Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway opening set for long delay

Jerusalem - Tel Aviv railway Photo: Channel 2

Israel's State Comptroller says the high-speed link won't be ready on time next April.

Major delays in converting trains to electricity will prevent the operation of the high-speed train between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on time, according to a report published today by the State Comptroller. Although the railway electrification project began almost 20 years ago, Israel Railways' performance has caused delays of many years in the timetables, with external professional sources predicting that the project will be completed only in 1-2 years, despite the official announcement that the line will begin operating in April 2018.

The State Comptroller reveals that sources in the Ministries of Transport and Finance are estimating that electrification of the high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem line will not be completed before the end of 2018. Furthermore, an December 2015 Israel Railways internal audit report quoted the company's timetables consultant as saying that operation of the line to Jerusalem would be possible only from December 31, 2019.

"Globes" previously revealed that the real operation date for the high-speed train would be in 2019, not in 2017, as declared many times by Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz.

The State Comptrollers warned about the risks caused by pressure on Israel Railways to hurry to finish the project on time, stating that was "liable to lead to shortcuts that will affect the project's quality and the passengers' safety and increase its overall cost, due to the need to repair faults."

The State Comptroller also found that the new electrified Akko-Karmiel line, scheduled for March 2016, would be delayed by five entire years to December 2021. Completing the conversion of 420 kilometers of other railway tracks around Israel, originally slated for completion in 2019, will be finished only in 2021.

The State Comptroller's probe confirms other findings in the "Globes" story that Israel Railways had employed unnecessary foreign consultants in the electrification project at a cost of millions of shekels a year. The State Comptroller estimates that NIS 81 million paid to consultants in 2003-2010 was wasted. Furthermore, the NIS 11 billion project suffered from foot-dragging by Israel Railways, innumerable delays, and an absence of overall planning, and even of an economic feasibility study. There were many defects in the tender to purchase electrical railway carriages. Israel Railways conducted fruitless negotiations for 11 years with other government companies on protection for the fuel pipeline from the effects of electrification, while the lack of a solution for the problem is liable to prevent the electrified trains from being used. The current report is the State Comptroller's second on the electrification project; the previous report, published in 2014, cited a series of faults in Israel Railways' handling of the project.

These faults included the canceling of the electrification tender in 2008 due to delays in the high-speed train to Jerusalem, frequent replacement of officeholders, failure to prepare an overall plan, a lack of staff work, delays in approval of the plan by the National Infrastructure Committee, a lack of radiation standards, failing to meet timetables, failure to map infrastructure, and failure to revise the estimate for the project.

The State Comptroller notes that the state has done a great deal to move the project forward since the previous report.

Transition to the new era

Replacement of diesel-powered trains by electrified trains is Israel Railways' most important project in the coming years (in addition to laying the fourth track along the Ayalon Highway).

The new high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem line, in which NIS 8 billion has been invested, cannot be operated with diesel-powered locomotives that emit particles that are dangerous to breathe because of the long tunnels along the lines that prevent proper ventilation.

Electrification is designed to move Israel Railways into a new era that reached Europe in the previous century. Electrification will enable trains to travel at average speeds of nearly 50 kilometers an hour, compared with 33.6 kilometers an hour at present.

Electrification of the tracks along the Ayalon Highway will enable Israel Railways to add three million passengers a year, reduce the number of malfunctions by 30%, cut noise at railway stations by six decibels, save 60 million liters of expensive fuel a year, remove thousands of tankers supplying fuel to Israel Railways from the roads, and reduce by 95% or more the emission of pollutants constituting a health hazard resulting from the burning of diesel fuel in locomotives.

Israel Railways' first attempt at electrification began in 2000, and was declared a national infrastructure project by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004. It was decided to halt the project in 2008, due to delays in approving the national outline electrification plan. It was renewed only in 2010 as part of Katz's National Transport Infrastructure plan.

In January 2016, the Ministries of Transport and Finance approved Israel Railways' development plan, and allocated NIS 11.85 billion for the electrification project, after Israel Railways spent NIS 1.1 billion on it between 2003 and January 2016.

Israel Railways said that it is studying the State Comptroller's report.

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on October 25, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

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Jerusalem - Tel Aviv railway Photo: Channel 2
Jerusalem - Tel Aviv railway Photo: Channel 2
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