After first trial run, J'lem light rail may be on track

Full test follows four years of construction, domestic and international criticism.

Light rail in Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Sybil Erlich)
Light rail in Jerusalem 311
(photo credit: Sybil Erlich)
After more than four years of construction and ample amounts of both domestic and international criticism, the Jerusalem Light Rail set off on its first official test run Monday morning, successfully cruising along nearly three kilometers of track from French Hill to the capital’s Rehov Shivtei Yisrael and back.
While the long-awaited rail system will not be making commercial runs until April, Monday’s trial ride was lauded by politicians and rail officials alike.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Yair Naveh, the CEO of the transportation consortium CityPass – which has been building and will operate the rail system’s first line – all had front row seats for the maiden voyage.
Speaking to a crowd of reporters in front of the train at the Shivtei Yisrael stop, Katz explained that the light rail would serve as a strengthening factor for the city, while acknowledging the numerous hardships the track work had created for Jerusalem residents since it began in 2006.
“Jerusalemites have suffered over recent years, but there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Katz said.
“And we intend to invest further, significant sums for the additional development of the train, in the opening up of the entrance to Jerusalem, and the development of a railway from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv,” Katz added.
Barkat echoed Katz’s comments, telling reporters, “The suffering endured by residents of the city has been hard to bear.
“But we have succeeded in motivating cooperation between all of the necessary bodies and the train will get moving soon,” he continued.
“Its inception will only speed things up and streamline the management of the city in a more efficient way.”
The shiny and sleek new cars – each of which has 64 seats but can hold upwards of 200 passengers – are fully air-conditioned, equipped with digital signs to announce upcoming stops and can travel at a maximum speed of 80 kph.
The light rail will also have an automated “smart ticketing” system that will allow passengers to present pre-paid, magnetic cards upon entering each station, before they board the train itself.
Included in the light rail’s Line One – expected to be operational in April – will be 23 permanent stations along the 14 kilometer route, extending from Pisgat Ze’ev to Mount Herzl.
The train will stop at each station for 20 seconds while passengers get on or off.
Strategic advisor for the light rail, Shmuel Elgrabli, who was also on hand for Monday’s test run, detailed the rail’s expected, upcoming developments and described how they would affect public transportation in the capital.
“Our expected date for the opening of the railway’s Line One is April 7, 2011,” Elgrabli told The Jerusalem Post.
“With that first line, we will also introduce six new express bus lines that will go across the city,” he said.
That section of the city’s transportation plan is a “rapid transit” system that will accompany the light rail, Elgrabli explained.
“There will 150 new buses for the six lines and at peak hours, those buses will run every six to seven minutes,” he said.
Overall, Elgrabli said that the new public transportation plans for the city would eliminate what he termed the “Jerusalem spaghetti” of snarled traffic jams and long travel times the capital’s drivers have become accustomed to as the city has grown over time.
“With this new plan, Jerusalemites will become part of the new family of modern transportation that is seen today across Europe,” he said.
“And Jerusalem will become one of the best cities in the country with regards to public transportation.”