Israel’s long-awaited highspeed rail between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will not open until September or October 2018, despite the originally promised opening date at the end of March, Israel Railways announced on Wednesday.
The rail line, which has been under construction for years, will halve the arduous, traffic-congested route to a speedy 28 minutes between the two cities. But Israel Railways has yet to receive the safety permits for the project.
“Not all the regulatory approvals required for the operation of the line for commercial use of passengers...have yet to be received,” Israel Railways said in its filing to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on Wednesday morning. “Such operation is expected to be postponed by six months, subject to the receipt of all such approvals.”
As recently as last month, Transportation Minister Israel Katz continued to claim that the train would open as scheduled on March 30 – the day before Passover.
Gil Yaakov, the head of the riders advocacy group 15 Minutes, blasted the delay and said the government was already not doing enough for mass transit users.
“The delay in the opening of the high-speed rail line obliges the Transportation Ministry to provide solutions for public transportation passengers who are stuck in traffic jams on the way to Jerusalem,” he said.
“The insistence of Minister Israel Katz not to allocate a [special] public transportation lane [for buses] on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway is puzzling,” Yaakov said, adding: “The travel times in public transportation in Jerusalem are long and do not encourage public transportation.”
The high-speed rail line is the first of its kind in Israel, with construction costs tallying some NIS 7 billion. It would considerably cut back congestion between the two cities and ease commutes, as riders are now stuck on an almost hour-long bus.
Trains would make the 56-km. trip at a speedy 160 kph, with plans to operate six trains hourly during rush hour.
A state comptroller’s report from October 2017 found that the initial March starting date was optimistic – warning that the train may not operate until December 2019 due to difficulties in electrifying railway lines and ceasing the use of diesel locomotives.
The comptroller also opposed plans to expedite construction and cut regulatory corners, saying it could jeopardize the safety and run-up costs.
Earlier this week, Israel Railways said that test runs would begin on the line. Yet construction is still ongoing and a Globes
report from Sunday indicated that utility poles still hadn’t been placed on one of the train bridges.
A spokesman for the Transportation Ministry did not provide comment as of press time, adding that the ministry would publicly address the issue on Thursday.