Regev aims to replace state company building Tel Aviv metro due to light rail delays

Transportation minister says she will take major project away from firm currently constructing both systems, saying it has run over budget and missed deadlines on overground lines

Construction of the new Tel Aviv Light Rail, the Red Line, Allenby station, in Tel Aviv, September 13, 2021. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Construction of the new Tel Aviv Light Rail, the Red Line, Allenby station, in Tel Aviv, September 13, 2021. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Transportation Minister Miri Regev said Tuesday that she informed the government-run company building Tel Aviv’s new subway and light rail systems that the metro portion of the project will be moved to another body due to excessive delays and mismanagement.

The inaugural Red Line of the Tel Aviv overground light rail, which will travel from Petah Tikva to Bat Yam via Tel Aviv, was slated to open last week. But Hebrew media reports have indicated that the opening, already delayed by several years, may be pushed to July.

According to the reports, Regev will ask the government on Sunday to approve stripping the Metropolitan Mass Transit System, better known as NTA, of responsibility over the metro system, which will include three metro subway lines to complement three overground routes — the latter of which are called the red, purple and green lines.

Instead, she may hand the reins to Netivei Israel — The National Transport Infrastructure Company, which has traditionally focused on highway construction.

Regev announced the move after visiting a construction site for the Red Line and hearing of safety issues that were preventing it from opening on time.

Among the reasons given for seeking the switch several years into the project are the delays and what Regev said are cost overruns of NIS 3 billion ($828 million), according to a statement from her office.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev holds a press conference in Jerusalem, on April 19, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Regev said the light rail was not in working order “due to numerous malfunctions that disable the train” and that there have not been five consecutive days during the trial run in which it has worked without malfunctions.

“The decision will allow NTA to focus entirely on the Red Line, the Purple Line and the Green Line, so that the mistakes of the Red Line are not repeated on the other lines.”

Responding to Regev, NTA cited “the unique experience” its accumulated from working on the light rail and said “it would not be right” to put another company in charge.

“It’s appropriate that this decision be made after orderly discussions with the company and a presentation on the consequences of this decision on the advancement of the project,” it said in a statement quoted by the Ynet news site.

According to Channel 13 news, NTA earlier said that the Red Line could be ready to open already by May 15 but a problem with the emergency braking system has still not been resolved. The company said the problem has been significantly reduced but still does not meet safety standards.

Other problems, it said, include faults in a variety of systems that impair the reliability of the train’s performance, the signaling system, the driver assignment system, the data reporting system and the ticketing system.

Regev has railed against the state’s support for the subway system in Israel’s economic center, where traffic congestion is a constant and growing struggle. She has previously said she will seek to cut funding for the project or kill it altogether, preferring to spend money on linking peripheral areas of the country to the center, and proposing that the city make do with bike lanes and the light rail.

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