Game-changing Tel Aviv to Jerusalem high-speed train is on track at last

New link will cut journey time between the two cities from 80 minutes to less than half an hour


Israel’s most expensive transport infrastructure project reached a significant milestone on Sunday as the high-speed rail link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv had its first full-scale test run.

The new line, which is planned to cut commuting time between Israel’s two largest cities to 28 minutes, is scheduled to open to the public in April 2018.

The first train on the line was a 1,200- ton freight vehicle, testing the stability of two new bridges — one Israel’s longest at three-quarters of a mile, and the other its highest at 90 metres.

The final, 18-mile section linking Jerusalem to two other new lines already in operation between Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion Airport and Modiin, also includes three tunnels — one the longest in Israel at more than seven miles.

The line will terminate 70m underground at a new station at Jerusalem’s western entrance.

The project, which has been under construction for 13 years, has not been without controversy. The originally projected £1.5 billion cost is expected ultimately to rise to nearly £2bn.

There have been criticisms by environmental organisations of the damage it has caused along the route to nature areas, and political issues because parts of the route cross over the Green Line into the West Bank.

One issue which has barely been addressed is the impact the new link will have on Israel’s capital.

The line will finally replace the one originally built under the Ottoman Empire in 1892, which takes 80 minutes and is not integrated into the city’s public transport system.

Instead, most commuters between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv use private vehicles or buses, taking an hour or longer to traverse the clogged Highway One.

Cutting this time by at least half will certainly be a boon to commuters, but there are fears it could further deplete Jerusalem of middle-class families who have been leaving the city for decades.

Ezri Levy, the former Jerusalem Development Agency chief executive, said of the high-speed link: “The new rail line will contribute to Jerusalem if it is accompanied by other government projects to boost the city’s economy.

“If the government doesn’t take advantage of the easier commute to move more ministries to Jerusalem and boost the technology sector in the city with serious incentives, the city’s economy will shrink.

“The middle-class will continue to dwindle as those who still have jobs in Jerusalem will decide they can now live in the Tel Aviv region much more easily.”

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