Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz reportedly plans to extend the upcoming high-speed Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train line to the Western Wall.
Katz spoke of his intentions at a meeting attended by experts from the transportation and finance ministries, Israel Railways and the Jerusalem Transport Master Plan team, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Tuesday.
The line would be extended via a tunnel that would skirt the Old City and end near the Western Wall.
Katz reportedly said that the extension of the line would relieve pressure on the main Jerusalem station and make it easier for tourists, students and others to reach the Western Wall directly from the center of the country.
“The fast lane to Jerusalem is the largest project to date in the development plan of Israel Railways,” he was quoted as saying. “It will allow thousands of workers to commute to Jerusalem, and to arrive in the capital quickly and comfortably.”
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.
The massive public works project has faced many hurdles since planning started 15 years ago. Originally slated to be completed in 2008, environmental activists stalled the plans after raising a number of concerns about potential damage to the protected hills and valleys surrounding the capital.
Nevertheless, construction work is expected to be completed by the end of 2017 and train will begin operations for passengers in time for Passover 2018.
Katz also discussed plans to extend the existing Jerusalem light rail north to Neve Yaakov and south to reach Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem, the report said. In addition, preparatory work will begin soon on a separate line that will link the two campuses of Hebrew University on Mount Scopus and Givat Ram.