First responders warn of rescue concerns for Jerusalem-Tel Aviv express train
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First responders warn of rescue concerns for Jerusalem-Tel Aviv express train

Experts call for opening of rail link to be delayed as lack of vehicles needed to reach inside tunnels, large numbers of passengers could hamper rescue efforts in major disaster

Construction at the Jerusalem station of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train, December, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Construction at the Jerusalem station of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train, December, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Emergency response units are recommending Transportation Minister Israel Katz again delay the inauguration of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high-speed rail over safety concerns, the Kan public broadcaster reported Friday.

The express train is slated to be partially inaugurated in September after successive delays, but emergency workers told Kan that Israel does not possess the necessary safety vehicles or equipment to respond to a major train accident, especially inside a tunnel.

The high-speed train that will take passengers from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in a brisk 28 minutes runs through five tunnels, for a total of 29 kilometers. The longest tunnel on the tracks is 11.6 kilometers (7.2 miles) long, the longest in the country.

Kan reported on Friday that the Transportation Authority had rejected a recommendation to lay a concrete foundation under tracks, a measure taken to ease access for emergency responders reaching train accidents inside tunnels.

“This is ridiculous. If there’s a disaster, we wouldn’t be able to reach the passengers,” unnamed emergency workers told Kan. “At present, the improvised emergency vehicles are not compliant with standard regulations.”

They estimated the specialized emergency vehicles would not be operational until the end of 2019.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz is seen during test run of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train on January 16, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to Kan, during the construction transportation authorities rejected a bid to provide the specialized emergency vehicles early on because the price was too high.

The report also said the trains were built to carry up to 1,200 passengers each direction, significantly higher that in other countries, including in Europe, where trains are only permitted to carry 600 passengers at a time due to safety concerns.

But the Transportation Ministry insisted to Kan the new train line would not pose a safety risk to passengers, and that dual-use emergency vehicles “fulfilled [security] obligations.”

Katz had promised Israelis the train would be inaugurated by Passover 2018. But in February, Israel Railways informed the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange the long-awaited train would be delayed until September because it lacked the necessary safety permits.

Last week, Katz admitted the train would not be fully operational by September as promised. He said the train would begin routes between Jerusalem and Ben Gurion Airport in September, and the line would be extended to Tel Aviv by the end of 2018.

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