Work begins on final tunnel for Jerusalem-Tel Aviv link

$1.9-billion project to begin operations at end of 2017 and carry passengers between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in 28 minutes

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Workers at the opening ceremony of the tunnel along the route of the express train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, on October 6, 2014. (photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)
Workers at the opening ceremony of the tunnel along the route of the express train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, on October 6, 2014. (photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz attended the inauguration Monday morning of the construction of a massive railway tunnel, part of a planned Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high-speed rail.

The tunnel, the largest underground passageway planned for the project and the last to be constructed, is to run from the area of the Sha’ar Hagai intersection on Route 1 to the Mevasseret Zion area, a distance — as the crow flies — of some 14-15 kilometers, or 8.5-9.3 miles.

The ultimate goal of the project is to have high-speed rail from “Kiryat Shmona in the north to Eilat in the south” connecting the whole country, Netanyahu said at the ceremony, and added that “maybe, one day, these rails can connect to Jordan in the east, but that is still a far-off dream,” Channel 2 reported.

The transportation minister noted in his speech that it is planned to have the high-speed rail ultimately, via underground tunnel, end up “at the Kotel [Western Wall] and the Temple Mount.”

The new high-speed rail line between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is to cost NIS 7 billion ($1.9 billion) and will carry passengers between Israel’s two largest cities in only 28 minutes, according to the Transportation Ministry. The project is expected to be completed at the end of 2017.

To accommodate the trains, the construction of a new underground multi-story terminus at the entrance to Jerusalem is underway. The station will be 80 meters deep and will also serve as an emergency, nuclear-proof bomb shelter for up to 2,000 people.

The station will feature four 300-meter-long platforms, which commuters can reach via escalators, and 35-person elevators. It will eventually be part of the largest transportation hub in the country, stretching from the International Convention Center to the Central Bus Station. The terminal will include bus stops, the train station, two Jerusalem Light Rail stops, taxi stands, and more than 1,000 parking spots. Streets that currently pass through the area will be sunk below ground.

The high-speed train will pass by Modiin, Latrun, and Ben Gurion Airport, and will run four times an hour during rush hour.

The electric trains on the line will travel at 160 kilometers per hour. According to the Transportation Ministry, the project includes a number of impressive architectural feats. The 680 engineers working on the line are creating Israel’s longest and tallest viaducts, as well as a double tunnel more than 11 kilometers long.

Despite excitement over the project, it has not been without its share of controversy. Environmental groups tried to force the planners to build a tunnel under the Yitlah Stream instead of passing over it with a bridge. The Interior Ministry’s Planning Commission decided that the tunnel would hold up the project for at least two years, and ruled in favor of Israel Railways.

The line also crosses the Green Line twice, once near Latrun and once near Mevasseret Zion, inviting criticism from the Israeli left and pro-Palestinian groups internationally. A German company advising the project withdrew in the face of pressure from pro-Palestinian activists.

Cost overruns delayed the project as well. The initial estimate of NIS 3.8 billion soon rose by billions of shekels, requiring additional government investment in the line.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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