Seventeen years after construction began on the high-speed railway line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Israel Katz will officially inaugurate the long-awaited route on Thursday – or, more precisely, part of it.The 57 km.-long electrified railway link that has promised to connect Jerusalem to the rest of the country for years, and solve the daily transportation woes of many commuters, will welcome its first passengers at 6:31 a.m. on Tuesday, but from Ben-Gurion Airport rather than Tel Aviv.Originally due to open in 2008, Israel’s flagship infrastructure project has been plagued by repeated lengthy delays and soaring costs. With electrification work still ongoing between Tel Aviv stations and Ben-Gurion Airport, it was decided to open the railway partially next week.
“This is a historic moment,” said Netanyahu ahead of boarding the train at Jerusalem’s new train station named after Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon.“The moment has arrived after a tremendous effort by the Israeli government, the Transport Ministry and all the authorities that have worked on this. It truly is a new era,” Netanyahu added.“It truly is a historic moment... and a day of celebration for Jerusalem,” said Katz. “Particularly at this time when there are those seeking to undermine the affinity of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, we are connecting Jerusalem and connecting to the history of Jerusalem. The railway line will be named after King David.”The electric railway line, the first in Israel, has required the construction of nine bridges and five tunnels. When complete, the railway is expected to cost in the region of NIS 7 billion, more than double its original estimate.No date has been announced regarding the opening of the full Jerusalem-Tel Aviv line, although authorities expect electrification work on the remaining Ben-Gurion Airport to Tel Aviv line to be completed in mid-2019.Although Katz previously promised the railway would open in March, the inauguration was postponed until September. The delay was officially attributed to the project’s failure to meet safety requirements required by emergency services.When work is eventually concluded, trains are slated to reach a maximum speed of 160 km/h (100 mph), and carry passengers between the two cities within approximately 28 minutes. Until then, those wishing to travel by train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv will need to disembark at Ben-Gurion Airport and board a regular diesel-powered train.MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) dismissed Thursday’s celebrations at Jerusalem’s new train station.“A celebratory inauguration for a half-finished project,” said Cabel. “The main thing is that Netanyahu will take credit for a project that is far from finished, suitably only a moment before elections.”Initially, two trains per hour will run between Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion Airport from Sunday to Thursday between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., taking between 20-25 minutes to complete the journey.Following the partial opening of the new line, passengers will be able to enjoy free journeys from Jerusalem for 90 days, but will need to order online one of a limited number of train tickets in advance and be in possession of a Rav-Kav travel card. Only 400 tickets will be available for each train.Once complete, the new railway line will complement the existing, slower railway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.Trains traveling on the 19th-century Ottoman-built railway take approximately 80 minutes to arrive at their final destination at Jerusalem’s Malha railway station, far from the city center. Many commuters have therefore opted to travel by car or bus.In December 2017, Katz announced early-stage construction plans to eventually extend the rail link to downtown Jerusalem and the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, not far from the Western Wall.A Transportation Ministry spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post that the project to extend the line could be finished within five years after receiving preliminary approval from the National Infrastructure Planning Committee.Katz said the future station near the Western Wall will be named after US President Donald Trump after his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Israel Katz visits the construction site of the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem fast rail, September 9, 2016 (Reuters)