Speedup on Fast Rail Spurs Safety Concerns

high speed rail
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Flash90)

Pressure from higher-ups to complete the infrastructure for the high-speed Tel Aviv-Yerushalayim railway in time for the Sukkos deadline has led to serious safety concerns, according to Globes on Tuesday.

In the latest in a series of articles critical of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz’s handling of the project, the newspaper quoted sources in the contracting companies which said that a number of work accidents, including electrocution, have been barely avoided during the rush to finish the job. The initial opening date, before Pesach, was moved back to Sukkos due to operational and safety issues.

“Were I an adviser to the Minister of Transport, I would tell him to stop talking about September, and I wouldn’t tell him to talk about March, either. The pressure is really strong. I hope that this pressure does not cause any loss of life at some stage and does not lead to typical Israeli overconfidence, with something being opened followed by problems two days later. I have no doubt that they still need several months in order to prepare the complete infrastructure of three trains an hour to Yerushalayim. Right now, it seems like science fiction,” a source was quoted as saying.

Israel Railways categorically denied the allegations of lapses in worker safety on the project. Management said in a statement: “Israel Railways is acting with determination to complete the high-speed railway to Yerushalayim with all of its various elements. No safety events of the type mentioned have occurred.”

In a bid to open the route by the proclaimed target date, Katz and Israel Railways is reportedly considering a partial opening, of the section of track that will be operational in time, while the rest will be opened later.

The scheme under discussion calls for passengers to travel on the electrified train from Yerushalayim to Mishmar Ayalon, at which point the electric locomotive would be replaced by a diesel one. The switch will take 10-15 minutes, assuming all goes according to plan. Critics say it would make more sense to wait until the entire route is ready, and then open it, rather than try such halfway measures.

Meanwhile, pressure to expedite work has caused close calls, in which workers were almost electrocuted or run over, according to the report.

A manager in one of the contracting companies said, “There are so many concerns working on the railway line here — infrastructure contractors (Spanish construction company Semi, S.G. and A.B.), Israel Railways, signals concerns, and many other levels—- that there were many cases of near accidents.”