The Israeli government has named March 30 – the first day of Passover – as the date that the hotly-anticipated rail line between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv will officially open, when it will slash the current journey time between the two cities by more than half to 28 minutes. Transportation Minister Israel Katz announced last week that the 35-mile (56km) line, which previously took 78 minutes, would soon be able to carry around 1,000 passengers at speeds of up to 100mph.
Minister Katz’s optimism is not shared in all corners. In October 2017 the upcoming rail network was the subject of a critical report that cast doubt over the project’s delivery times. The State Comptroller, the department tasked with overseeing the Jewish state’s governing administration, predicted that the line would in fact not be ready for a full two years after Katz’s Passover date.
The comptroller was equally damning of the 2019 date set for full electrification of the network’s rolling stock and tracks, which was conceived 20 years ago, foreseeing its completion in 2021. The use of electric trains, which are due to enter the test phase imminently, are vital because to run diesel-powered trains would be dangerous in the network’s new tunnels.
Worryingly, the comptroller also suggested that the increased urgency to finish the line by the hugely significant date could be unsafe, due to the temptation to cut corners. Despite that view, minister Katz maintains that the line will go ahead as planned. And in a move possibly designed to appease those unhappy with the delays, or simply to encourage more customers, the new train service will be completely free to all holders of Israel Railways’ Rav-Kav card.
“On this upcoming Passover, we will allow all the people of Israel to come en masse to Jerusalem on the high-speed rail from Tel Aviv. We are connecting and strengthening the capital of Jerusalem, and we are connecting to the history of Jerusalem,” said Katz.
A new station has been built 80 metres underground that will be named after the former president, Yitzhak Navon. The 28-minute journey time is likely to be extended by those using the new station, however, because of strict but necessary security checks that could take as long as 15 minutes.
In further news, the Israel government controversially intends to continue with its plans to extend the line into Jerusalem’s Western Wall – requiring more tunnelling under an area of immense cultural and religious sensitivity to inhabitants of the area. Should that go ahead, transport minister Katz stated his desire to name one of the stations after President Trump. Though still in the planning stage, Katz said that the Donald John Trump station would be named in honour of the current president's decision last year to officially recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
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