High-speed Jerusalem railway link faces further delays

On Thursday evening, the Tel Aviv District Labor Court issued an injunction against any further industrial action by the union.

September 2, 2019 00:27
2 minute read.
High-speed Jerusalem railway link faces further delays

Passengers travel on Israel's new high-speed rail line from Ben Gurion International Airport to Jerusalem September 25, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The construction of the high-speed railway line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv has been anything but fast-paced.

The 57 km.-long electrified railway link – Israel’s flagship infrastructure project – has long-promised to connect Jerusalem to the rest of the country. Originally due to open in 2008, the line remains only partially in operation.

Despite assurances by Israel Railways that the train would reach Tel Aviv’s Hahagana railway station – the city’s southernmost stop – by the end of the year, a new labor dispute between the railway workers union and railway management threatens to further delay its arrival.

According to Israel Railways, workers’ union head Gila Edrei has acted in an “aggressive and illegal manner” in recent days, initiating unofficial industrial action that the company says violates a ban issued by the National Labor Court in April.

Actions taken, Israel Railways said, include preventing trial runs of electrified trains south of Ben-Gurion Airport, preventing essential maintenance for electric train engines, coordinated group “sick leave” by freight train drivers, and disrupting the distribution of Push-to-talk Over Cellular (POC) devices to train staff.

On Thursday evening, the Tel Aviv District Labor Court issued an injunction against any further industrial action by the union.

Despite the court’s decision, Israel Railways said a first trial run along the recently electrified rail between the airport and Tel Aviv scheduled for Friday morning would not occur as planned, causing further delays to the high-speed railway link.

The union, however, rejected the company’s allegations that it was responsible for the delays.

“The union is not taking industrial action and is not disrupting work – the contrary is true,” said the union. “We have been warning management for a long time regarding serious failures, shortcomings and deficiencies that are likely to prevent activity further down the line. This is another attempt by the railway management to blame the workers’ union for its own serious failures.”

In September 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-transportation minister Israel Katz inaugurated the partially complete railway, presently shuttling passengers between Jerusalem’s Yitzhak Navon station and Ben-Gurion.

Passengers seeking to travel by train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv currently need to disembark at the airport and then board a regular diesel-powered train.

In July, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich told reporters that the railway would reach Tel Aviv’s Hahagana railway station by September 15. The optimistic target, however, will almost certainly come and go with little fanfare, like many before it.

No date has been announced by Israel Railways regarding the opening of the extended line. When work is eventually completed, trains are slated to reach a maximum speed of 160 km/h (100 mph), and carry passengers between the two cities within approximately 28 minutes.

The project, which has required the construction of nine bridges and five tunnels, is expected to cost a total of NIS 7 billion, more than double its original estimate.

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