The Israeli railroads infrastructure has been upgraded significantly in the past 10 years. While until 1996 most of trains & railroads were bizarre collections of British “leftovers” from the mandatory occupation that lasted until 1948, nowadays Israeli trains can take you almost anywhere in Israel and (almost) right on time.
Most of the train stations have been rebuilt, and the train cars themselves are made by top-of-the-line European train-car manufacturers. The ride itself is usually very smooth and comfortable and most on the trains do make it right on time (which is very rare, generally speaking in the middle east and Israel).
While prices and service are only fair, there are some important tips to remember when traveling Israel by train: some are trivial for every train rider while some are unique to Israel.
o Try to avoid taking the train on Sunday – while most of the Israeli soldiers are using the trains as their preferred (and free) means of transportation, and are using them to return from their vacations you will find it literally impossible to find a free seat on the Sunday trains. Some of them are so packed that they do remind of third world country trains (by the way – in some aspects Israel is a third world country..) . Whatever you do try not to use Israeli trains on Sunday and if so – do it after rush hours and not before 15:00.
o Bring your own food & drink – While there are no restaurant train cars on any of the lines, there are attendees who carry small trolleys with hot drinks, soft drinks, sandwiches and snacks. The only problem is that prices are extremely high, you might find yourself paying way too much for food and drink which you can buy at the train station for literally half the price.
o Hotspot wireless internet – is available only in the main stations in Tel-Aviv, and the service is highly priced (by the hour or per day). If you want to catch up with your email – download them before boarding to the train, there is no wireless connection on the trains themselves.
o Double deck trains – some of the trains have tow levels, it is very easy to recognize them – they are all painted in red. If you see one of these (they are fairly popular on the busy Tel-Aviv – Haifa lines) – try to get to the penthouse the view is much better and there is much more sunlight.
o Don’t miss the ride to Jerusalem by train! – it is slow, not efficient, has very low frequency, and the central train station in Jerusalem is next to “Malcha Mall” in the far end of the city, but after saying that: this is the most interesting train line in Israel which was re-opened only last year (2005). If you want to see Israel diverse landscape – don’t miss this ride.
To sum things up – Israel train is lots of fun, especially if you are a tourist and not in a hurry to anywhere, you will find this means of transportation as comfortable and efficient. Don’t hesitate to use it whenever you can, especially if you are on a budget.