New Tel Aviv light rail to open amid secular protests

The new train will only run for 43 minutes on Saturdays


(JNS)After years of delays, the Tel Aviv Light Rail will begin running on Friday, affording commuters a traffic-free ride in and around the congested metropolitan area.

The 15-mile Red Line, which will run through Tel Aviv connecting Bat Yam just south of the city to Petach Tikvah to its east, was green-lighted for operations earlier this month after all safety approvals were granted.

Originally set to begin operation nearly two years ago, the nearly NIS 19 billion (£4 billion) transportation project was repeatedly derailed by malfunctions, including, most significantly, in its signaling and emergency braking.

The line has 34 stations, including 10 underground stops, and runs from Bat Yam through Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan to Petach Tikvah. Half of the route goes through an underground tunnel.

“This is a day of celebration for the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday as he inaugurated the rail line in Petach Tikva. “Today, we are realizing the transportation vision of Israel: We promised to link between and within cities and between countries, and we are doing all three."

The site of Thursday's light rail launch quickly descended into politics for the second straight day with hundreds of anti-government protesters shouting boos and crying “Shame” over the government’s judicial reform program.

The Tel Aviv Light Rail is scheduled to run Sunday to Thursday, 5:40 a.m. until midnight, and on Fridays until an hour and a half before Shabbat, with a train coming every 3.5 minutes during peak hours and every six minutes off-peak. 

The system will not operate on Saturdays or Jewish holidays, drawing criticism and protests in the predominantly-secular city and reigniting the debate over public transportation on the Sabbath in Tel Aviv. 

The operating schedule is, however, in keeping with the longstanding status quo regarding public transport on the Sabbath in Israel, especially with the line running through the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak.

A single fare for shorter journeys, which can be purchased via the app or on the national public transit RavKav card, will cost 5.50 shekels, (£1.20), while traveling the entire line will cost 12 shekels (£2.75). Both fares are equivalent to the price of a ticket on a city bus. There will be no charge on opening day.

The Transportation Ministry estimates that 250,000 passengers will use the line every day, and 70 million a year.

The train has been undergoing test runs without passengers for months, with the spring national and Muslim holidays adding to the delays, frustrating city residents.
The first tender for the rail line was published nearly two decades ago, while the idea of a metro line for Tel Aviv was first broached by then-Prime Minister Golda Meir a half-century ago.

The Jerusalem Light Rail was launched in 2011 after similar delays. It has since become a distinct feature of the mixed city that is used daily by Jewish, Muslim and Christian residents as well as tourists traversing the capital city. Additional lines are in the works for both cities.

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