Foreign transit executives tour Jerusalem light rail – a signal of change?
An increasing number of mass transit firms are seeking to gain Israeli technical know-how despite the intractable political situation and ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.
By MAX SCHINDLER
Mass transit executives from around the world took the tram last week as they attended the International Association for Public Transport’s Light Rail Committee Conference in Jerusalem, a sign that many international companies no longer object to the Israeli railway crossing the Green Line.The mostly European and American guests rode on the light rail Red Line – which snakes across Jerusalem west-toeast – and visited the depot in the eastern French Hill neighborhood, learning how an Israeli operator, Connect Jerusalem Ltd., manages the line’s complexity in a multicultural and tumultuous security environment.It is unclear if the delegations’ visits will translate into tenders to build and operate Jerusalem’s second light rail project, which will run north-south from Gilo to Mount Scopus, also crossing into east Jerusalem. As of July, no international firms had applied for construction tenders, many over legal concerns that the line will cross into east Jerusalem, Haaretz newspaper reported, although Eran Schechtman, general manager of Connect JLRT - Jerusalem Light Rail, said that visiting executives had expressed interest.“A lot of people are coming to tender for the Green Line,” Schechtman told The Jerusalem Post. “They see that we connect Jerusalem, the eastern parts to the western parts, we give service to everybody without discrimination.”In the past, multinational companies have demurred from applying for tenders to build over the 1967 Green Line because it is deemed “occupied” territory by the international community. Companies such as Veolia Environment S.A. and Alstom Transport initially operated the Jerusalem light-rail Red Line, with Veolia selling off its stake after being targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.Foreign ambassadors have also refrained from attending groundbreaking ceremonies for infrastructure in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. In May, the Transportation Ministry had to cancel a tour for European diplomats to see the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed rail since one of its tunnels traverses the West Bank.Yet last week’s international delegation showed how an increasing number of mass transit firms are seeking to gain Israeli technical know-how despite the intractable political situation and ongoing conflict with the Palestinians.Advertisement“They got a very good impression of Jerusalem and how the light rail changed how Jerusalem looks and acts. They came to learn how to operate the train successfully in such a complex city like Jerusalem, with Jews, Muslims and Christians, tourists, and how we do this operation in a seamless way despite the conflicts coming into play on a daily basis,” said Schechtman.“They wanted to see Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, which is an example for how to construct a train which blends into the environment with pedestrians.”Firms visiting Israel hailed from the US, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Belgium, Estonia, Portugal, Norway and Switzerland.Many of the operators worldwide are managing railways that are much older and more complex than Israel’s.The second planned light rail line, aptly named the “Green Line,” will also include expanding the existing Red Line to the Neveh Yaakov neighborhood in east Jerusalem and to Hadassah Hospital. The project is set to be completed around 2022 or 2023, according to Schechtman.