Plans for hike-and-bike path along old railway near Jerusalem get initial okay

Mateh Yehuda Regional Council allocates NIS 5 million to begin planning for new tourist attraction on scenic Ottoman-era rail route between capital and Beit Shemesh

An illustration of a proposed hike-and-bike along abandoned train tracks between Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. (Mateh Yehuda Regional Council / Israel Lands Authority)
An illustration of a proposed hike-and-bike along abandoned train tracks between Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. (Mateh Yehuda Regional Council / Israel Lands Authority)

An initial budget of NIS 5 million ($1.34 million) was approved this week to begin planning for a new hike-and-bike trail on an Ottoman-era train track that runs between Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, originally part of the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway.

Abandoned train stations along the track will be converted into rest areas and observation points according to the plan, pushed forward by the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council, an administrative body that serves towns and areas to the north and south of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.

The plan, filed with the Israel Lands Authority, is part of a wider proposal for a tourism and leisure center on the existing railway, abandoned years ago, that hopes to draw domestic and international tourists with the suggested bike trail, promenades, and other outdoor recreational activities.

The proposed route for the hike-and-bike trail is about 33 km (20 miles), connecting Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, and will run mostly on land that falls within the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council. The original track section, currently used informally by mountain bikers, curves through the hills between the two cities and is famed for its spectacular views as well as its steep and meandering course.

The aim is to open up access to what will still be quite a challenging route to more casual bikers and hikers, with a paved cycle path that will connect with the national Israel Bicycle Trail. Old stations at Bar Giora and Shorak along the route are set to become tourist information centers and rest stops with food and beverage trucks.

The overall project is expected to cost NIS 30 million ($8.06 million).

Bar Giora Rail Station on the disused rail route between Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. (Photo by Ldti, Wikimedia Commons, Attribution License

The proposed development of the hike and bike trail will be the first inter-city cycle route to be developed along Israel’s train tracks.

Michal Naor Vernik, who led the development of the scheme on behalf of the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council, said in a statement: “The idea of converting a rail track into a path for travelers and cyclists has been realized in a number of different places around the world, and I am happy to be pushing forward with the first project of its kind in Israel.”

Inner city developments along old tracks were completed years ago.

In Jerusalem, the urban Train Track Park offers seven kilometers of trails inside the city, also making some use of the abandoned Ottoman tracks from the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway. In recent years there have been threats to the space from the modern demands of extensions to Jerusalem’s light rail network.

The old terminals of the railway in Jaffa and Jerusalem were turned into recreation centers over a decade ago.

Yankee Quint, director-general of the Israel Lands Authority, said the project “aims to restore the historic train route to Jerusalem to its former glory as part of the unique mosaic that merges the views of the Jerusalem mountains and the history of the region.”

Once completed, the proposed park will welcome “family trips and lovers of extreme sports, so that we can all enjoy it and at the same time preserve the surrounding nature and protect it,” he added.

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