On the heels of a political tussle over Shabbat train work that briefly threatened to bring down the government, Israel Railways on Sunday announced closures to several Tel Aviv stations later this month in order to complete construction work on the much-delayed new train line to Jerusalem.
Infrastructure work on the new high-speed train link between the two cities will see Tel Aviv’s Savidor, University and Hashalom stations closed shortly after midnight on Monday, September 19, and reopen Tuesday, September 27 at 5 a.m., the rail company announced on its website Sunday (Hebrew link).
Only Tel Aviv’s Haganah station will remain open, leaving the country’s financial hub bereft of almost all train service.
The changes will temporarily halt the express train between Tel Aviv and Haifa, and alter half a dozen other routes across the country including ones connecting Beersheba, Netanya, Herzliya, Hod Hasharon and Jerusalem to the economic center of the country.
In an effort to alleviate heavy traffic delays, Israel Railways said buses would be available to commuters during those dates at a number of Tel Aviv train stations.
Israeli commuters were treated last week to a preview of what delays may await them when infrastructure work shut down several train lines, forcing some 150,000 travelers to find alternate routes and creating traffic headaches.
Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are less than 70 kilometers (44 miles) apart but are currently served only by a winding 90-minute railway line on a route designed during the British mandate.
Road traffic can be badly congested at peak times, with the journey taking up to two hours.
Following many delays and budget breaches, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz last month announced the project was on track for its slated opening in early 2018.
Katz, who in recent weeks has been embroiled in a political tussle with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over work on the train line on Shabbat, told journalists last week the new line is an important part of the “public transport revolution” underway in Israel.
At peak times, there will be four trains an hour in both directions. The service will also stop at Ben Gurion International Airport, 10 kilometers east of Tel Aviv.
Israel Railways director Boaz Tzafrir has said 4,000 passengers are expected during rush hour, 50,000 per day and more than 10 million a year on the new service.
A January report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on the Israeli economy concluded the country’s railway infrastructure is underdeveloped in relation to high population density, leading to significant congestion.
Trains comprise just 6 percent of public transport, compared to 30 to 60 percent in many other OECD countries, the report said.
In recent weeks, Katz has publicly sparred with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for ordering a stop to repairs on the state-funded rail lines on Shabbat, after ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to topple his coalition if work continued on the Jewish day of rest. The order led to mass transportation delays across the country and sparked protests by angry commuters.
As with much other public transportation in Israel, trains do not run from Friday afternoon to Saturday night, but repair work considered vital has generally been allowed with the government’s approval.
Last Tuesday, The High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction permitting Israel Railways to continue work on Shabbat, nullifying Netanyahu’s controversial order to halt the work.
Later last week, Labor Minister Haim Katz said Israel Railways would resume weekend work on the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem line, and added that employees who prefer not to work on Shabbat would be allowed to opt out.