Mitzpeh Ramon. Photo: Ilan Malester

Peretz: Fast Track to Approve Train to Eilat could become Fast Track to Destruction of Nature and Tourism
Mitzpeh Ramon 
Photo: Ilan Malester 

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz was the only minister to vote against a decision taken during a cabinet meeting on Sunday, October 6, 2013, to approve a proposed route for a train to Eilat. The ministers have yet to be presented with a complete environmental impact assessment of the proposed route, which would show just how much damage it can cause, if it remains unchanged. That damage will include not only destruction of nature reserves, but also, what could end up being the eventual extinction of wildlife, such as ibex. The train would travel between Tel Aviv and Eilat Bay, with stops in the southern Negev region and the Arava.

Staff members of the MoEP, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority met in an emergency meeting over the weekend, before the vote, to discuss the environmental risks of the proposed route. SPNI professionals presented a report the organization had commissioned, in which outside consultants noted that construction of the rail line would negatively affect both land and maritime traffic, ruin views, and destroy nature.

Peretz: "The fast track to approve [the proposed train route] could become a fast track to the destruction of nature and tourism in the entire southern Negev region, in particular in Eilat. This decision relates to the axis between Eilat and Beer Sheva, but even the impact on the Eilat Port has yet to be examined. The proposed train route could cause irreversible damage to Eilat’s unique natural treasures, and thus will delete the city from the map of global tourist destinations. The route will harm nature reserves and wide expanses throughout the Negev. There are better alternatives, and it is incumbent upon us to have a serious discussion about all the implications of this plan. At a minimum, we should conduct a survey that would examine the impact of the train on the city of Eilat and on the Gulf of Eilat."

According to the current plan, the train is expected to stop before Eilat, and so a deep water canal will be dug from the Gulf, northward. At the edge of the canal a port for cargo ships will be built, where the trains’ cargo will be unloaded. According to experts, building such a port could destroy the unique coral reef in the Gulf, and thus destroy tourism to the city as well.

In addition, a bridge would be built that will serve as an alternative to the Suez Canal, which means significantly more hazardous materials would being transported on Israeli roads. (As a reminder, in late August, a train that was carrying bromine and potassium turned over near the city of Kiryat Gat.)

The proposed route has trains traveling through nature reserves and million-year old sites, such as Ein Yahav (including Zin Valley), the Judean Desert, the "giant crater" near the city of Yeruham, and the Mishor Yamin nature reserve The proposal ignores alternatives suggested by the MoEP and the Nature and Parks Authority, which would have trains traveling through a tunnel under these sites, and thus will prevent their destruction.

Finally, since the train will be built on raised embankments, it will cut right through animal habitats. Leaving these animals with smaller habitats will lead to a decreased growth rate and increased risks of extinction. Animals at risk include a variety of wild animals, caribou, deer, and reptiles.