An Israel Railways train..
(photo credit: ISRAEL RAILWAYS)
Beset by cancellations, overcrowding and now infighting, commuters on Israel Railways have endured a roller coaster ride in recent months.
Three months after the first passengers boarded the electrified railway link, currently shuttling riders between Ben-Gurion Airport and Jerusalem’s Yitzhak Navon station – heralding “a new era” in transportation according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – it seems to many that it only heralded a new era of delays.
The CEO of Israel Railways, Shahar Ayalon, looks set to become the first high-profile casualty of the ongoing problems affecting the high-speed railway line and overcrowding across the network, in addition to a third quarter loss of some NIS 273 million.
On Monday, the board of directors at Israel Railways discussed bringing Ayalon’s tenure to an end after two years at the helm, with a final decision due to be taken in two weeks.
Since the launch of the pilot stage of the incomplete high-speed link in September, there have been 12 significant disruptions to the timetable due to technical problems affecting both the track and the trains’ electric engines. The latest cancellation this week led to a war of words on Monday between Transportation Minister Israel Katz, Ayalon and workers of Israel Railways.
After Katz suggested that workers may have deliberately contributed to the faults on the line due to disputes with the workers’ groups, Ayalon told Army Radio that he rejected any such claims.
“The workers are putting in great effort, working on the railways on Fridays and Saturdays, and working in rain or sun,” Ayalon said. “Our workers are loyal.”
According to Ayalon, Israel Railways is currently facing a shortage of approximately 150 train carriages to adequately fulfill the demand of the network, but does not have the resources at its disposal to order the necessary infrastructure.
“The employees have nothing to do with the problems on the new line,” the Israel Railways workers committee said in a strongly-worded response to Katz’s remarks.
“The Minister of Transportation, Israel Katz, and the railway management know this very well. On the contrary, workers are giving their all in order to cover up decisions and failures, even those made by other companies. Blaming the workers for all of this is the lowest you can get.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Israel Railways sources downplayed the scale of the issues faced by the new railway line.
They said the frequency of malfunctions on the new railway line was relatively low and decreasing, affecting just 4% of scheduled trains and that, despite their best efforts, disruption is to be expected during the pilot stage of the line.
Due to the nature of Israel’s railway network, which features one key line through the center of the country, even minor disruptions can lead to major delays due to the knock-on effect generated down the track.
With Ayalon’s sacking looking inevitable, whoever steps into his boots at the Israel Railways Lod headquarters in 2019 will adopt a network that has gone off the rails, is lacking resources and facing a severe customer confidence crisis. The train system’s new conductor will be hoping for a smoother ride.
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