For many Jerusalemites, 28 will soon become a lucky number. At least luckier than 75, which is the average number of minutes it presently takes to travel from the capital to Tel Aviv by bus.
Moreover, the country’s first electric high-speed rail line connecting the two cities – scheduled to be fully functional by March 2018 – will revolutionize transportation in the capital, considerably buttress economic growth and reduce pollutants, a Transportation Ministry official said on Monday.
Batsheva Segev, a ministry spokeswoman, said the NIS 6.8 billion project – which features five tunnels, eight bridges and 57 kilometers of tracks – will reduce travel times between the cities to 28 minutes.
It will also have a stop at Ben-Gurion Airport, long a costly and troublesome destination for travelers who must use private taxis or a sherut (communal minivans) to get there.
“This is beyond a transportation revolution,” said Segez. “It will improve the economy, the environment, and it’s fast. It will allow people to live in Jerusalem and work in Tel Aviv, and help bring government workers and entrepreneurs to the capital with ease to improve the economy.”
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, who meticulously spearheaded the massive project and oversaw its execution – which was delayed for several years due to unforeseen construction considerations, costs and bureaucratic hurdles – described the train as a game-changer.
“This is an amazing project that is being executed by very high international standards,” he said in a statement on Monday. “We will shorten the time from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the holy city and our capital to 28 minutes. After long years of delays, and dealing with debilitating regulation, we can finally see the light at the end of the train’s tunnel.”
Segev said the majority of construction for the project, which commenced in 2010, is completed. The first electric high-speed train in the country will operate with a nominal carbon footprint, she said.
“The tunnels and bridges are finished, and now we are just finalizing infrastructure, electricity and ventilation,” Segev said. “This will be the first electric high-speed train in Israel, which will lower pollution dramatically by not using diesel fuel.”
The twin trains, which will travel up to 200 kph, will be able to carry up to 4,000 passengers an hour each during peak periods, six days a week. While official operational hours have yet to be announced, more than 100,000 passengers could be serviced within one business day.
“It will be closed on Shabbat, but otherwise will function during normal hours with no traffic, reducing commute times from up to an hour and 15 minutes, to 28 minutes,” Segev said.
Built 80 meters below ground level adjacent to Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station, the capital’s subterranean station is one of the world’s five deepest, and it will feature the longest tunnel in the country, she said.
“Among the five tunnels, one is 11.6 kilometers long and took 23 months to complete, making it the longest in the country,” Segez said. “And we had to build 10 total, because there are twin tunnels in both directions to accommodate the two separate trains.”
However, due to the difficulty in digging the tunnels – all of which are fortified with concrete – the project was delayed by seven years, which increased the total budget by nearly NIS 2 billion.
In terms of the eight bridges, Segev said one is nearly 100 meters high and 1 km. long, making it the tallest in the nation.
Despite the prohibitive costs, she said the train will usher in a much-needed economic boon for the capital.
“Not only will it allow people to live in Jerusalem and work in Tel Aviv, and vice versa, it gives a reason for big companies, including hi-tech, to open in Jerusalem,” she said.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who long championed the project, echoed Segev’s sentiments.
“The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high-speed rail will revolutionize the public transportation system in Jerusalem and is an integral part of the capital’s strategic development,” he said in a statement on Monday. “When completed, passengers will be able to travel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 28 minutes and seamlessly connect to Jerusalem’s light rail lines. This will turn Jerusalem into the most accessible city in Israel.”
Barkat said a planned sprawling multibillion-shekel business district the municipality intends to build at the Western entrance to the city, adjacent to the new rail line, will further propel the capital’s beleaguered economy by enticing a plethora of workers and businesses.
“When passengers disembark the train, they will find themselves at the heart of Jerusalem’s new business district, which, at five times the size of the Azrieli Center, will house multinational companies, small businesses and government offices,” he said.