Jerusalem light rail 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Although light rail trains are rolling along the tracks in downtown Jerusalem
with soothing regularity, the start date for the train continues to get farther
and farther away.
The train is officially still slated to begin carrying
passengers in mid-August, but transportation officials are certain that the
train won’t start operation until after the holidays in late October or
The main problem is the question of traffic lights. After years
of arguments, the light rail finally won “preference” at intersections, meaning
the trains will get a green light as they approach an intersection, and cars
will have to wait. But CityPass, the company tasked with running the trains and
the operating system, still has to program nearly 100 traffic lights and embed
50 sensors along the light rail tracks that will trigger the traffic lights to
change. They have embedded four of the 50 sensors so far.
The light rail
is still in its testing period, during which the trains and drivers must pass a
series of rigorous testing by an international light rail safety company. Last
week during the testing, one of the trains shifted off the tracks and became
temporary derailed, leading the safety company to conclude that further testing
CityPass officials played down the importance of the
derailment, and noted that many light rail systems experience similar problems
during the testing period. In other cities with light rail derailments, the
culprit was usually traced to improper alignment of the switching mechanism that
allows the train to move from one track to the other.
Because the trains
are slow moving, there are very rarely injuries.
The typical testing
period for a city’s light rail system is between six to nine months, though
Jerusalem’s testing period will be a year and four months in August, according
to transportation officials.
CityPass spokesperson Ozel Vatik said the
company was still aiming for the mid-August start date, but that it would be a
difficult path. “If not everyone makes an effort, there will be a problem,” said
“In order to get to August, we need everyone, the state, the
municipality, the Transportation Ministry, the Finance Ministry, and the police
to make every effort,” he said.
“Everyone will need to work in
cooperation day and night.”
However, CityPass, a conglomerate of French
companies which won the tender to build the light rail, is experiencing severe
infighting between the Alstom and Veolia companies, The Marker reported this
week. The infighting, including a labor dispute between the train drivers and
Veolia, as well as European Muslim pressure on the French companies to pull out
of the Israeli project, has contributed to the delays.
“Until now, we
haven’t received any request from CityPass to change the scheduled date,” said
Shmuel Elgrabli, spokesman for the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan, which
is overseeing the light rail project. “They need to make an effort, an even
bigger effort, to finish the project.” An arbitration court ruled that CityPass
will be fined for any delay, though the size of the fine has not yet been
The mood among transportation officials was one of resigned
acceptance, that if the city has waited a decade for the light rail, a delay of
two or three months won’t change much. “Even with all of the setbacks, Jerusalem
is the first city in Israel to have a light rail and it’s important to remember
that this will cause a big change in the city,” said Elgrabli.
aspects of the light rail are moving forward. Approximately 45,000 Jerusalem
residents have signed up for the RavKav, an electronic card like the one used in
Tel Aviv, which will provide bus and light rail fares, though Egged and City-
Pass are still arguing over the prices.
Next week, police may start
fining drivers who inch forward towards the tracks at red lights, in an effort
to avoid some of the traffic accidents that have plagued the system.