Israel has approved plans to build a new high-speed rail line connecting Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean coastline to the city of Beersheba in the southern Negev desert.
Upon completion, the new rail line is expected to reduce journey times between the two cities from 76 to 55 minutes.
The approval is part of a multi-billion dollar project to upgrade Israel's transport infrastructure, intended to reinforce Tel Aviv as an economic and cultural hub that is reachable by all major metropolitan areas within 30-40 minutes by 2020
Israel has also opened a new rail line linking Tel Aviv to the southern city of Kiryat Gat, which will to cut travel times to 32 minutes between the cities.
Currently, there are no high-speed train services in Israel, although Israel Railways is building a high-speed rail between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that is scheduled to start in 2017 and is expected to cut travel times between the two cities from 95 minutes to just over half an hour.
In February 2012, the Israeli government approved the construction of the 350km high-speed Tel Aviv-Eilat railway line, which aims to offer a new Asian-European trade route to compete with the Suez Canal.
According to preliminary estimates, the project will cost NIS7bn ($1.8bn) for laying the rail and could reach around NIS30bn ($7.9bn) if the cost of rolling stock, double-tracking the line, electrification and peripheral equipment is taken into account.
The Eilat rail project involves the construction of a 240km rail line from Dimona to Eilat and will feature 63 bridges and five tunnels, including a long tunnel from the Negev plateau to the Arava valley.
It will have two tracks, one for passenger trains and the other for freight, while construction is expected to be completed five years after commencement.
The rail line will join to the existing line that runs from Beersheba to Dimona and feature eight new stations, including one at the future airport in Timna.