An Israeli ministerial committee approved on Sunday an outline of a train route from Tel Aviv, the country's largest city on the Mediterranean coast, to the southernmost resort city of Eilat on the Red Sea, a government spokesperson confirmed to Xinhua.
The new track, spanning over a distance of nearly 400 km, will include 63 bridges and five tunnels. The train would use to transport passengers as well as cargo, and will take two hours per ride at a speed of 250 kilometers per hour.
This is Israel's biggest and most expensive transportation- related project, costing approximately 30 billion shekels (8.6 billion US dollars). The project is set to be completed by the end of 2020.
Green organizations protested against the plan, saying it will damage several territories' fauna and flora, demanding the construction of more tunnels in several spots on the route, which would add approximately five billion shekels (1.4 billion dollars) to the project's costs.
The organizations' objections were shared by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and its chief, Minister Amir Peretz, who was the only minister who voted against the train route.
"Because of the topography in some of the open spaces, the track will go over ramparts and bridges that will cause great environmental and landscape damage to streams and natural reserves, both during construction and once the train is running," a document issued by the ministry last month charged.
Peretz and the green organizations are calling officials in the transportation ministry to re-examine the outline of the route, which may also impact the coral reef at Eilat's Red Sea port.
However, the ministry insisted the route will not "damage the coral reef" and said the train line is of "strategic importance" for Israel.
Adding to the doubts about the project, some economic experts said the project wasn't profitable, a claim which was denied by the transportation ministry.
"Today, Eilat receives two million tourists a year," Dr. Yaakov Sheinin, an expert on the transportation project, told the Hamodia newspaper.
"If it were to receive 30, 40 or 50 million tourists a year -- then it would be worthwhile," he added.
On a related note, the Israeli cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved the construction of an ammonia production plant in southern Israel by 2017.
The plan intends to relocate the current plant located in the Haifa port, as it poses a danger to the residents nearby.
According to data dispatched by the Environmental Protection Ministry, the current facility in Haifa stores up to 12,000 tons of ammonia.
Following the cabinet's resolution, by the end of December the Israeli Land Authority will publish a tender for entrepreneurs to establish the plant.