In addition, IR reported a 12% fall in revenues for the period to Shekels 1.116bn, compared with Shekels 1.267bn for the first half of 2019.

This is despite a significant increase in gross profit for the first half of this year of Shekels 28.6m, compared with only Shekels 5.4m for the same period in the previous year.

IR says that the coronavirus pandemic is a significant factor behind the net loss, causing a sharp decline in passenger numbers even before official restrictions on travel were put in place by the Israeli government on March 26.

Travel restrictions were later lifted on June 22. However, IR states that passenger numbers remain low compared with pre-lockdown figures.

The significant losses were incurred on passenger services, where income declined by 12% to Shekels 953m, compared with Shekels 1.087bn in the first half of 2019. This corresponds with a sharp drop of almost 58% in passenger numbers, to just 14.2 million passengers over the period compared with 34.1 million for the first half of 2019, with daily ridership of 175,000 passengers.

However, punctuality for the period was up to 93.3% - a rise of 4% - compared with 2019, largely due to the reduction in traffic on the network.

IR also reported a decline of 7% for freight volumes on its network, with 3.9 million tonnes of freight being shipped during the period. This compares with 4.2 million tonnes for the same period in 2019.

This resulted in losses of Shekels 20.6m for the first half of the year. However, this is a reduction in losses of almost 40% compared with losses of Shekels 34m for the same period in 2019.

IR says that despite the economic challenges of the crisis, the railway has taken advantage of the low traffic to progress with outstanding infrastructure projects, including electrification of Tel-Aviv Savidor - Hertzliya - Ra'anana West and Tel-Aviv - Ashkelon lines and accessibility upgrades in stations and maintenance of the fleet and depots.