahariya – Modi'in
Hod Hasharon Sokolov – HaRishonim
Yavne East יבנה Yavne Binyamina – Ashkelon
Yavne West יבנה מערב Yavne Hod Hasharon – Yavne West


According to official statistics, Israel Railways transported approximately seven million tons of freight in 2010. Minerals and chemicals from the Dead Sea area, such as phosphates, potash and sulphur, made up more than half of this amount.[11] As of 2011, the share of total domestic freight transported by rail is approximately 8%. The government of Israel, believing that freight rail transport in the country is underutilized, particularly with respect to container transport, has set a goal of doubling the amount of freight transported by rail by the middle of the 2010s decade and tripling it by the end of the decade. Its plan calls for an upgrade of the freight transport infrastructure, including more freight terminals, new or renewed sidings to factories and other customers, and the purchase of additional freight locomotives and freight cars. From an administrative perspective, Israel Railways' freight division will be spun off into a separate subsidiary, which will be 51% privately owned by a strategic partner committed to maximizing the railway's freight transport potential. The new subsidiary will be allowed to partner directly with other transport providers in the private sector in order to offer customers more cost-effective, flexible and complete transport and logistical solutions than those currently offered by Israel Railways.

Rail links to adjacent countries

Originally part of the Palestine Railway, a line linked East Qantara north of the Suez Canal in Egypt, skirting the Mediterranean northward to the port of Tripoli, Lebanon. In 1912, the French built an extension of the Baghdad Railway south from Aleppo, Syria, to connect at Tripoli, Lebanon. Expanded during World War II by both Australian and later New Zealand engineers, the effective footprint extended as far as Damascus.

For a railway both created and effected by the logistical need of military engineers supporting a various war efforts, on the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the outbreak of hostilities during the Israeli War of Independence, those connections were severed and have yet to be restored.

Israeli forces bombed the rail bridge to Lebanon, and the remnants of this line can be seen at Rosh HaNikra grottoes, where a virtual "train ride to peace" movie is shown inside the sealed tunnel that used to go into Lebanon. The tracks used to continue from Rosh HaNikra to Nahariya (the current northern end of the line) making it possible for one to travel from Lebanon all the way to Tel Aviv, Cairo, and beyond. Northerly, there was a route to Syria and connection via Chemins de Fer Syriens to Damascus.

Railway links with adjacent countries

Proposed rail lines to the PA

Talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2004 have raised the possibility of reviving the old line from the Gaza Strip to Tulkarm and/or building a new line from Gaza to Tarkumia (near Hebron) with the aim of securely transporting people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank through Israeli territory as well as for transporting cargo to and from the Israeli port of Ashdod destined to the Palestinian Authority.[12] Another proposed line would involve the revival of the old Hejaz railway branch from Afula to Jenin.

External links


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