Hallelujah! J’lem’s light rail to finally roll

‘Operation Passover’ under way to clean tracks for train’s opening.

Jerusalem Light Rail (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem Light Rail
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
After more than a decade of headaches, delays, dashed promises, fighting, legal procedures and a start date that kept getting further and further away, the miracle of transport by light rail is almost upon Israel’s capital city.
The light rail in Jerusalem is expected to finally begin operations next Friday, August 19, contingent on receiving the final safety clearances.
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“We’re still doing some fine-tuning before the start, but we’re ready,” said a City- Pass spokesman, Ozel Vatik.
CityPass is the conglomerate that is in charge of the train’s operation. CityPass had termed the last week before the train’s opening “Operation Passover,” and were doing a Passover-level cleaning of the entire light rail system, including scrubbing the tracks and removing all the graffiti on the new bus stops.
But a source familiar with the light rail’s operation expressed pessimism that the train would begin next Friday as promised. According to the source, the train still lacks final approval from the Independent Safety Assessment due to some problems with sensors, which make it difficult for the control center to know the exact location of each train. The problem is serious enough that it could keep the train from receiving the ISA before the end of next week.
CityPass will deploy hundreds of workers during the first few weeks of the train’s operation in order to explain the automatic ticketing system and answer passenger questions.
Vatik said in an ideal situation, the train’s start date would be pushed off for an additional month. Fighting over who would get preference at intersections, the train or cars, led to a yearslong delay in updating the traffic lights to give preference to the trains. CityPass has only updated 20 of the 100 traffic lights along the train’s route as of this week.
This means that at peak travel times, the train will also suffer from traffic jams, and it could take up to three times as long for a train to complete the route from Pisgat Ze’ev to Mount Herzl as it would on the regular route when the traffic lights are updated. Vatik estimated it would take two or three months for the company to update the remainder of the traffic lights.
A major overhaul of the bus lines, which would change more than 50 routes, was planned to be rolled out simultaneously with the light rail but was pushed off until the traffic lights are updated and the train runs on a normal schedule.
When the traffic lights are updated, trains will depart every five minutes. For the first few months, trains will depart every 10 to 15 minutes.
“There’s lots of excitement and lots of expectations,” Vatik said on Thursday. “We need to show the public that this is really something different, something that will really improve the city,” he said.
“Because it’s vacation time, we think a lot of people will come for the experience, which is great, we like that.”