Israel Railways hopes Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train to open soon

The high-speed train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem made its first test run in January 2018.

By YVETTE J. DEANE
August 12, 2018 11:46
4 minute read.
Israel Railways hopes Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train to open soon

Transportation Minister Israel Katz stands next to the electric locomotive that hauled test train on January 15, 2018. (photo credit: SYBIL EHRLICH)

 
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The much-awaited Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high speed train is slated to begin service on the eve of Sukkot, a senior official of Israel Railways said on Sunday.

This comes after months of delays set the opening back more than half a year.

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“The goal is to open the line on the eve of Sukkot,” said Rafi Shemer, deputy director for Israel Railways, in an interview with Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster.

While Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz ordered Israel Railways chairperson Dan Harel not to eliminate or cut railway services because of the new train, a track will be closed between the Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion Airport stations for one week at night to complete the construction, Ynet reported.

“We started the electrical work of the express line to Jerusalem,” said Shemer, but “because of the electricity work, there is no choice but to close a track.”

The high-speed train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem made its first test run in January 2018. Katz had promised that the line would open on the eve of Passover even though the route was not yet complete.

Railway service cuts to Karmiel were approved in early August as well, despite Katz’s insistence these lines should not to be harmed.

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“The railway to Jerusalem is a national project of supreme importance for strengthening Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, and everything should be done in order to put it in motion,” Katz said recently. “At the same time, connecting the outlying areas in the Galilee and the Negev to the center, including the railway to Karmiel, is an important goal I have promoted and am still promoting against great opposition. It must not be harmed.”

These cuts follow near accidents that were caused by the pressure of the opening date, Globes reported. Globes previously reported alleged deviations from safety rules on the project, for example when locomotive drivers entered tunnels on the railway tracks without having standard communications devices.

The original start date for the line was the eve of Passover, March 30. But the train has been long awaited with its initial plans first announced in April 2001.

Israel Railways’ management previously admitted that electrification work on the section between Mishmar Ayalon and the Hagana Railway Station was one of the main risk factors and was liable to cause postponement of the project’s completion.

Katz announced that Israel Railways’ management would consider partially opening the railway in July, but the obvious question would be why initiate a partial opening. The answer is the continuing pressure.

“Were I an advisor to the Minister of Transportation, I would tell him to stop talking about September, and I wouldn’t tell him to talk about March, either. The pressure is really strong; I hope that this pressure does not cause any loss of life at some stage and does not lead to typical Israeli overconfidence, with something being opened followed by problems two days later.

“I have no doubt that they still need several months in order to prepare the complete infrastructure of three trains an hour to Jerusalem. Right now, it seems like science fiction,” a source told Globes in July.

Another factor that could cause a delay in launching the new line is special requirements of rescue and evacuation vehicles. Such vehicles for the railway tunnels have to be capable of traveling on the railway tracks in case the train gets stuck, for example in the middle of an 11-km. tunnel.
Following an expose by Globes in February, the opening of the high-speed line was postponed because it turned out that not all of the regulatory approvals required to operate the line for commercial passenger use had been obtained. Israel Railways was optimistic and said that test journeys were already taking place. At the same time, Israel Police chief spokesperson Merav Lapidot said, “We will not endanger the passengers’ lives merely in order to allow the line to be opened on time. A railway cannot operate without having a rescue and evacuation solution.”

The cost of the high-speed train to Jerusalem, the Ministry of Transport’s biggest project, is estimated at NIS 7 billion. The line is designed to connect Israel’s capital to the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and the central region, thereby relieving traffic congestion. The planned duration of the journey on the fast line from Tel Aviv to the Jerusalem International Convention Center, the last stop on the line, which will be 80 meters beneath ground level, is less than 30 minutes.

The project began in 2001. Following a series of managerial mistakes, however, its completion was postponed from 2008 until 2017 and then again to March 2018. The line is 57-km. long, including 32 km. of new tracks from Kfar Daniel to Jerusalem, and a series of nine bridges (3-km. long) and five tunnels (19-km. long). This system is designed to facilitate a direct, continuous and rapid journey.

Amiram Barkat, Sonia Gorodeisky/Globes and Sybil Ehrlich contributed to this article.

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