The Southern Zoning Committee approved a bid by the Israel National Roads Company to build new train tracks in the country's south, despite an environmental impact report
that deemed the project harmful, Yedioth Aharonoth reported.
The train track are expected to run though plant and wildlife
reservations, as well as known hiking trails, but unlike similar projects that aimed to minimize their environmental impact, the new project will not make use of the usual solution of tunnels, as suggested by the Environmental Protection Ministry Israel Nature and National Parks Service.
The committee decided to approve the bid, which will stretch across much of the Arava region
and will infringe on the Zin River reservation, which both the ministry and the INPS deem one of the area's most sensitive reservations.
Green groups that opposed the bid said that INRC chose "the worst possible solution" that would virtually destroy natural habitats for the Arava's wildlife, especially rams, whose population in the area has only just begun recovering.
The Israel Nature and National Parks Service expressed its disappointment of the decision: "We're not against the train, of course, we're pro-environment and we'll keep fighting for it."
The Interior Ministry, which backed the bid, said that the path suggested was "feasible from fiscal and engineering standpoints, has minimal safety hazards and minimal environmental impact. It will also offer passengers a scenic view of the road."
The project, the Transportation Ministry added, "Is one of nationally strategic importance and will link the Red and the Mediterranean Sea via train tracks, therefore facilitating the transport of goods between Asia and Europe. The project will also boost tourism to Eilat."
The ministry is currently reviewing bids to execute the plan. Apart from several Israeli firms, several Chinese, Canadian and French firms are also in the running, which the decision scheduled for late 2013.