An aerial view of a an Israel Railways train..
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The National Planning and Building Commission has
rejected a petition filed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and
other environmental organizations asking to replace a bridge planned
for the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed train line with a tunnel.
The environmental organizations claim the
144-meter bridge will cause irreparable damage to the local ecosystem
of the Yitla Gorge, in the Jerusalem Hills National Park, near Nataf.
They say a tunnel would have little or no harmful effect.
A statement issued by the commission said the replacement route
offered by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority would add two years to
the project. It said it had been convinced that with alterations made
to the structure and design of the bridge, the natural environment
would be protected.
"There is no dispute that the connection of Jerusalem to the
coast with a high-speed train line is a project of huge national
importance," the statement said. "There is also no dispute that the
approved plan is the product of serious deliberations, which included
all the relevant parties and where all alternatives were considered.
"In light of this, and despite the environmental
damage to the Yitla Gorge, the National Commission decided not to
re-examine the approved route, but to change the plan in order to
reduce harm to the river."
In response, the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel
(SPNI) said: "The members of the National Planning and Building
Commission went against the public when they chose the worst option
from an economic, engineering and environmental perspective."
According to SPNI, more than 13,000 people signed
a petition requesting a tunnel instead of a bridge. Independent
examiners who had studied both options determined that the tunnel would
not delay the project or increase the price of the line, SPNI said.
"How sad that while in the rest of the world, decisions
regarding new infrastructures are made while taking into consideration
the impact on nature and the environment, and the options that are
chosen are those that do the least amount of damage, if any, in Israel,
these considerations are still pushed to the sidelines and ignored by
decision makers, despite public support," SPNI's Dov Greenblatt said.
"We hope the publicly elected members of government will show
greater social accountability and instruct Israel Railways to choose
the tunnel over the bridge," he said.
The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed train line was born in 2001
out of a desire to reduce traffic on the roads and offer a necessary
public service for millions of passengers. The line was supposed to be
part of a railroad master plan, which was to eventually network the
The overall plan was budgeted at NIS 20 billion and scheduled
to be completed in 2008. Over the years, as the complexity of the
venture - which includes extensive tunneling and bridges over difficult
terrain - was revealed, the budget ballooned to NIS 29b. and the
estimated completion date was pushed back to 2015. So far only half of
the line, from Tel Aviv to Anava, has been completed.
The 2008 State Comptroller's Report listed a long series of
blunders and evidence of mismanagement on the project. Israel Railways
officials still don't know the final costs.