Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hailed the first test run of the high-speed rail link from Yerushalayim to Ben Gurion airport as “an historic moment” on Thursday, but critics were underwhelmed, sourly noting the long delays in construction, which is still not finished.
PM Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz toured the Yitzhak Navon railway station in Yerushalayim and took an inaugural ride from the capital to the airport.
During the trip, Israel Railways Chairman Dan Harel and Israel Railways Director-General Shahar Ayalon briefed the Prime Minister “on the complexity of the project, and updated him on the work that still needs to be done ahead of the opening of the line,” according to an official statement.
This was a polite way of saying what the Israeli media said rather more bluntly: that the great day came some seventeen years after construction began and five months after the last deadline.
And that officials declined to say when the remainder of the route would be fully completed.
MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Camp) likewise saw the photo-op as premature and politically motivated.
“A celebratory inauguration for a half-finished project,” said Cabel. “The main thing is that Netanyahu will take credit for a project that is far from finished, suitably only a moment before elections.”
Actually, elections are still months away.
Meanwhile, PM Netanyahu offered praise and nostalgia: “This is an historic moment, and I use that term carefully, but I have always believed that it is possible to link Yerushalayim to the national railway network and not via the old Turkish route that I rode on as a boy and a youth. And here, the moment has arrived after a great effort by the Government of Israel, the Transportation Ministry and all of the elements who worked on it. This truly is a new era. I can only ask that you join the ride and see for yourselves.”
He continued: “When I was a boy we used to sing ‘The Train Flew between the Mountains and the Hills’ and today I have the special pleasure of being on a train that flies through the mountains and the hills, and will reach Tel Aviv in the record time of about 30 minutes. This is a new era for Yerushalayim and the State of Israel. Come and join [the ride].”
According to current plans, initially, two trains per hour will run between Yerushalayim and Ben-Gurion Airport from Sunday to Thursday between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., taking between 20-25 minutes to complete the journey.
Following the partial opening of the new line, passengers will be able to enjoy free journeys from the capital for 90 days, but will need to order online from a limited number of train tickets in advance and be in possession of a Rav-Kav travel card. Only 400 tickets will be available for each train.
Once complete, the new railway line will complement the existing, slower railway from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim.
Trains traveling on the 19th-century Ottoman-built railway take approximately 80 minutes to arrive at their final destination at Yerushalayim’s Malha railway station, far from the city center. Many commuters have therefore opted to travel by car or bus.