The bulldozers are set to begin working at three sites on the Tel Aviv light
rail’s Red Line Wednesday morning.
In contrast to the elaborate
cornerstone- laying ceremony 15 years ago in the presence of prime minister
Binyamin Netanyahu (in his previous term) and then-Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo,
Wednesday’s event is expected to be low-key, possibly in remembrance of the
previous embarrassing ceremony.
Next to the Em Hamoshava Interchange in
Petah Tikva, in a parking lot by the Sheraton City Plaza hotel in Ramat Gan, and
adjacent to Beit Romano in south Tel Aviv, bulldozers will begin digging three
25-meter vertical shafts through which the mining equipment will be lowered to
dig out the underground section of the lightrail line. Eight machines are
scheduled to dig 10 kilometers of subway tunnels between Jerusalem Boulevard in
Jaffa to Geha Interchange at Petah Tikva.
At the same time, there will be
a change in personalities at NTA – Metropolitan Mass Transit System Ltd., the
government company in charge of the project, after the Finance Ministry revoked
Metro Transport Solutions’s (MTS) concession in 2010. Galit Assaf Shenhar, who
has served as general manager since Yishay Dotan was ousted in June 2010, will
turn over the reins to Yitzhak Zochman, formerly Transportation Ministry deputy
director-general for infrastructure development .
Shenhar ran against
Zochman for the job and will stay at NTA as deputy general manager and
“I am not prepared to forgo the challenge and action,” she told
Globes in an interview.Globes: When will the work begin to embitter the
lives of the Dan Region’s residents?
: “I wouldn’t use the word
‘embitter,’ but I can say that the intensive period of the work will be in 2013-
15 when the tunnels are dug and the train stations are built.”Will you
meet the 2017 deadline?
“We opted for an ambitious, but possible, work plan.
It’s true that it’s difficult to integrate all the contractors working on the
project, but we’re strongly backed by Parsons Brinckerhoff, a global leader in
project management, which will focus on this issue.”Are you worried
about errors and faults?
“We saw and learned from similar projects around the
world. The main lesson is that there will be mistakes, but so long as the
continuity of decisionmaking isn’t derailed, progress is possible.
closely work with a steering committee, and we have the support of the
Transportation Ministry and the Finance Ministry, so I’m optimistic.”In
Jerusalem, the municipality caused many problems for the light-rail franchisee
CityPass. You have five municipalities to deal with.
“We have excellent
relations with the mayors, and they have representatives on the steering
committee. Besides, as a government company, I believe that it will be much
easier for us to get the necessary permits and authorizations.”
Shenhar, 36, has accompanied the Tel Aviv light-rail project since 1998 when she
was a junior worker in the Finance Ministry’s budget department.
then she has been involved in pushing through approval for the route of the Red
Line from Petah Tikva to Bat Yam via Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan and Tel
In 2006, after two years as economic adviser to the
director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office she joined NTA.
MTS, a consortium of Africa- Israel Investments Ltd., Egged Bus Cooperative,
Siemens and Portuguese and Chinese companies won the BOT tender to build and
operate the project for 25 years. NTA’s role was secondary: to promote the plan,
clear infrastructures on the route and engage in information
Over the years, NTA was criticized for wasting resources and
political appointments to its senior executive positions. Most problematic of
all was NTA’s relationship with Mesilot, a transportation consultancy firm. In
1998, shortly after its establishment, NTA handed over responsibility for
managing the project to Mesilot, which is owned by Ami Metom. Mesilot prepared
the tenders to choose a franchisee for the Red Line.
In 2006, the State
Comptroller’s Office was harshly critical of the connection between NTA and
Mesilot, which was supposed to last for one year but had continued for many
years. Over the years, Mesilot had increased the scope of its work
substantially, and its workforce had risen from 12 to 70 employees at salaries
verbally agreed to with NTA.
In total, NTA paid Mesilot more than NIS 300
million, and the work that Mesilot undertook for that huge amount became
virtually worthless, after the government decided to nationalize the project.
When former MK Michael Ratzon became NTA’s chairman, he was amazed to discover
that the government company had no professional capabilities because almost all
its staff and data banks were controlled by Mesilot.
NIS 350 million for coordinating the planning of a project that had not begun,”
“They took out the entire engineering unit from NTA, so
that there were 70 people at Mesilot, and just two at NTA. I warned several
times that we had no control over the know-how.”
In August 2010, the
government decided to cancel MTS’s concession agreement, after it failed to gain
bank financing for the project. In December 2010, the government nationalized
the project and handed it over to NTA. The general manager of a medium-sized
company, Shenhar suddenly found herself in one of the most important and
prestigious management positions in the public sector. Colleagues in the
infrastructures sector raised their eyebrows.
“There is no doubt that she
is talented,” a person familiar with the matter said about her, “but she comes
without any experience in megaprojects or professional knowledge about trains.
No private company would dream of letting her manage a NIS 12 billion
project. This could only happen in public service.”
even Shenhar’s critics admit that she has not done badly in the job. The project
is moving forward as planned; more than 20 international tenders were issued in
2011, and the major construction tenders for building stations and digging
tunnels will be published at the start of 2012.
company Parsons Brinckerhoff has been hired as a senior consultant, mainly to
handle the integration of the various contractors.
NTA’s workforce has
tripled to 100, and its operating budget has grown to NIS 30m.