Train now

Transportation Minister Israel Katz should be commended for the work he has done on highways throughout the country, but unfortunately the same cannot be said about the trains.

July 3, 2018 21:39
3 minute read.
Train now

A bridge, part of Israel Railways' Jerusalem High Speed Link project, is seen near the Israeli town of Modiin July 7, 2012. . (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)

After years of planning and continuous delays, the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high-speed railway was finally supposed to begin operations before Passover, back in April. But then Israel Railways declared a six-month delay, only recently announcing that the start date will likely be September 23.

It now seems though that this date is fluid. A labor dispute announced by the Israel Railways workers’ committee combined with ongoing electrical work on the line appear to once again be pushing the train off schedule.

Adding to the frustration of commuters was the news that even if the train starts September 23, Israel Railways is planning on operating only a single train every hour (in each direction) and is going to make passengers reserve tickets online and not at the station like with every other train in the country.

Why? Because the train stations in Tel Aviv are not equipped to handle four trains an hour as originally planned. That will take even more time.

This situation is intolerable. The high-speed railway has been under construction since 2001 and is supposed to replace the existing, slower railway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trains traveling on the existing 19th-century Ottoman-built railway, which winds between picturesque hills, take approximately 80 minutes to arrive at their final destination at Jerusalem’s Malha railway station, pushing most commuters to opt for car or bus.

The new high-speed railway is supposed to take less than half an hour and will eventually cost some NIS 7 billion, more than double its original estimate.

The fact that in 2018 Israel’s two largest cities are still not connected by modern transportation is ridiculous. In Western countries, the continuous delays and mishaps during work on a line like this would have led to the likely dismissal and resignation of key officials. But not in Israel. Here, failures are met with apathy, and delays with just more delays.

In Israel’s first decades, it was understandable that infrastructure was not the nascent state’s top priority. Israel was under constant attack from its Arab neighbors, and any available budget or resources needed to be spent on weapons.

Thankfully though, that is no longer the case. Israel is a country that still faces significant threats and challenges along its borders, but has the economic means and capital to upgrade infrastructure throughout the country. And when the government wants to get something done, it knows how to. Anyone who drives up north or down south can see the changes that have taken place to the country’s highways compared to the way it was 10 years ago. Route 6 is one perfect example.

The same applies to Israel Railways, which inaugurated a train station in Ra’anana this week, the second for the city, whose population is less than a tenth the size of Jerusalem. In other words, Jerusalem – Israel’s so-called eternal capital – does not yet have proper rail service. But Ra’anana, a city a fraction of the capital’s size, has two stations.

The time has come for the government to start taking this more seriously. Transportation Minister Israel Katz should be commended for the work he has done on highways throughout the country, but unfortunately the same cannot be said about the trains.

The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train needs to become a national priority. Beyond making it easier to traverse the country, the train has the potential to help keep people in Jerusalem instead of seeing more residents leave the capital to live near where they work in the center of the country, as has been the trend in recent years.

Since its establishment 70 years ago, the country has dramatically changed. It is today an economic and military superpower and home to some of the world’s greatest innovators and thinkers. A fast train connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is long overdue. The delays must stop.

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