Getting there is half the battle

While some commuters are optimistic about Israel's first completely subterranean train terminal, the lack of parking above ground has got them steaming mad.

Modiin train st 88 224 (photo credit: Gil Zohar)
Modiin train st 88 224
(photo credit: Gil Zohar)
Israel Railways' Little Engine That Could chugged into the gleaming new Modi'in Central Station Tuesday - four months behind schedule. But for the city of 75,000's long-suffering commuters, the idea of a fast, low-stress commute to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem by high-speed intercity rail remains elusive. Those going to the Big Orange are frustrated that the stainless steel-and-granite temple of transportation has no free parking; those seeking to go to the capital will have to wait until at least 2013 before hearing "All aboard!" Burrowed 30 meters underground, Modi'in Central is Israel's first completely subterranean terminal - its tracks and cavernous concourse lie under Wadi Anabe, which is being landscaped as the city's main park. The new terminus follows the September 1, 2007 opening of the Pa'atei Modi'in station, five kilometers west of the fast-growing city. Work on the NIS 1.5 billion Tel Aviv-Modi'in line included laying double tracks along a 19-km. route between Ben-Gurion Airport and each of the two stations. Travel time between Modi'in Central and Tel Aviv's Hahagana station is 27 minutes. For those venturing beyond Tel Aviv, two trains leave in each direction every hour on the Modi'in-Nahariya line. But the 5,500 daily passengers Israel Railways estimates will use the new station must first be able to get to it. Commuters complain that the Pa'atei Modi'in station has only 320 free parking spaces, and the city's new station - like those in the heart of Tel Aviv - has none. Passengers are expected to be dropped off, explained Israel Railways spokesperson Tali Saranga. Daniella Hellerstein, co-publisher of the English-language monthly ModiInfo, has called the parking situation - or lack thereof - at Pa'atei Modi'in completely intolerable. Because of the lack of parking, frustrated commuters leave their vehicles on the side of the road leading to the station, she explained. Those forced to park along Highway 431 and walk to the station are at risk because the road lacks street lighting or sidewalks, Hellerstein noted. Moreover, she suggested, the Modi'in bus monopoly Connex is providing irregular service to the distant train station since a reliable shuttle would encourage people to use the train and abandon the much slower bus company. In the magazine's November issue, she decried the "train wreck" surrounding Pa'atei Modi'in. "The station should have never qualified for a [permit] under these abominable circumstances." Commuter Oren Adler agreed with Hellerstein that the lack of free parking at the station is "a major problem." "Everyone is saying it will be a real mess," he added. Some residents are more forgiving of kinks in the train service. "The first couple of months, bus service [to Modi'in] was plagued by inefficiency. I would wait for up to an hour. But now the buses are running on a more regular schedule," said David Meltz, who commutes daily to the Airport Authority at Ben-Gurion from Modi'in's Buchman neighborhood. While driving to work takes him 20 minutes, going by bus can take up to an hour. "But it's cheaper to own one car than two," noted the economist. Now that the new station has been built, he plans to walk to the train, no longer relying on Connex. "Taking the train is quite enjoyable. But the bus connections have been a nightmare," said Meltz, who was a regular subway commuter in Toronto, Canada before making aliya in 1993. Ralph Barnett was effusive in his praise for the new station. "I think it's fantastic. It will change the town forever," said the retiree from Manchester who moved to Modi'in last year. On Tuesday, Barnett caught a train to the airport on his way to visit family in Britain. The almost-complete Modi'in Mall shares a traffic circle with the new station. The opening of the two-story shopping center has been repeatedly delayed and is now slated to open June 17, said Shai Greenberg of the Azrieli Group. The mall is part of the Modi'in Municipal Center complex, designed to include the 22,000-square-meter mall, cinemas, an events hall, a rental apartment tower, and office block - and 1,700 parking spaces. Greenberg didn't know how much commuters leaving their cars for the day would have to pay to park at the mall. He attributed the three-month delay in the mall's opening to infrastructure backlogs caused by the Israel Electric Corporation and the Housing and Construction Ministry. "The Modi'in Municipal Center will directly generate 500 jobs in the city, and another 800 indirectly. It will unquestionably improve the supply of commercial, business and entertainment places for city residents," promised David Azrieli, the project's Canadian-Israeli developer. In 1984, Azrieli revolutionized shopping in Israel when he built the first North American-style mall in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. The Polish-born Holocaust survivor had to coin a Hebrew word, kenion, from "buy" and "parking lot." Azrieli has visited the site frequently in recent months with Modi'in Mall manager Pe'er Nadir to check on its progress. The elegant, if unfinished, municipal complex was designed by Canadian-Israeli architect Moshe Safdie - who also drew up Modi'in's visionary city plan, in which all the city's valleys have been preserved as parkland or earmarked for public institutions. The city's development concept - to expand the infrastructure as residents moved in - hasn't quite worked out. Modi'in's cornerstone was laid in 1993, and the city's first families moved into their homes three years later. But it's taken 12 years for the town center and transportation hub to be completed. Road work on Highway 431 to Holon and Rishon Lezion is years behind schedule, while the proposed Highway 45 to the east of the city remains on the planning board - both because of infighting between the various government ministries involved. Meanwhile, as Modi'in has boomed due to the city's central location halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, quality of life and affordable housing, the traffic jams have gotten worse. In December 2003, the city amalgamated with the nearby town of Maccabim-Re'ut. Meanwhile, in 2006, neighboring Modi'in Illit (pop. 35,000) just across the Green Line became the largest Jewish city in the West Bank. Israel Railways' original goal of opening the suburban Modi'in station in December 2006 and the main station a year later was delayed after the discovery of graves along the planned route, said the company's managing director, Ofer Linczewski. Nevertheless, according to the Israel Railways Web site, Israel's train network is undergoing rapid expansion. "The railways can provide an appropriate solution to the nation's transportation distress, to road congestion and accidents, and to the need to preserve the environment." Today, the government agency carries 1,800,000 passengers monthly. Its target for 2010 is to transport 40 million passengers annually, along with 15 million tons of goods. To do that, Israel Railways may need to rethink free parking for commuters.