The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv railway, which will cut traveling time from the capital to Ben-Gurion Airport to just 21 minutes and to Tel Aviv to just 28 minutes, took its first tentative steps toward completion yesterday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Israel Katz, called the inauguration of the “King David Line” (which is how the line will be known), a “historic moment.” Alighting at Jerusalem’s Yitzhak Navon station (named after Israel’s fifth president) the two helped to inaugurate the long-awaited first journey. Although the train will eventually reach Tel Aviv, the first journey only made it as far as Israel’s international airport. This was due to delays both in construction and electrifying the track between Ben Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv.
The train, which is supposed to link Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in under half an hour, has been long awaited by travelers who until now have had only a slow rail ride that meandered through the Jerusalem hills on an old Ottoman-era track and took over an hour.
The shortened maiden voyage – like the final completion of the entire project – was delayed. The original test run with the prime minister was scheduled to take place over the Passover festival. Nobody, the transportation minister included, was prepared to give an estimate for when the project will be completed.
“This is an historic moment, and I use that term carefully, but I have always believed that it is possible to link Jerusalem to the national railway network and not via the old Turkish route that I rode on as a boy and a youth. And here, the moment has arrived after a great effort by the Government of Israel, the Transportation Ministry and all of the elements who worked on it. This truly is a new era. I can only ask that you join the ride and see for yourselves,” Netanyahu declared before boarding the train.
The project dates back many years, having first been planned in the 1990’s, with an original opening date of 2008.The new line includes 40 kilometers of tunnels and eight bridges, with a small part of it controversially passing through a small section of the West Bank.
There are reports that Israel is conducting feasibility studies into extending the line to include a Western Wall station, located in Jerusalem’s Old City – a politically sensitive area.
Israel’s railway system has long been the butt of jokes about the length of time it takes to reach one’s destination. One has a train pulling into a station, far from its terminus. The driver sees a man he knows walking adjacent to the train tracks. “Where are you going,?” the driver asks. “Jerusalem,” replied the man. “Would you like a ride,?” asked the driver? “No, no thank you, I’m in a hurry.”