Knesset panel to hold emergency discussion on high-speed train woes
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Knesset panel to hold emergency discussion on high-speed train woes

Economic Affairs Committee to review series of mishaps on new multi-billion shekel line from Jerusalem that have seen trains delayed or halted mid-journey

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

A partial view of the train platform at the new high-speed train station between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, at the Yitzhak Navon Railway Station in Jerusalem on September 20, 2018. (AFP / THOMAS COEX)
A partial view of the train platform at the new high-speed train station between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, at the Yitzhak Navon Railway Station in Jerusalem on September 20, 2018. (AFP / THOMAS COEX)

The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee is to hold an emergency debate about persistent problems in the newly inaugurated high-speed train line from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion Airport after three consecutive days of failures which caused delays and, in once incident, left hundreds of passengers stuck in a tunnel.

The committee, chaired by Zionist Union MK Eitan Cabel, will convene on Wednesday morning to discuss the line and its impact on other services around the country.

On Tuesday several trains were delayed due to technical issues, the latest in a series of malfunctions to plague the new rail. The holdups came after two days of numerous train delays and cancellations. On Monday evening a train was forced to stop on the tracks while inside a tunnel.

Days of glitches and malfunctions have brought on public criticism that the line may have been launched before it was fully ready.

MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) at the Knesset, June 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In addition, due to a lack of available carriages and electric engines to form the trains, some have been taken away from other routes, in particular the coastal line — which had to reduce is regular service of four trains an hour to just three, leading to overcrowded carriages.

Announcing the planned committee meeting, Cabel said that the project had turned out to be “one of the biggest failures of recent years”

“Every day that passes we understand that the train to Jerusalem is an election farce and nothing more,” he said in a statement, referring to the opening ceremony for the line held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz last month. “Netanyahu and Katz chose a PR image on the escalator over the the lives and safety of the passengers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Minister of Transportation Israel Katz at the opening of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv express train, September 20, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The train opened at the end of September after years of delays with promises of bringing relief to passengers who previously had to endure a ride between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that could take as long as two hours each way.

But the route from Jerusalem currently goes only as far as Ben Gurion Airport, with the line only expected to be extended to Tel Aviv in several months.

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 has amounted to around NIS 6.5 billion ($1.8 billion).

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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