Eco protests could further delay Jerusalem-TA high-speed rail link

Proposed change to the route submitted by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel could delay line by 4 years.

train works 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
train works 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A high-speed train link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv could be delayed by four years if a proposed change to the route submitted by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel is approved, Yaron Ravid, manager of control and coordination for Israel Railways, said on Thursday. Construction of the railway, currently set to be completed in the first quarter of 2016, has been halted between Latrun and Mevaseret Zion due to a dispute over the planned 144-meter Bridge 8 over the Yitla gorge, which would connect two tunnels in the Jerusalem Hills National Park, near Nataf. "This could add another three to four years. If the committee accepts the green alternative, we will need to start from the beginning," Ravid said. Construction of the bridge would cause unnecessary destruction of nature, which could be avoided if the connection were built underground, beneath the Yitla Stream, said SPNI spokesman Dov Greenblat . "All we want is to put the bridge underground," he said. "The bridge, if above ground, would destroy nature in an area that is unique and important." Israel Railways brought SPNI's proposal to German infrastructure and transportation consultant group DE-Consult, which rejected it, saying it would increase costs and create problems with operating the train lines. "It's only a sketch," Ravid said of SPNI's proposal. "[Our] bridge can be built tomorrow... The plan is approved and we don't want to open it again and go back to the beginning. Then we lose money and time." Israel Railways has attempted to get the representatives of green groups and representatives of the Environmental Protection and Agriculture ministries banned from next Tuesday's National Building and Planning Council meeting in the capital. Prof. Ezra Sadan, a former director-general of the Finance Ministry, engineer Rami Manor and architect Tamar Darel-Fossfeld will chair the committee that will report its findings to the Interior Ministry. Israel Railways lawyers sent a request to council head Gavriel Mimun on Tuesday asking, among other things, that representatives of the Nature and Parks Authority, SPNI, the Jewish National Fund, and the two ministries be barred from the meeting. SPNI and the Agriculture Ministry scoffed at the company's "ridiculous" request and urged Mimun to reject it. A follow-up hearing is scheduled for June 23, and a Parks and Reserves Council meeting on August 4, where a decision will be made on whether to okay the bridge.