A train service is crossing the Negev desert for the first time in 13 years thanks to students at Ben Gurion University. The service, from Beersheba to Tel Aviv, was abandoned by Israeli Railways in 1978, and the students decided to run their own when the railway company turned down their request to reinstate the twice-weekly train. On its inaugural journey 300 passengers, mainly students, were aboard.
Yossi Haras, chairman of the student association, said: "It will take time for the students to get used to a train service because there has been none for the last 13 years."
The association is subsidising the train and when it reaches 450 passengers it will be self-sufficient.
Students pay ten shekels (about $2) which is 20 per cent less than the bus fare. It is more comfortable than the bus since it has a snack bar, a smoking car and tables so passengers can work while they're riding. It is also quicker since it avoids traffic jams.
University president Avishay Braverman said: "The centre of the country is becoming an asphalt jungle. Green areas are disappearing, traffic jams, pollution and crowding are becoming the indices in the real measurement of the quality of life.
"The Negev is the only open space left in the country, but there must be an infrastructure that will attract industry and provide adequate services to the population. Regular trains to the centre of the country are an essential part of that infrastructure. I'm absolutely delighted the our students have taken the initiative."