Jerusalem light rail 521.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
After rumors that the light rail’s start could be delayed as long as January
2012, transportation officials made a surprising announcement on Wednesday:
Independent arbitrators ruled that the train must begin service in approximately
five weeks, no later than August 19.
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Officials from CityPass, the
conglomerate that runs the train, originally placed the start date after the
holidays in the fall, owing to the fact that 100 traffic lights still needed to
be reprogrammed to give preference to the trains. Only two traffic lights have
been reprogrammed so far.
Late on Tuesday night, arbitrators ruled that
the train must start operation without preference from the traffic lights, as
the state had requested.
CityPass called the decision a “shame” and said
it would lengthen the time of the train’s route from one end to the other from
40 to 80 minutes, pointing out that the train would now suffer from rush hour
and traffic jams.
“The residents deserve the best product and not a train
that stops at every traffic light,” said CityPass spokesman Ozel Vatik, adding
that CityPass was going to ask for a delay of “just one more month.”
source within CityPass said that updating the traffic lights would take a month
without passengers, but once the train begins to carry passengers it could take
months to possibly years to update the traffic lights and install the necessary
Shmuel Elgrabli, the spokesman for the Jerusalem Transportation
Master Plan, a partnership between the municipality and the Transportation
Ministry, dismissed this time frame as a threat, and said he expected the
traffic lights to be updated within 14 weeks.
“We are happy about this
decision for the residents of Jerusalem, and we believe that CityPass will do
what they need to do to fulfill their obligations, and the state and the
municipality will help in any way they can, but there also isn’t a lot left to
do,” Elgrabli said.
Elgrabli estimated the official launch date for
Jerusalem’s round of transportation reforms – which include a light rail running
at full capacity, and changes to more than 50 bus routes – will take place
around Sukkot. For the meantime, bus routes will continue to run as normal in
addition to the light rail.
After three requests for delays that
stretched the light rail’s start date from 2007 to August 2011, the current
start date has a good chance of being the actual start date, said officials from
both CityPass and the state.
While the train has not yet received the
necessary safety certificates from international light rail experts, the
arbitrators were confident that the certificates would be awarded
The only other issue left to resolve is the question of security
along the light rail, which is the responsibility of the Transportation Ministry
and the Israel Police. No plan has yet been presented for the number or
frequency of security guards.