'8-year delay on J'lem-TA railway line was avoidable'
By RON FRIEDMAN
The 2009 state comptroller’s report looked into the operations of Israel Railways and focused on two main issues – the construction of the rapid train line between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and customer service on Israel’s trains.After dedicating a special report to the long-delayed project in May 2009, the current comptroller report reiterates many of the earlier findings and adds new ones discovered since.According to the comptroller’s report, the project, which aims to cut rail travel time between Israel’s two major cities to 40 minutes, has more than doubled in costs from NIS 3.18 billion when it was estimated in 2004, to estimates of NIS 6.79 billion in 2008. When the government approved the project in 2001, it was scheduled for completion in 2008. In June 2009 Israel Railways, estimated it would be complete in 2016.The main findings of the new report is that Israel Railways failed to comply with the National Planning Authority’s requests for detailed plans, including environmental surveys, external coordination reports and reports identifying critical processes that could lead to delays.The report found that had those documents been provided, the approving authorities would have been alerted earlier to the major delay that was caused by legal and procedural processes surrounding the choice of the project’s route.The report determined that the whole project had been delayed by eight years over a disagreement between the train company and environmental organizations over whether the track would cross a certain section by digging a tunnel as environmental organizations wanted or by constructing a bridge as Israel Railways proposed.The State Comptroller’s Office recommended that in light of the failures, the Transportation Ministry, the Finance Ministry and Israel Railways should avoid making the same mistakes in future projects by ensuring that projects are approved only after all the planning processes, environmental assessments and budget estimates were complete.Israel Railways was also inspected for its level of customer service since being privatized in 2003. The comptroller’s report found that the company’s rapid growth over the last decade had compromised its standards of customer service. The report determined that the trains are too full during peak hours and are too often behind schedule, and that too many runs are canceled.Most of the criticism in the report was directed towards the Transportation Ministry, the train company’s regulator. The report stated that the ministry had not established or effectively enforced the regulations ruling the operation of the trains and had not set customer service standards for things like train availability and service standards, nor had it presented the sanctions the company would face for non-compliance.The report recommended that Israel Railways set up ordinances forhandling customer complaints, improved information distributionmethods, better handicap access at its stations, increased parkingavailability at stations and greater schedule compliance, especiallyduring peak hours.“The steps should be taken to make sure that the reasons for thetrain’s operations, namely savings in labor time, cutting down ontraffic jams, reducing accidents and reducing environmental harm, bemet,” read the report.
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