A controversial plan to place a train station in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City and whisk tourists from Ben-Gurion Airport to the Western Wall may have a controversial name attached to it: Donald Trump.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said a planned train station would be named after US President Donald Trump, who earlier this month recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and vowed to move the US embassy to the city.
Katz’s plan, currently in the initial planning stage, involves extending the upcoming high-speed Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train line to the Old City. The plan would involve constructing two underground stations and excavating over two miles (three kilometers) of tunnel beneath downtown Jerusalem and under the politically and historically sensitive Old City. The Western Wall is the holiest site where Jews can pray.
Transportation Ministry spokesman Avner Ovadia said Wednesday the project is estimated to cost more than $700 million and, if approved, would take four years to complete.
Katz’s office said in a statement that the minister advanced the plan in a recent meeting with Israel Railways executives, and has fast-tracked it in the planning committees.
Katz said a high-speed rail station would allow visitors to reach “the beating heart of the Jewish people — the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.” He proposed naming the future station after Trump “for his brave and historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital” earlier this month.
The final plan for the train, which will link Jerusalem to Ben-Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv, includes a three-kilometer underground tunnel from the International Conference Center at the entrance to the city. In addition to the Western Wall station, the train will also stop in the city center, near the intersection of King George and Jaffa streets. The tunnel will be 52 meters below ground to avoid disturbing sensitive archaeology.
Katz, who is also intelligence minister, defined the project to extend the train line as “the most important national project in the Transportation Ministry.” He instructed his ministry to give it priority in terms of planning and budgeting.
Nevertheless, because the tunnel will go underneath the Old City it is likely that there will be archaeological discoveries as workers dig, and each one could derail or severely delay the project.
In an address earlier this month from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue. He described his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
The move was hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
In May, Trump became the first serving US president to visit the Western Wall.
The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem rail project, which is already projected to cost an estimated NIS 7 billion ($1.8 billion) and has been in planning since 2001, is expected to cut travel time to 28 minutes, down from 78 minutes on the old line built during the days of the Ottoman Empire.
The trains will reach speeds of up to 160 kph (100 mph). When fully operational, they will depart every 15 minutes in each direction, carrying up to 1,000 passengers.
Construction work had been expected to be completed by the end of 2017 with the train was slated to begin operations for passengers in time for Passover, in April 2018.
However, a State Comptroller’s report released in October found the high-speed rail line could be delayed by nearly two years.