The new electric, high-speed train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv — which currently only goes as far as Ben Gurion Airport — began regular operations Tuesday, with the first journey setting off at 7 a.m.
Seventeen years after the project to construct the rail line was launched, the first passengers traveled on the route from the new Yitzhak Navon Station (outside the Central Bus Station), which runs from Jerusalem to the airport in only 21 minutes. The train runs every half hour. And the good news is that the journey is currently free.
The Israel Railways website promises, “As of the inauguration date of the line and for a 90 day period thereafter, traveling from the Yitzchak Navon Train Station in Jerusalem will be free of charge to any destination in Israel and back — only for those passengers purchasing a trip contract (train ticket) on a personal or semi anonymous Rav Kav card at the Yitzhak Navon Train Station in Jerusalem.”
Tickets bought online or at any other station other than Yitzhak Navon are not free. And to ensure a place on the train, passengers require a voucher. These can be ordered online or bought at Yitzhak Navon Station.
Trains from the station currently only reach one destination, Ben Gurion Airport. Passengers will need to switch trains at the airport to continue their journey.
Taking into account that transfer, as well as the 10 minutes it takes to get from the surface entrance of the massive stone and granite station in Jerusalem down to the platform via three escalators and some stairs, the trip to Hashalom Station in central Tel Aviv will now take around 45 minutes.
In the coming months the line will be extended, first to Tel Aviv’s stations and eventually to Herzliya. Up to four trains will run each hour, in both directions, (depending on time of day), traveling at up to 160 kilometers (100 miles) per hour.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Israel Katz took the first trip on the train to inaugurate the line.
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.
The train, which is supposed to link Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in under half an hour, has been long awaited by travelers who until now have had only a slow rail ride that meandered through the Jerusalem hills on an old Ottoman-era track and took over an hour.
Even the shortened maiden voyage was five months late — opening day was originally scheduled for the Passover holiday in April. And that’s not to mention the original estimated completion date, which passed years ago.
Jerusalem’s platforms — like those of the famous underground stations in Moscow — are located 80 meters (260 feet) below ground, making them among the five deepest in the world.
There is a wi-fi connection down there, but it is shaky.
The project was conceived in 2001, at an estimated cost of around NIS 3.5 billion ($978 million). Works began in 2005, only to be halted by environmentalist opposition until 2009. Tunneling recommenced in 2012. The final cost amounts to around NIS 6.5 billion ($1.8 billion).
The hilly section from Jerusalem to Latrun has five tunnels and several miles of bridges, which afford dramatic views of the Jerusalem hills.
To maximize security, the entire length of the railway is fenced and monitored with CCTV and other devices. Every worker requires security clearance to enter the site.
Israel Railways is currently building a branch that will connect the new fast rail link to the city of Modiin, between Jerusalem and the airport, via the Paatei Modiin station.
Katz has said he wants to extend the line inside Jerusalem to the Old City and to name the final stop for US President Donald Trump.
Sue Surkes contributed to this report.