Knesset expected to approve Jerusalem’s light rail service

Police, firefighters, and medics receive special training ahead of opening; limited service to begin April 7.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
March 23, 2011 05:46
4 minute read.
Light Rail firemen

Light Rail firemen311. (photo credit: Arik Nisimov/Jerusalem Firefighters)

The Knesset Economics Committee is expected on Wednesday to approve beginning partial service on Jerusalem’s light rail, which would operate for a symbolic fee along the capital’s Jaffa Road starting as early as April 7.

According to reports, the public will be allowed to ride the train for a 2.5 kilometer stretch on Jaffa Road for a fee of one to three shekels, to help the public acclimate to the train and ease congestion in the downtown area. The trial period could cost the state upwards of NIS 10 million.

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The rail has been going through a testing period that is required by law, and is set to end on April 7. The transportation minister can extend the testing period by six months, for a total of 12 months.

Metuna, a road safety organization, released a scathing criticism of the light rail ahead of the Knesset meeting, calling on the transportation minister to extend the trial period until October to allow for further testing.

Metuna claims that there are official estimates that between 10 and 30 people would be killed by the light rail in its first year of operation. Both the Jerusalem Municipality and the Transportation Master Plan have strongly refuted this claim.

Metuna’s director, Mordechai Feder, said that the temporary fence along the light rail path and the security guards at intersections have been successful in preventing any pedestrian injuries, but both of those security measures will eventually be phased out.

Feder called on transportation officials to maintain the temporary security measures.

“There’s no reason for 10 or more people to be sacrificed in name of the architectural purity of Jaffa Road,” he said.

As the light rail comes closer to becoming fully operational on August 8, transportation officials are working to train the city’s emergency services and policemen to respond to emergency situations along the rail’s 13.8 kilometer path.

Ten Jerusalem firefighters recently returned from a trip to Dublin, where they received practical training about operating emergency equipment around the light rail from Dublin firefighters. Dublin has exactly the same light rail model as Jerusalem, making it an ideal city for training.

Two months ago, when firefighters ran tests on Jaffa Road soon after it was closed to traffic, they were frustrated with the long delay posed by the electric wires that supply the train with power.

Currently, if the Fire and Rescue Service needs to turn off the electricity to raise a ladder to a building on Jaffa Road, someone from the train company must travel to the area of the incident and manually turn the electricity off.

In the best situation, it can take at least 20 minutes for a train official to come from the nearest depot. In the case of a large-scale terrorist attack or other emergency that blocks roads, this could be even longer, creating a deadly delay.

In Ireland, emergency services are able to alert the train company about the area of the accident, and the train officials can remotely shut down the electricity to that area. Assaf Abras, the Jerusalem firefighters spokesman, said the firefighters are working with the relevant engineers to implement the same system in Jerusalem.

“We haven’t solved all of the existing problems but we’re working with the committees to solve the problems and raise our concerns,” said Abras.

He added that the firefighters would be meeting regularly with representatives from light rail operator CityPass and the municipality between now and the proposed August start date to iron out problems with the electricity, traffic, and other safety and security concerns.

“It’s a process, and there are solutions, we’re progressing slowly,” he said.

Abras said he was “hopeful” that all of their conditions could be met before trains became fully operational in August.

Additionally, volunteers with United Hatzalah, a rescue organization whose members use motorcycles and private cars to respond to emergencies across the city, received special training about how to drive along the light rail path while trains are in operation.

After Jaffa Road was closed to traffic in January, United Hatzalah volunteers were banned from traveling on Jaffa Road, which significantly hindered their ability to respond to incidents in the downtown area.

Following a Jerusalem Post investigation, the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan connected with United Hatzalah and decided offer the special training to their volunteers. Ambulance drivers from Magen David Adom had already received the same training.

Fourteen accident investigators with the Jerusalem Police recently completed a special course about how to investigate accidents involving the light rail.

“This type of accident has a totally different behavior than any other vehicle,” said Jack Dadon, the security and safety adviser to the Transportation Master Plan. “The braking signs, the braking distance, the damage to the track itself, everything is different,” he said.


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