After years of discussion, Israel’s Transportation Ministry finally is proceeding with plans to build an estimated $700-million high-speed railway to the southern port of Eilat, the country’s largest resort and a major port for shipments to and from the Far East. The ministry now seeks expressions of contractor interest in the project.

Israel already has invested several billion dollars in recent years in national rail projects as part of a government effort to upgrade the country’s infrastructure. In November, the ministry announced a multibillion-dollar plan for additional upgrades as well as new rail lines and roads.

The ministry plans a 170-kilometer two-track high-speed line between Beer Sheba and Eilat that eventually will extend to Tel Aviv, a total of 350 km. It will have 63 bridges and five tunnels totaling 9.5 km. The ministry is assessing industry interest in a build-operate-transfer arrangement or another similar, privately financed approach.

“The rail line will significantly reduce travel time from the center of the country to Eilat to around two and a half hours and revolutionize Israel’s transportation map,” says Transport Minister Yisrael Katz. According to published reports in the region, companies from Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Georgia have expressed interest in the project.