Jerusalem light rail delayed again - to Sept. 2010

Watchdog blasts government over skyrocketing costs.

jerusalem light rail 298 (photo credit: )
jerusalem light rail 298
(photo credit: )
After years of repeated delays and derailments, the long-planned Jerusalem rail project will begin running in just over two years, city and project officials said Monday. The announcement that the much-touted light rail system would inaugurate service by September 2010 came less than a week after the government's main watchdog lambasted the state's role in the project, and infrastructure work began on Jaffa Road for the project, snarling traffic and further aggravating business owners in the area. The light rail system will begin a trial run for four months before the official start date, said Yair Maayan, director-general of the Jerusalem Municipality at a press conference at the site of the light rail garage. Earlier this year, Maayan had said the service would begin by April 2010. The NIS 4.2 billion project, which is being jointly funded by the Transportation Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality, is the first of its kind in Israel. Last year, officials confirmed that the city's long-awaited light rail project, which was originally set to begin running in 2006 and has been repeatedly delayed, had temporarily stalled due to a lack of manpower and first-time construction problems. Recent problems included incorrect tracking installed on the line on a main thoroughfare near the city's Mount Herzl military cemetery, which has since been ripped out and redone. "Jerusalem residents have to pay the price that they are the first to get a light rail system," said Ya'acov Cookie Adari, the director-general of the CityPass conglomerate, which is constructing the project. In a report issued last week, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss found that the government incorrectly estimated the public sector's investment in the project, which has soared from NIS 500 million in 2000 to NIS 1.3 billion as of the end of 2007, 130 percent above projections. The state comptroller's investigation into the Jerusalem light rail ended before a compromise was reached between the government and CityPass, under which the government paid NIS 150 million for the delays. Meanwhile, the infrastructure work under way for the light rail on Jaffa Road is slated to last up to 20 months, Maayan said. "The whole light rail project was established by [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert and you see what corruption he is mixed in," said Jaffa Road kiosk owner Uzi Itcher. "Our whole business is being destroyed." Another business owner, who declined to provide his name, said that if the project emerges as a success, then the short-time losses would eventually be overcome. When it finally gets off the ground, the revolutionary transportation project is meant to ease traffic congestion and reduce smog and improve access to the city center. The inaugural line, the nearly 14 kilometer "red line," will run from the northern neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev to Mount Herzl via the city center, with 23 stops along the way. Last year, Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat called for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate the repeated delays in the city's light rail project, although his proposal was never taken up by city or state officials.