Cheers at light rail test run over J'lems’s Strings Bridge

Bridge is one of most emblematic symbols of oftdelayed, costly light rail project; officials say trains crossing bridge important milestone.

Jerusalem light rail on bridge 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem light rail on bridge 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
An enthusiastic cheer went up at the entrance to Jerusalem at midnight on Monday when the sleek new light rail train began to move toward the Strings Bridge, the large white cable-stayed structure that thrusts into the sky over the intersection of Rehov Shazar and Sderot Herzl.
The bridge is one of the most emblematic symbols of the oftdelayed, costly light rail project, and officials said that having trains cross the bridge was an important milestone that heralded “the beginning of the end” of construction.
Forty yeshiva high school students tore across the busy junction, cheering and whooping as they got to the bridge just as the train started to move. “We wouldn’t have missed this for anything!” said one.
It took a full two hours for the first train to cross, as engineers stopped every meter to take readings and make sure all was running smoothly.
A specially-designed truck pushed the first train over the span, allowing exact measurements to be taken.
They were “static tests,” allowing the engineers to measure weight and stress on the structure.
Despite the anti-climactic crossing, the affair took on the air of a latenight party. Engineers who have worked on the bridge for years walked around with huge smiles, shaking hands and giving each other backslapping hugs. Nearly 100 people gathered to watch the train inch along, though they went home before it had gone more than 10 meters.
“We’ve already done a lot of tests, and we know that what we’re putting on the bridge tonight is peanuts compared to what the bridge could actually carry,” said Baruch Gover, the project manager of the 360- meter-long structure. No chance there would be any problems, Gover predicted confidently. “I’ve been waiting six years for this,” he said with a grin.
The Light Rail Project has drawn strong criticism from Jerusalem residents, who point to the dramatic, sweeping bridge as a symbol of the initiative’s grandiosity and poor planning. The investment totals NIS 3.5 billion. The bridge itself cost NIS 250 million.
The light rail has proved a huge disruption in central Jerusalem, and the downtown merchant’s committee is involved in several lawsuits in an effort to recover some of their losses.
Originally slated to start operating in 2007, the project is now scrambling to meet an April 7, 2011, finish date.
Officials are confident they’ll meet the new deadline, though significant work remains to be done.
In the next few weeks, the trains will conduct “dynamic tests,” with trains moving at faster speeds on the Strings Bridge and on Sderot Herzl.