Severe planning lapses derail fast Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train

The construction of an ultra-modern express train line between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which would cut travel time between the two cities to less than half an hour, has been essentially derailed after serious lapses in both the planning and budgeting of the project, according to the State Comptroller's Report released Wednesday. The $750 million high-speed train route, which had originally supposed to start running last year is now tentatively slated to be inaugurated at the end of 2014 after repeated construction delays stemming from poor planning, and incorrect budgeting of the mega project, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss wrote. "Many faults were found in the project especially in its planning, budgeting and timetable," the report states. "In essence the project has been stopped." The reports notes that the costs of the construction of the train route before the government decided to go ahead with the project eight years ago were understated by Israel Railways by "billions of shekels," leading to delays in its construction. "Before signing the agreement the government needed to be sure to carry out a thorough check of the economic engineering and legal aspects of the project to ensure that there would not be frequent changes after the agreement was signed," the report says. Faced with the ballooning costs, the Olmert government last year cited "other priorities" for the national budget, leaving the project indefinitely listless. In contrast, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has spoken out in favor of the express train route when he was the opposition leader, with the new government expected to breathe new life into the project. At the start of the project, a prominent American engineering firm, Parsons Brinckerhoff, which planned the original New York subway, had made a conditional offer to fund the new rail line, but the idea was never taken up by the government, and the project was never outsourced despite the subsequent budgetary problems. When it is completed, the express train, which will make stops in Modi'in and at Ben-Gurion International Airport, will be the fastest method of transportation between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. As of last year, the line has only been completed between Tel Aviv and Modi'in, about halfway to Jerusalem, the report says. The route is slated to see the future construction of a 2,400 meter tunnel and a 1,200 meter bridge at the entrance to the capital. Train service between the two cities was renewed in 2005, after nearly seven years when no trains ran at all to and from the capital due to poor track conditions and repeated derailments. The current scenic but slow train ride between the two cities takes nearly an hour and a half. In contrast, bus service between the two cities during non-rush hour periods is about an hour, although the ride can be more than double that during rush-hour or all too frequent traffic jams.