Jerusalem light rail project being delayed yet again

Now slated to begin running in the summer of 2011.

light rail construction 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
light rail construction 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
In what has become almost routine, the international conglomerate that is carrying out construction of the city's repeatedly delayed light rail system is seeking an additional nine months to complete the project, officials said Sunday. The latest in a series of repeated delays and derailments has been rejected by officials, although it remains unclear how the government can force the City Pass Conglomerate to meet the earlier deadline, aside from punitive measures. "We have completely rejected the request for a further delay and expect City Pass to meet its previous commitment to complete the project by September 2010," said Shmuel Elgrably, spokesman for the light rail project. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Sunday that the severe operational and planning delays in the project were inherited from the previous city administration, adding that work has been speeded up since he took office six months ago. "The municipality is doing everything it can within the limitations to speed up the project," Barkat spokesman Evyatar Elad said, in a written response. He added that the city was studying how best to proceed with future lines in the transportation project. Barkat had previously said he would examine the entire project's feasibility and would consider cheaper, more effective alternatives to the light rail system, including the use of environment-friendly buses. The light rail builders said Sunday that the previous municipal leadership was responsible for the delays. "Throughout 2008, the previous municipality caused delays of many months in the work, which are the cause for the delay in the timetable," City Pass spokesman Gil Singer said in a written response. Singer cited delays in work permits, infrastructure issues and archeological digs along the route of the rail line as the cause of the latest postponement. He added that the situation had since changed under the new city leadership, and that the conglomerate will do "everything possible" to complete the project "as soon as possible." The NIS 4.2 billion project, which is being jointly funded by the state and the Jerusalem Municipality, is the first of its kind in Israel. The light rail, which was originally slated to be running by now, stalled almost as soon as work began due to a lack of manpower and first-time construction problems, which included tracking installed incorrectly on the line on a main thoroughfare near the city's Mount Herzl Military Cemetery, which has since been ripped out and redone. In a recent report, 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 1.3b. as of the end of 2007, 160% above projections. When it finally gets off the ground, the revolutionary transportation project is meant to ease traffic congestion, improve access and reduce smog in the city center. The first 14-km. line will run from the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev to Mount Herzl via the city center, with 23 stops along the way. But in the meantime, it has created daily traffic problems for Jerusalem motorists, and turned many parts of the city, including its major downtown commercial street, Jaffa Road, into a big, dusty and virtually inaccessible construction site.