Barkat may stop J'lem light rail project

After the first two lines, Jerusalem mayor wants to replace rail network with modern buses.

light rail construction 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
light rail construction 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is proposing to cancel the Jerusalem light rail project after the first two lines are completed, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that he wants to replace the rest of the planned rail network with buses. Barkat said the modern buses would be "a fifth of the price and much easier to deploy" than the light rail that has snarled Jerusalem's roads for five years and is three years behind schedule. Barkat also said he is pressuring the contractors to have the first two lines up and running by the end of 2010. Barkat, who is on his first visit as mayor to the United States, revealed his plans ahead of a stop in San Francisco on Sunday, where he met with local business, hi-tech and Jewish community leaders. "It was a bad plan, poorly executed. That's the inheritance I got," Barkat said of the light rail. "Now, naturally, the first thing I do is to focus on improving the plan and fixing the execution. "To improve the plan, first I fundamentally change the way we work with the people who are building the train and the interests of the government with the municipality. "We are focusing on fixing and focusing the builders on the critical path of where most hurts the residents and fix that, and condensing the time where extremely necessary, and that's changing the way we work with the people on the first line," he said. "In parallel, I'm now focusing on the next two, three lines. I believe they are going to be different, fundamentally very different in the deployment - both route and technology. Today there are much better technologies than trains - for example, BRTs, Bus Rapid Transport, which are long buses a fifth of the price and much easier to deploy. "I cannot sign on it yet, but most likely those routes will be BRTs and not trains. [They are] much faster to deploy and they provide practically very similar, if not the same [results]. We are now working on those plans and I believe that with new, fresh thinking we could probably converge on a network that will serve the city faster, easier and cheaper," he said. But Barkat said it was too early to determine when the whole network would be operational. "I cannot 100% predict the relationship with the people building [it]. If they play ball and converge, the massive work could be finished by the end of this year and the system could start working by the tail end of 2010. "I cannot sign on it because it doesn't all depend on us. It could be done. I'm not willing to sign on it yet. We still have some issues to resolve with the contractors," he said. The writer is the Jerusalem correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle.