The National Building Commission approved last week the construction of a section of the line south of Be'er Sheva.
The section, 60 kilometers long, is mired in controversy, with large numbers of bodies voicing their opinion in favor or against construction of the line.
The approval came few weeks after the Southern Regional Committee adopted the proposal of the Minister of Transport, Road Safety and National Infrastructure Israel Katz to build 240 km high-speed rail line that would connect Tel Aviv to Eilat, via Be’er Sheva.
The decision to build a passenger and cargo railway to Eilat was made by the government two years ago, determining that the decision was a strategic one meant to turn Israel into a land bridge for the transport of goods to Europe and to improve access to Eilat.
The new railway line is part of a plan to make Eilat into a metropolitan area with a population of 150,000 through business, commercial and real estate development.
The plan includes an investment of US$3.5 billion by the private sector to set up an international transport, logistics and trade center. As part of the plan a new international airport will be built at Timna that will be connected to the Tel Aviv – Eilat high speed rail line Construction of the line, which will extend for 260 kilometers, will take place in three stages, with the controversial 60 kilometer section to be built south of Dimona.
Most of the opposition came from environmental groups, backed by the Environmental Ministry, who claimed that the line would cause a major disturbance in the fragile ecosystem of the Negev, where numerous endangered species roam. The groups offered alternative plans to construction of this section, but they were turned down by the Commission.