Tuesday, April 26, 2005

White Elephant departing from platform 1

The Jerusalem train link was reopened with a certain amount of fanfare at the beginning of April - the first train link from the capital in some 7 years. This is itself says something about the way in which Jerusalem has been neglected and underdeveloped by successive administrations.

The debate over whether to build a new line or to renovate the old line was decided by fudging the issue. The compromise; the old line would be rebuilt, linking Jerusalem to Tel Aviv via Beit Shemesh whilst a new high speed line would also be built. It is the first of these lines which has just opened; the high speed line is scheduled to be completed around 2008 - 2009.

The station, next to Kanyon Malcha shopping centre and Malcha technology park is not well signposted but fairly easy to find in any case. There is plenty of parking and the station itself is modern and well appointed. The trains are comfortable and clean, like all of the trains on the network here; a pleasant contrast to the familiar London Underground which I grew up with. They arrive and depart on time and the chances of there being snow on the lines is minimal. I found myself a table, took out a book and settled in for a comfortable journey without the hassle of honking in traffic.

Despite the good work however, once the high speed link opens, this line will prove to be a costly white elephant:

1) Trains are scheduled once an hour - not frequent enough.
2) Journey time to Tel Aviv Hashalom (Azrieli Centre) is 1 hour 20 minutes - about as long as it takes to drive in traffic - considerably longer than on a quiet road and almost 3 times as long as the high speed link will take.
3) Journey time to Beit Shemesh - 38 minutes - longer than it takes to drive.
4) Cost to Tel Aviv or Beit Shemesh is more than the equivalent bus or sherut journey.

Once the high speed train is opened the new/old line will cease to be used as it will be possible to do the same journey much faster.

Jerusalemites will already now not use the train to get to Beit Shemesh nor vice versa as it is slower, less convenient and more expensive than the alternative.

In the meantime, the train is more comfortable than the bus and the additional space allows me to save time by saying morning prayers whilst travelling so I will pay the extra couple of shekels. Once the high speed link comes into play however, there is simply no reason for any rational person to use this line. The Beit Shemesh - Tel Aviv section will continue to make sense but the link to Jerusalem will be empty apart from the guy wheeling round the cart with crisps and soft drinks.

It seems a preposterous waste of tax payers money to have built a short term fix rather than going full speed on the long term solution. With the growth of the Jerusalem road network and the (eventual) success of the impressive Terminal 3, I had thought that poor planning might be a thing of the past - wishful thinking.....

English language Israel Railways site.


1 comment:

Gavriel said...

We thought of taking the train over the break, but shied away after hearing so much from various sources (email lists, JPost) of the crowding and unruly behavior on the line, apparently both ways, between J'lem and Beit Shemesh. Pehaps it is a Chol HaMoed phenomenon, and ridership will dwindle to your long-term prediction soon. I do agree the whole thing sounds like a sad waste of money. Must have been a case of a manager, a budget, and a choice to spend or not. From a Beit Shemesh perspective, the roads could have used the money a lot more. At times it feels like we're a single lane closure from being trapped (except of course for that handy rail link).

I like your blog. I prefer sites with content and writing, and you've done a good job in that respect. Keep up the good work and I'll be back to read more.