Israel Rides Out Rail Crisis, Knesset Calls Special Session

A view of the infrastructure work of Israel Railways at the Herzliya Railway Station on Sunday. (Avi Dishi/Flash90 )
A view of the infrastructure work of Israel Railways at the Herzliya Railway Station on Sunday. (Avi Dishi/Flash90 )

The catastrophic commuter tie-up feared for Sunday due to work on the railways between Haifa and Tel Aviv did not materialize, though the political uproar over the decision to defer the work until after Shabbos continued to roil the Likud and the Knesset.

On Sunday, rail service on the route did not shut down altogether. There was in fact partial service on the affected lines and disruptions were minor.

There was heavier than usual congestion on roadways leading to Tel Aviv from the north on Sunday morning, but media reports indicated that the assignment of extra buses was sufficient to absorb passengers otherwise dependent on train service along the northern routes.

Egged added over 100 buses to handle the spillover of railway passengers, the company said. “The public is requested to demonstrate composure and patience on the queues that are expected at the transport hubs,” Egged spokesman Ron Ratner said on Motzoei Shabbos. But in the event, things ran smoothly.

The IDF also ran a fleet of buses to facilitate the weekly return of thousands of soldiers to military bases after Shabbos. Reports of soldiers stranded on the roads were apparently erroneous.

By afternoon, transportation was back to normal. “The traffic center reports that in all parts of the country, transportation on intercity highways is flowing as usual,” a police spokesperson said.

Meretz MKs seized on the issue as an opportunity to incite against chareidim. They managed to collect the requisite 25 signatures to call a special session of the Knesset during the summer recess to discuss, in their word, “the prime minister’s surrender to the chareidi factions’ demand on the topic of work on the train on Shabbat.”

MK Erel Margalit (Zionist Camp) made a frantic appeal to private taxi companies Gett and Uber to help soldiers get to their bases.

“I ask you to help the tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians stuck in the transportation crisis the prime minister caused because of a political conflict,” Margalit wrote to the companies’ directors-general. “Transportation in Israel is in a shameful emergency situation that took tens of thousands of people hostage this weekend and throughout the next week.”

Support for the decision to avert chillul Shabbos on the railways came from the national-religious Jewish Home party, as well as from the chareidim. Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) said on Sunday that there was no justification for performing the work on Shabbos, and that the whole issue had been blown out of proportion.

“The issue of the train,” said Ariel, “is an issue of Shabbos. There are alternatives and we can handle this in a better way that it has been thus far.

“There are alternatives and other solutions. Until a few years ago people were riding on buses [rather than the train] and things were fine. The population hasn’t grown massively since, and that’s not what’s at issue. Of course it’s a good thing that we have the train, but they can do the work on weekdays at night and get it done.”

“The whole world knows about having a day of rest on Shabbos, certainly the Jewish people must do so,” he said.

Despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s extraordinary public rebuke during Sunday’s cabinet meeting to Transport Minister Yisrael Katz for creating an artificial crisis, it appears unlikely that it will cost Katz his job, according to Likud sources quoted by Arutz Sheva.

Netanyahu’s new chief of staff Yoav Horowitz met on Sunday with Katz, while Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz (no relation) and coalition chairman David Bitan both volunteered to mediate between Netanyahu and Katz.