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Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train to launch, but it’s slow and won’t reach Tel Aviv

PM, transportation minister to attend inauguration ceremony in capital’s new station despite line only reaching Ben Gurion airport; full track to open in several months

Benjamin Netanyahu boards a train from Tel Aviv to Beersheba on November 13, 2012. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu boards a train from Tel Aviv to Beersheba on November 13, 2012. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

A decade after it was first scheduled to begin service, the high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was set to open Thursday with much fanfare — though it won’t be traveling fast and it won’t make it all the way from the capital to Tel Aviv, at least not yet.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Israel Katz will officially inaugurate the line with a maiden voyage from the capital. However, if they wished to actually reach Tel Aviv they would be forced to disembark at Ben Gurion Airport and switch from the state-of-the-art electric train to regular diesel lines running from the airport to the coastal city.

The completed line should eventually allow travel between the two cities in under 30 minutes. But electric infrastructure has only been completed up to the airport and the track to Tel Aviv is not likely to fully open before 2019. Additionally, due to heightened safety precautions, trains will be traveling at a reduced speed.

Planners evidently miscalculated the time it would take to complete construction of the tracks in Tel Aviv, which — unlike those between the airport and Jerusalem — follow a railway route that is already in use, meaning that work has been limited to nighttime so as to avoid disruption to travelers.

Conceived in the 1990s and originally scheduled to open in 2008, the project has suffered from multiple delays since construction eventually began in 2009.

A bridge on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train route, July 2017 (Gidi Avinary/Flash90)

For now, passengers will be able to enjoy a journey of 21 minutes from Jerusalem’s Yitzhak Navon Station, just outside the Central Bus Station, to Ben Gurion. But they will need to register for tickets online in order to bag a seat on the single train per hour in each direction.

Israel Railways has reportedly been under intense pressure from the Transportation Ministry to complete at least part of the project by the Sukkot holiday, in line with promises by Katz.

Before the celebratory train ride, a short ceremony will be held at the Jerusalem station, attended by Netanyahu, Katz and Israel Railways officials.

The line had previously been slated to open by March, but was delayed by the need for further security checks.

An October 2017 report by the state comptroller had been highly skeptical that the train would be operational by that date, warning that cutting corners to finish the project in the spring could reduce the quality of the work, compromise safety, and lead to an overall increase in the costs of the project.

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