By MAX SCHINDLER
After years of delay and red tape, the Jerusalem—Tel Aviv high-speed rail is on track to operate within three months, Transportation Minister Israel Katz said on Tuesday.
Amid concerns that the ribbon-cutting would be postponed yet again, the transportation ministry insisted the rail line would open on March 30, the day Passover begins.
“I promised and I delivered,” said Katz in a statement. “On this upcoming Passover, we will allow all the people of Israel to come en masse to Jerusalem on the high-speed rail from Tel Aviv. We are connecting and strengthening the capital of Jerusalem, and we are connecting to the history of Jerusalem.”
The soon-to-be unveiled rail link is expected to reduce travel time between the cities by more than half, cutting the 56-km. (35-mile) trip from the current 70 minutes by bus to a speedy 28 minutes on a train moving at up to 160 kph (99 mph).
The train will be free for the first three months of operation for those with a Rav Kav card.
Initially, the train will run twice an hour between the Binyanei HaUma station opposite the Jerusalem Central Bus Station and the HaHagana train station in Tel Aviv, with a stop at Ben-Gurion Airport. After a few months, frequency will be increased to three trains per hour, with an option to add capacity during rush hour to six trains hourly.
The new Binyanei HaUma station–which will be named for former president Yitzhak Navon–is built to a depth of more than 80 meters below ground level. It could take as long as 15 minutes to enter the building, pass through security, and descend multiple elevators or escalators before boarding the train. The inclined train must come from a station that is far below ground level in Jerusalem to make up for the altitude difference between the mountainous capital and coastal Tel Aviv.
The new, 70,000-sq.-m. station will also function as a bomb shelter. It can comfortably accommodate some 4,000 passengers at one time.
“When I started my job, I instructed the ministry of transportation and Israel Railways to act immediately to advance the high-speed railway in Jerusalem, after four years in which the project was stuck,” Katz said.
Next week, the minister will lead the first test of the train on the tracks between Sha’ar Hagai and Modi’in.
The transportation ministry projects the high-speed rail will see some four million passenger trips in the first year. Construction costs have totaled an estimated NIS 7 billion, or around $2 billion.
Like most public transit in Israel, the train won’t operate on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.