As part of a plan to expand its 1,100-kilometer national rail network by 600 km in the next few years, Israel awarded last month its largest-ever railroad-track contract, a $400-million award, to a consortium of Germany's DB Bahnbau Gruppe and Israeli contractors Shikun U'Binui Ltd. and Lesico Ltd.

The team beat out a consortium of France's TSO, Spain's Indra and Israel's T.A.N. Earthmoving Ltd.

The work involves three separate new lines: the 22-km double-track line from Acre to Carmiel; the 60-km single-track Valley line from Haifa to Beit Shean; and, north of Tel Aviv, a 14-km line that will improve access to the city's central core.

The work includes laying tracks, telecommunications and fire-detection systems. The owner is Netivei Yisrael-Israel National Transport Infrastructure Co. Ltd. (NTIC), the country's national roadbuilding firm, set up in 2004 to manage public-works construction.

"This is the first time that foreign companies will be in charge of laying track in Israel," says Ilan Rozenfeld, CEO of Etgar Engineering and Consultancy Ltd. and project manager for the lines.

Work will begin in June and finish by mid-2017, he says.

The so-called slab-track method, in which a concrete or asphalt surface replaces the standard ballasted track, will be used for the first time in Israel on parts of two lines, Rozenfeld adds. NTIC is planning seven more rail projects.

Israeli contractor Danya Cebus and China Civil Engineering Construction Corp. completed in March the twin 4.62-km Gilon tunnels on the Acre-Carmiel line, using the new Austrian tunneling method "for cost and timetable considerations as well as the type of rock," says Shmuel Ashkenazi, construction manager.

Project completion is set for January.

The tunnels will be the longest in Israel until the completion of the tunnels on the $2-billion Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high speed line. 

Tunnel boring machines are being used on the Jerusalem rail project, but there have been TBM-related delays.

As part of its effort to speed up rail construction, NTIC has brought in foreign consulting firms including Spain’s Ineco, France’s Thales and Nokia Siemens to advise the company on various aspects of the network expansion.