The Ministry of Transport and Israel Railways together with the Jerusalem Municipality are pushing ahead with a preliminary plan to extend the high-speed railway line from the western entrance of Jerusalem to the Old City. The estimated cost of an underground station at Mamilla near the Jaffa Gate, which would be linked by a 2.5-kilometer tunnel to the main train station alongside the central bus station, is NIS 2 billion.
The idea, which has not been officially presented to Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz, is opposed by planning authorities in Jerusalem, who fear that extending the railway to the city will come at the expense of the light rail network currently being expanded in the city. Years will pass before the idea could be approved by the planning commissions.
The NIS 7 billion high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway line will cut travel time between the cities to 30 minutes. Construction is due to be completed in 2018. The line was only approved after fierce resistance by environmental groups. The line's terminus in Jerusalem is an 80-meter deep station between the central bus station and the Binyanei Ha'Ooma International Convention Center at the western entrance to the city. The Jerusalem Development Authority has been trying for a long time to extend the railway line to the city center and exploiting the railway's underground network. Its original idea was to dig a tunnel to Malha in southern Jerusalem, the terminus of the old railway line to Tel Aviv. It mentioned building two stations en route, one at Mamilla, and the other at the former Ottoman railway station at the Khan.
A few months ago, the idea was presented to Israel Railways' high-speed line project manager, who promised to help. Experts at Israel Railways and the Ministry of Transport support the idea, especially the Mamilla train station, but they say this is not the time to discuss extending the line beyond there. They believe that, in contrast to a train station at Mamilla, the other stations will not greatly increase demand for the line. The proposed site of the Mamilla station would be built on what was no-man's land before the Six-Day War in 1967, so that international objections would be unlikely.
The main opponents to the proposal are Jerusalem's planning authorities, who believe that bringing the railway line within the city's jurisdiction is wrong and will divert budgets planned for the city's mass transit system. One light railway line already operates and passes to the north of Mamilla, and at least three more lines are planned, although their routes have not been finalized.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 21, 2013
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