Rushed work on Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast link causes concern

A number of sources told Globes that in recent weeks the pressure has been causing near accidents during work on the line.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz stands at one of the five tunnels dug to accommodate the country’s first high-speed electric train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. (photo credit: TRANSPORTATION MINISTERY)
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz stands at one of the five tunnels dug to accommodate the country’s first high-speed electric train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.
(TNS) - Concern is growing about work accidents on the high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway line, with enormous pressure being exerted to finished the work by the Sukkot holiday in late September, as promised by Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz.
A number of sources told Globes that in recent weeks the pressure has been causing near accidents during work on the line. Among other things, there were cases in which employees were almost electrocuted or run over. One of the sources, a manager in one of the contracting companies working on the projects, said, "There are so many concerns working on the railway line here - infrastructure contractors (Spanish construction company Semi, S.G. and A.B.), Israel Railways, signals concerns, and many other levels - that there were many cases of near accidents of electrocution and running over. For example, it happens when people enter sections they should not enter - a moving locomotive or the railway's test railcart." Globes previously reported alleged deviations from safety rules on the project, for example when locomotive drivers entered tunnels on the railway tracks without having standard communications devices.
The original opening date for the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem line, Israel Railways' current flagship project, was on the eve of the last Passover holiday in late March, but Israel Railways announced at the last minute a six-month postponement in the timetable as a result of safety requirements by Israel Police and rescue and evacuation forces independently of Israel Railways. As reported by Globes, the engineering work on supervising the railway is still far from completion.
"Completion of the work on time is science fiction"
Israel Railways' management previously admitted that electrification work on the section between Mishmar Ayalon and the Haganah Railway Station was one of the main risk factors and was liable to cause postponement of the project's completion. An Israel Railways senior executive even said, "We're committing suicide on this section."
Professional sources working on the project said that while the first section of the high-speed railway between Mishmar Ayalon and Jerusalem was almost ready, the second section ending at the Haganah Railway Station was nowhere near completion because of problems in preparing the electrification infrastructure - the bridges in this section were built previously without preparation for electrical poles. Employees of Israel Railways and Semi are now working hard on preparing them.
Furthermore, the work being done on this segment (between Mishmar Ayalon and the Haganah Railway Station) is being conducted on the active railway tracks, which makes continuous work impossible; work can only be done when the line is shut down for short periods. For example, Israel Railways yesterday announced the closing of the section of tracks for a period of time between Modi'in and Ben Gurion Airport because of infrastructure work for assembling the electrification systems.
It is now clear that in order to meet the timetable repeatedly announced by Katz, Israel Railways' management is considering the possibility of partly opening the section that is ready. This option includes traveling on the electrified train from Jerusalem until Mishmar Ayalon, where the electric locomotive will be replaced by a diesel one. This exchange will take 10-15 minutes, provided that it goes smoothly with no malfunctions.
Jerusalem - Tel Aviv railway opening delayed six months
The most obvious and logical question is why the line has to be partially opened with all the resulting complications, instead of waiting for all the work on the line to be completed. "Were I an advisor to the Minister of Transport, I would tell him to stop talking about September, and I wouldn't tell him to talk about March, either. The pressure is really strong I hope that this pressure does not cause any loss of life at some stage and does not lead to typical Israeli overconfidence, with something being opened following by problems two days later. I have no doubt that they still need several months in order to prepare the complete infrastructure of three trains an hour to Jerusalem. Right now, it seems like science fiction," the source declared.
Opening the line full of malfunctions and postponements
Another factor that could cause a delay in launching the new line is special requirements of rescue and evacuation vehicles. Special rescue and evacuation vehicles for the railway tunnels have to be capable of traveling on the railway tracks in case the train gets stuck, for example in the middle of an 11-kilometer tunnel. The Israel Railways tender for the rescue vehicles was published only a month ago, with three vehicles being ordered. At the same time, if one of the losers in the tender files a court petition, something that happens quite often in infrastructure tenders, the launching of the new line could be delayed still further.
The cost of the high-speed train to Jerusalem, the Ministry of Transport's biggest project, is estimated at NIS 7 billion. The line is designed to connect Israel's capital to the Greater Tel Aviv metropolitan area and the central region, thereby relieving traffic congestion. The planned duration of the journey on the fast line from Tel Aviv to the Jerusalem International Convention Center, the last stop on the line, which will be 80 meters beneath ground level, is less than 30 minutes. The project began in 2001. Following a series of managerial mistakes, however, its completion was postponed from 2008 until 2017 and then to March 2018. The line is 57 kilometers long, including 32 kilometers of new tracks from the Kfar Daniel to Jerusalem and a series of nine bridges (three kilometers long) and five tunnels (19 kilometers long). This system is designed to facilitate a direct, continuous, and rapid journey.
Following an expose by Globes in February, the opening of the high-speed line was postponed because it turned out that not all of the regulatory approvals required to operate the line for commercial passenger use had been obtained. Israel Railways was optimistic and said that test journeys were already taking place. At the same time, Israel Police chief spokesperson Merav Lapidot said, "We will not endanger the passengers' lives merely in order to allow the line to be opened on time. A railway cannot operate without having a rescue and evacuation solution." Lapidot added, "The police is not the bottleneck in this project. The railway is operatively unable to fulfill its promise to begin commercial operation of the line."
Israel Railways said in response, "Israel Railways is acting with determination to complete the high-speed railway to Jerusalem with all of its various elements. No safety events of the type mentioned have occurred."
©2018 the Globes (Tel Aviv, Israel)
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