Jerusalem light rail 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Unless there are more unexpected last-minute surprises, Israel’s first urban
light-rail line will begin operating on Friday. This historic event will not be
accompanied by any celebrations, ribbon- cutting ceremonies or arcane speeches
by politicians. Despite their well-known lust for such events, Israel’s
politicians have learned that after so may breakdowns, flaws, delays and
disappointments, they will take no risk with the Jerusalem light
The Jerusalem light rail that will finally leave the station on
Friday is a mere shadow of what the government promised the capital’s residents.
Although this is only the initial period, after which the train is supposed to
achieve its promised performance, no one knows if that will happen in weeks or
Meanwhile, the light rail will crawl on tracks from Pisgat Ze’ev
in the north, along Jaffa Street in the city center, to Mount Herzl in the west.
The train will need one hour and 10 minutes to make the 13.8-kilometer journey,
compared with the 42 minutes promised in the contract between the government and
the franchisee, CityPass.
The biggest problem is the headway – the
waiting time for the next train. It is supposed to be four to five minutes
during peak hours and eight minutes in off-peak hours. In practice it will be
10-12 minutes. This means that the light rail will be unable to carry all the
passengers waiting for it, and it will offer no better service to Jerusalem’s
residents than Egged buses.
The situation is further complicated by the
fact that as long as the train does not meet its frequency requirement, there is
no point in replacing the current bus routes with a network of feeder lines to
the train, which would only funnel passengers to a train that cannot pick them
The reason for the huge difference between promise and performance is
the “smart traffic lights” system that is supposed to guarantee the light rail
priority at intersections. CityPass claims that needless bureaucratic demands by
the Jerusalem Municipality and the Transportation Ministry delayed the
installation of the smart traffic lights.
The municipality and ministry
naturally blame CityPass, claiming that it knew about the requirements in
advance but did not prepare in time.
CityPass asked to again postpone
commercial operation of the light rail by two more months, but the arbitrators
in its dispute with the government rejected the request.
Last month, the
arbitrators set August 19 as the launch date, come what may.
also fed up by the endless delays in getting the train on track. City- Pass has
been working feverishly to install the smart traffic lights, but only 20 of the
60 lights are in place to date.
Worse still, the pace of installation
will slow to a crawl when the light rail begins commercial operations; CityPass
estimates that it will take several months until all the smart traffic lights
The headway problem is not the only big problem. Last week
it was discovered that the bus and train tickets are not synchronized. Only a
few weeks ago it was decided that the NIS 6.40 train fare will be valid for 90
minutes for a bus.
But a trial run discovered that trains cannot read bus
tickets and vice versa.
Even though nothing prevented solving this
problem weeks ago, the Transportation Ministry dragged its feet until the last
moment, and now the faults will be there for all to see.