Tel Aviv light rail to be built underground

The train stations, due to be completed by 2025 will also serve as bomb shelters.

Something strange is happening right now under the streets of Tel Aviv. Not the three giant trenches that are being dug on Herzl Street, or the Galei Gil parking lot in Tel Aviv, or near the Em HaMoshavot interchange in Bnei Brak, nor the trenches being dug for the light rail's red line. Something much bigger is afoot. Behind closed doors, ideas are being raised and proposals are being discussed as to how to expand the greater Tel Aviv mass transport system project. On the agenda: exchanging bus rapid transit (BRT) lines with light rail transit (LRT) lines, and changing above-ground light rails lines to underground light rail lines. Not a network of underground trains like London's tube or New York's subway, but more light rail lines will be put underground, at least within the Tel Aviv municipal boundaries.

The budgetary implications are huge. In addition to the NIS 11-12 billion that have already been allocated from the government budget to build the red line, tens of billions of funds will also be needed. Latest estimates are more than NIS 40 billion to realize the plan in its current form, and this amount is likely to grow even more. A series of creative financing solutions are currently being examined, from issuing bonds and IPOs, to private placements that would enable everything from the massive enlargement of building rights in Tel Aviv to the building of commercial centers and malls in the new train stations, and large-scale sale of advertising space.

By 2025

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the green light to the massive expansion of the Tel Aviv mass transit project during the cabinet meeting that discussed adopting the Trajtenberg recommendations on transport. At the meeting, it was decided that a mass transit system in metropolitan Tel Aviv would be completed by 2025 five years earlier than the original date according to a plan to be set by the Ministry of Transportation director general, in coordination with the Ministry of Finance and the Prime Minister's office. NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System has been appointed to carry out the plan. A glance at the wording of the government decision reveals a small, but significant line: "The prime minister has instructed: the Tel Aviv light rail system will be underground." And thus, almost without fanfare, Netanyahu has made a historical decision that settles an ongoing dispute between the Tel Aviv municipality and the Ministry of Finance and other government offices. For years, Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai has been demanding that a subway be built in the city, and the Ministry of Finance has been rejecting this demand, mainly due to budgetary constraints. And the hidden consideration that guided Netanyahu in making this decision was not actually related to the budget, but rather to defense. "Those who need to, will understand," Netanyahu said, but the meaning is clear: a metropolitan Tel Aviv underground rail system could serve as a shelter during a missile attack on the city.

Following the cabinet decision, Minister of Transport Israel Katz directed NTA chairman former MK Michael Ratzon to put together a financing plan for the planned projects. In its current form, the estimated cost to build the mass transit system is NIS 40-43 billion. This cost includes building the red line, which is already in progress, the green line, which will begin next year, and five more lines, most of which are bus rapid transit (BRT) lines. However, a few significant changes to this plan are now being considered: The purple line would be changed to an LRT for the entire length of the line, most of which from the Aluf Sadeh intersection to the Tel Aviv Mercaz (Central) train station would be underground. The yellow line, which is planned as a BRT, would become an LRT in its western section from Herzlyia to the Holon intersection.

Four mega tenders

Some of the changes are already being carried out while the road is open to traffic. During the year, NTA, under the management of Itzhak Zuchman, will issue four mega tenders for the various aspects of the project, each of which will cost NIS 1 billion. Last week, NTA held a conference for Israeli and foreign tunnelling companies in preparation for the tunnel boring machine (TBM) tender. The original plan was to issue a tender to dig an 8 km double tunnel in the main section of the red line (within the 11 km stretch that is underground). And yet, in the agreement with the Ministry of Finance, it was decided to expand the tender so that it would also include the option to dig out the underground section of the green line, despite the fact that it has not yet received final approval. This refers to three additional kilometers in the underground section that is part of the 4.5 km stretch from the Carlebach intersection until the Yarkon River, along the Ibn Gvirol axis.

The integrated tender, with a cost of NIS 1 billion, has attracted great interest, and representatives of several leading foreign companies participated, including US Caterpillar, French Vinci, Spanish Dragados, Chinese CCECC, Russian Metrostoi, and Italian Fizzroti . Another interesting tender will be issued later in the year for the supply and maintenance of the 110 coaches that will run on the red line. Approval in principle has also already been given to integrate the option of adding additional coaches for the future lines the green, and perhaps the purple and yellow lines as well. The last two tenders that will be issued will be for civil engineering work for the building of the subway stations, and some of the tunnels, and for electricity, signaling and control systems. The last tender, for which a date has not yet been set, is for the operation of the lines.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on February 29, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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