Capital light rail to roll August 19

Arbitrators say stop lights will have to be reprogrammed later; CityPass predicts traffic jams until signals can be coordinated.

Jerusalem light rail 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem light rail 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
After rumors that the light rail’s start could be delayed as long as January 2012, transportation officials made a surprising announcement on Wednesday: Independent arbitrators ruled that the train must begin service in approximately five weeks, no later than August 19.
Officials from CityPass, the conglomerate that runs the train, originally placed the start date after the holidays in the fall, owing to the fact that 100 traffic lights still needed to be reprogrammed to give preference to the trains. Only two traffic lights have been reprogrammed so far.
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Late on Tuesday night, arbitrators ruled that the train must start operation without preference from the traffic lights, as the state had requested.
CityPass called the decision a “shame” and said it would lengthen the time of the train’s route from one end to the other from 40 to 80 minutes, pointing out that the train would now suffer from rush hour and traffic jams.
“The residents deserve the best product and not a train that stops at every traffic light,” said CityPass spokesman Ozel Vatik, adding that CityPass was going to ask for a delay of “just one more month.”
A source within CityPass said that updating the traffic lights would take a month without passengers, but once the train begins to carry passengers it could take months to possibly years to update the traffic lights and install the necessary sensors.
Shmuel Elgrabli, the spokesman for the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan, a partnership between the municipality and the Transportation Ministry, dismissed this time frame as a threat, and said he expected the traffic lights to be updated within 14 weeks.
“We are happy about this decision for the residents of Jerusalem, and we believe that CityPass will do what they need to do to fulfill their obligations, and the state and the municipality will help in any way they can, but there also isn’t a lot left to do,” Elgrabli said.
Elgrabli estimated the official launch date for Jerusalem’s round of transportation reforms – which include a light rail running at full capacity, and changes to more than 50 bus routes – will take place around Sukkot. For the meantime, bus routes will continue to run as normal in addition to the light rail.
After three requests for delays that stretched the light rail’s start date from 2007 to August 2011, the current start date has a good chance of being the actual start date, said officials from both CityPass and the state.
While the train has not yet received the necessary safety certificates from international light rail experts, the arbitrators were confident that the certificates would be awarded shortly.
The only other issue left to resolve is the question of security along the light rail, which is the responsibility of the Transportation Ministry and the Israel Police. No plan has yet been presented for the number or frequency of security guards.