Shapira: Transportation national plan, updates of railway system necessary

Comptroller report calls for expedited renovation of the country’s rail system.

Israel train (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel train
Transportation officials must advance a national plan for ground transportation as well as expedite the renovation of the country’s rail system, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira argued in his most recent report.
The government has allocated large budgets for the development of transportation projects, including the construction of rail tracks, electrification of the train system and development of roads throughout the country. Yet while these projects are of utmost importance to the country, those tasked with realizing the plans are failing to do so in a timely manner, according to the state comptroller.
In 2010, the government decided to implement the Netivei Israel Plan, allocating NIS 27.5 billion over 10 years to integrate a national plan for ground transportation. The main projects include the establishment of infrastructure for intercity ground transportation from Kiryat Shmona and Nahariya in the North and Mashabei Sadeh and Eilat in the South – with two-thirds of the budget for the establishment of additional rail lines and the electrification of the country’s rail system.
From June through December 2013, the State Comptroller’s Office examined the implementation of the government’s decision, as well as the involvement of the Transportation Ministry, the Finance Ministry, Israel Railways, Netivei Israel – National Transport Infrastructure Company Ltd. and other relevant bodies.
Among the specific failings in the transportation system is the absence of a master plan. While the Transportation Ministry was tasked with formulating such a plan and submitting it to the National Council for Planning and Building by the end of 2011, the ministry has yet to do so, the report said.
Another deficiency is the lack of progress on developing a fourth train track in the country’s Center, which would reduce the bottleneck of trains in the region, the state comptroller wrote. In addition, a frequency has not yet been approved that will enable the operation of a new train signaling system – designed to regulate the movement of the trains and increase the capacity of existing tracks, until the completion of the fourth one, Shapira said.
With regards to electrification of the national railway system, Shapira described how implementing this “flagship project” of Israel Railways could shorten travel time, reduce train failures, decrease air pollution and optimize patterns.
Yet “despite its strategic importance, and despite the well-known complexities of the project, the staff members did not perform effective planning,” the state comptroller argued. There have been many flaws in design, cost estimates and timelines for implementation, the report added. By the conclusion of the state comptroller audit, project plans were still far from completion, and had still not been approved in the National Infrastructure Committee, the comptroller added.
Also, the state comptroller investigated the operations of NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System, the firm responsible for the construction of the Tel Aviv region’s Red Line. Shapira said building an improved system “is essential to the public and the economy, due to the great congestion on metropolitan roads,” as citizens are losing work hours worth millions each year.
The comptroller found many deficiencies in the management system of NTA, as well as in the company’s tender and manpower recruitment systems, and ordered the firm to improve its performance. The transportation and finance ministries also must monitor the company’s activities to ensure the project succeeds.
On the Jerusalem Light Rail, Shapira stressed that the Transportation Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality must examine the system’s conduct and work to better serve the public.
Regarding the country’s plans for its national transportation system, the state comptroller emphasized the importance of approving an integrated national master plan for land transportation, as well as making the railways as efficient as possible.
The comptroller called upon the Transportation Ministry and government companies to increase rail capacity as well as to complete lines running from the periphery to the center.
“Despite the strategic importance of the program, there appears to be significant lag time in meeting project deadlines,” Shapira said.
In response, a statement from the Transportation Ministry said that all the deficiencies identified by the state comptroller are either now repaired or in the process of being repaired.
“It should be noted that the Transportation Ministry took on an action of unprecedented scale, which has not been seen for several decades, and naturally there are areas that need strengthening and improvement,” the statement said.
The ministry stressed all railway programs are being fully implemented and the train system is being developed in an unprecedented manner.
Regarding Jerusalem’s Light Rail, the ministry said that a year-and-a-half ago, a regulatory and safety department was established designed to handle the train’s safety and regulatory issues.
In conjunction with professional bodies, the ministry is developing a new public transportation system for Jerusalem in particular, which takes into account public need analyses and surveys, the statement continued.
“The ministry continues to monitor the various results and arrange surveys and studies to determine the success level of these measures and will bring about additional improvements to the public transportation system,” the ministry said.