Under the plan, which was presented by IR deputy general manager for development Mr Reuben Kogan, the network is projected to grow from 1232km to 2572km between 2020 and 2040, with the number of stations increasing from 68 to 120. IR’s passenger train fleet will almost triple from 139 in 2020 to 511 in 2040.

The plan allocates Shekels 94.78bn for infrastructure, and Shekels 19.26bn for rolling stock, Shekels 9.6bn for depots and stabling facilities, with an overall benefit:cost ratio of 1.0.

Passenger numbers are forecast to grow from 59.5 million in 2017 to 81.2 million in 2020 and 306 million in 2040, with rail’s share of the public transport market rising from 3% to 8% between 2020 and 2040. Rail’s share of journeys of more than 50km would grow from 10% to 40% and the percentage of passengers able to reach Tel Aviv in less than 1h 30min would rise from 16% to 64%.

Peak passenger services will increase from 50 trains in 2020 to 128 in 2040, with 96 services running at up to 160km/h and 32 at a maximum of 250km/h.

As the number of stations increases, IR envisages separate categories of inter-city and regional services to maintain rapid links between major towns and cities. IR general manager Mr Shahar Ayalon says double-track lines will be four-tracked and the Eastern Line between Kfar-Sava and Hadera East will be revived to enable direct links bypassing congested lines in the Tel-Aviv area.

On the core inter-city network lines will be widened from two to four tracks to enable 250km/h operation. Lines earmarked for four-tracking comprise Tel Aviv - Haifa, Tel Aviv - Ayalon, Lod - Beer Sheva, and Ashkelon - Pleshet Junction. A 20km double-track tunnel between Tel Aviv Hahagana and Rishpon (north of Hertzliya) will provide six tracks on this section.

The plan, which was drawn up by IR and the ministries of transport and finance, has been sent to transport minister Mr Israel Katz for feedback before submission to the cabinet for approval.

“Israel is undergoing a transportation revolution particularly on railways, but also on roads and at its ports,” Katz said at the conference. “The government is interested in rail links with neighboring countries, as was the situation prior to 1948 [the foundation of Israel] and such links can only contribute to the peace and stability of the area.”

IR is proposing a number of cross-border links including a line to Lebanon; Jenin - West Bank; Hebron - West Bank; Eilat - Aqaba (Jordan); Ashkelon - Gaza; and a connection across the Sinai desert to Egypt, following the alignment of the former Ottoman railway.

Other major projects in the strategic plan include:
- Afula (Valley Line) - Hadera East
- Lod station bypass, and
- expansion of Ben Gurion Airport station.