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After virus fast-tracking, Jerusalem express train reaches Tel Aviv’s Savidor

With the rail system still shut, minister says efforts underway to check passengers’ temperatures without causing overcrowding at station entrances

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich inaugurates the new high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv's Savidor, at Yitzhak Navon train station in Jerusalem on May 11, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich inaugurates the new high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv's Savidor, at Yitzhak Navon train station in Jerusalem on May 11, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Monday inaugurated the extension of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high-speed train, which was fast-tracked thanks to coronavirus regulations that closed the rail system.

At the opening ceremony, Smotrich said there were plans to buy 24 more electric trains.

“The existing systems are very old and the maintenance is poor,” the transportation minister said, according to Channel 12 news. “The new trains are cheaper, quieter and greener. There will be far fewer glitches and delays.”

With the rail system still shut, Smotrich said there were efforts to find a way to take passengers’ temperatures without causing excessive congestion at the entrances to stations.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich inaugurates the the new high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv’s Savidor at Yitzhak Navon train station in Jerusalem on May 11, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

His ministry came under fire a day earlier when there were long lines and overcrowded conditions at bus stations as soldiers returned to their bases after the weekend, using public transportation routes still running at a limited capacity due to the pandemic.

The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train made its first trip from Navon Station in the capital to Hagana station in south Tel Aviv in December.

Monday’s opening marks the addition of two extra stops within Tel Aviv — Savidor and HaShalom. The fast train is expected to reach Tel Aviv University and the suburb of Herzliya to the north sometime this year.

The long-anticipated direct fast train began operating 18 years after the project began and 11 years after its originally scheduled completion date.

The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem train seen seen outside of Jerusalem, December 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The new line significantly shortened the commute between Israel’s two largest cities, but until now only went as far as the Tel Aviv Hahagana station in the south of the city.

The project to electrify the track as far as the central Tel Aviv station was completed using funds specially designated to allow infrastructure projects to be carried out while the streets were relatively empty due to the lockdown.

Work on the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem light rails were also accelerated under the specially approved budget, with the former not even expected to inaugurate its first line until mid-2022 and the latter plagued with delays as it seeks to extend its already existing line.

The empty Yitzhak Navon train station in Jerusalem April 23, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Construction to expand the fast lanes in central Israel’s Ayalon highway also took place while traffic slowed to a trickle, thanks to NIS 54 million ($15 million) from the approved budget. Other highways that enjoyed a jolt in their work for lane expansions included routes 2, 4 and 5.

Smotrich pushed for infrastructure workers to be included among those the government deemed essential personnel so that they would be allowed to continue working, as the vast majority of Israelis were ordered to remain at home amid the lockdown.

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