Deep underground, the construction site for the high speed train. .
(photo credit: YAKIR FELDMAN)
Day after day, thousands of Jerusalemites and visitors to our capital glance at an imposing but incomplete and inaccessible fenced-off structure located at the entrance to the city between the Central Bus Station and the Jerusalem International Convention Center. Dominated by a giant circular opening in its ceiling/roof, this peculiar-looking edifice seems to have been conceived with no windows, doors or even walls.
Strangest of all, perhaps, is the fact that this entrance to the new intercity high-speed train station never seems to change or to progress toward completion, prompting passersby to wonder whether the project has stalled or ground to a halt. There is no sign of activity. True, large signs in Hebrew recently appeared at the site proclaiming “Jerusalem – Tel Aviv in about 30 minutes,” but other than that, there is little evidence that work is being done on the station that will be the portal to a transportation revolution.
Well, appearances can be deceiving. There is much more going on there that meets the eye. The LearningWorks arranged a tour for the staff of their Jerusalem HackerCamp and invited The Jerusalem Post
to join them for what turned out to be an eye-opening, jaw-dropping experience.
The first thing I discovered was that the part of the station that we see above ground is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath that entrance atrium, deep in the bowels of the earth, I witnessed a hive of activity, with scores of workers diligently fleshing out and putting finishing touches on a multi-leveled engineering marvel, the scope of which I never would have imagined. Soon all will be revealed to – and admired by – the masses.
After donning safety boots and helmets, our group, guided by Israel Railways representative Lital Ventura, descended level after level, which revealed a vast network of elevators, escalators, dining and commercial areas, all designed to accommodate thousands of people during rush hour, with four trains that will depart and arrive every hour. The station’s total floor space will be approximately 70,000 square meters – almost double the size of the commercial area of Malha Mall, the largest shopping mall in Jerusalem.
The most amazing part of the experience for me was the quick plunge in a large elevator to a depth of some 80 meters underground – equivalent to a 25-story skyscraper that shoots straight downward instead of upward – where one can see the passenger platforms, almost one-third of a kilometer long, where travelers will board and disembark from the super fast trains. There may be another location somewhere in our capital that is 80 meters underground, but I can’t imagine where and certainly have never been there.
What does it feel like to be so far down? It inspires a sense of awe. Oddly, the space is so large and well lit, even in its current unfinished state, that it doesn’t feel at all claustrophobic to be at what may seem like the center of the earth. Just the opposite; one is not even aware of the fact that there is so much ground between oneself and the surface. Curiously, on the sweltering August day when we made the descent, the deep subterranean air was refreshingly cool – naturally, with no air conditioning or even ventilation operating, although there will be ventilation when the station opens for business.
It is worth noting that the trains will be entirely electric and thus will not generate any fumes, so the air in the station will remain fresh and pollution-free.
While being amazed at the underground wonderland, I couldn’t help recalling last year’s Samsung Future Living Report, compiled by a think tank of distinguished scientists, architects and urban planners. They depicted what our world might look like a century from then, in 2116. In addition to predicting that there will be towering mega-structures that will “dwarf today’s skyscrapers,” the report’s visionaries predicted that one of the ways 22nd-century metropolitan areas will deal with overcrowding will be by building down, with structures that tunnel as far as 25 stories underground.
Might Jerusalem be ahead of its time? Actually, the reason the new high-speed station is buried so deep is not because of overcrowding but due to the fact that the trains can negotiate an incline of 3%, and the tracks make their way up to Jerusalem from a much lower topography.
An integral part of the larger vision for Jerusalem known as the Jerusalem Gateway project, the impressive new NIS 500 million railway station, to be named after Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, is such an incredible feat of engineering that it could well be a tourist attraction on its own. But it is more than that. This new railway station, one of the deepest in the world, is the launching point for the 160-km.-per-hour link to the airport, which will take about 20 minutes, and to Tel Aviv, where passengers will arrive in approximately 28 minutes, traveling over a route that will include more than seven km. of bridges and 38 km. of tunnels, the longest of which will be 11.6 km.
In a case of emergency, the subterranean station will also have a bomb and/or nuclear shelter that can accommodate as many as 4,000 people, a feature that everyone prays will remain unnecessary.
Can’t wait to see the interior of the new ultra-modern station for yourself? The most recent estimate for the start of operations is March 2018. With such an impressive take-off point to look forward to, being able to get to where you’re going fast is only part of the experience.