Jerusalem Light Rail plans doubling length of line

Two years into operations, the Red Line carries nearly as many passengers as Israel Railways.

Two years after it began operations the Jerusalem Light Rail transports 130,000 passengers each day. The Red Line, which stretches 13.8 kilometers across Jerusalem and has 23 stations, carries the equivalent of 80% of the 160,000 passenger daily average of Israel Railways. If an additional 20,000 passengers are taken into account that will be transported daily when bus routes are changed in the northern neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev, then it is only a matter of time before there is equality between the Jerusalem Light Rail and Israel Railways in the number of passengers transported.

The Jerusalem Light Rail operates in Israel's most populous and poorest city. This generates huge demand and nevertheless, if there is something that irritates in these statistics, it is that it shows the massive potential there is for a Greater Tel Aviv Light Rail, which has been delayed for years because of screw ups by the Israeli government, publicly elected and government officials alike.

When will the Tel Aviv Light Rail Red Line be built? In 2017 as the government decided or 2020 as stated by NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System Ltd., the government company building the project. Or perhaps 2023 as seen by the Ministry of Finance's auditing company.

Yehuda Shoshani, the outgoing CEO of CityPass, which has the concession to operate the Jerusalem Light Rail told "Globes," "In my opinion in the next ten years Jerusalem will remain the only city in Israel with a light railway. What makes the Tel Aviv project more complicated than the Jerusalem project is that there much underground engineering work and tunneling machinery. Then there are also the legal problems that could not have been foreseen. Suits by residents along the route can halt work for many months."

Shoshani, a reserve general, came to CityPass three years ago, after developing Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (NYSE: TEVA; TASE: TEVA) business activities in the Far East and Pacific. At the end of August, Shoshani will step down and be replaced by Israel Railways deputy CEO Yaron Ravid.

What is your main achievement?

"Safety. They expected that 10 people or even more would be killed in the first year but the forecast disappointed. We ended 2012 with 12 light injuries and one person with medium injuries. My benchmark is cities in Europe and there are fatalities in all of them, making the Jerusalem Light Rail the safest in the western world.

We've almost forgotten that the project was delayed by four years - why was it delayed?

There were five reasons: archeology; removing infrastructures such as sewage, drainage and communications; and three types of permits that we did not receive on time - construction, traffic, and employment. The lesson that can be learned from the project is in the division of authority and responsibility. Almost all the responsibility was in the hands of the concessionaire, except security but the authority was almost all in the hands of the government. I'm glad that at least in this matter conclusions have been drawn and the project of extending the line will be managed by the Jerusalem Municipality."

In January 2011, the team arbitrating between the government and CityPass decided to instruct the concessionaire to be ready for operations in the summer despite the fact that most of the smart traffic lights system had not been installed and without them the trains did not get priority at lights over other traffic. The first months of operations aroused public criticism of the concessionaire: the frequency of trains during the morning rush hour was low (12.5 minutes), the number of trains operating was just 14 and the journey time from one end of the line to the other was more than double that which the concessionaire had committed to (about 85 minutes). All the smart traffic lights (about 70) are now linked to the network after the French Hill Junction lights were hooked up a month ago. As a result of the smart lights trains now run every 5.5 minutes, the fleet of trains has grown to 21, and end-to-end journey time has been reduced to 45-46 minutes, according to CityPass, and 49.5 minutes according to the municipality. CityPass is in talks to buy five more trains, which will improve frequency to every five minutes or even less in the morning rush hour (6.30am-9am) Shoshani reveals.

The municipality charges that you have not yet reached the frequency you are committed to in the agreement.

"That is because of the restrictions placed on us such as the smart traffic lights where installation was only finally completed three weeks ago. According to the latest instructions, the concessionaire is required to reach a frequency of 4.5-5 minutes during the morning rush hour. On the other hand, during low demand hours and at weekends we provide a higher frequency than required of us so that on average we meet and even go beyond the requirements in the agreement."

The JPTA (the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Transport and Jerusalem Municipality supervisory body) want to fine you for not installing ticketing machines.

"I am contractually required to a 95% availability level for the ticketing system. I'm allowed as the concessionaire that 5% of the system is not operating. I claim that I have met this. More than that, I think that a supervisory body like the JPTA should have the authority to make awards, not only fines. I could reach a 100% standard on the ticketing system but receive no incentive to do so.

The government and CityPass are in dispute because the government refused to pay the concessionaire the last part of the construction grant worth €80 million. The discussions on the topic continue. The suit for NIS 1 billion concerns the question of who was responsible for the four year delay in the project. There has been progress recently on this issue and there is a compromise on the agenda. For the government's part there are those who complain that the Finance Ministry accountant general Michal Abadi-Bouiangui s putting on pressure to close the case. Some sources say that under this compromise the government would pay CityPass NIS 200 million as well as additional payments received by the concessionaire since the start of operations. This amounts to about NIS 18 million as compensation for the continued operation of rival bus lines in Pisgat Ze'ev and other services provided by CityPass that it was not required to give. According to estimates these new payments will provide CityPass with over NIS 200 million revenue.

Shoshani makes no effort to conceal his satisfaction over the matter. "We've reached a situation where we are not giving up on our claims from the past. And at the same time we are improving our service. There are advanced talks with the government and we decided to realize everything that we could taking the administrative route."

The last topic on the agenda is the continued development of the line. Extending the Red line southwards from Mount Herzl to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem will increase the number of daily passengers by many tens of thousands. The government has already completed infrastructure work on the first part of the new section which covers 4 kilometers. In advanced stage of planning and approval are three more sections: north of Pisgat Ze'ev to Neve Ya'akov and linking the two large campuses of the Hebrew University at Mount Scopus and Givat Ram. The overall length of the extensions is 10 kilometers, which would almost double the length of the current line at an overall investment of more than NIS 2 billion.

The government is in no rush to award to CityPass the lines new extensions. One of the project supervisors told "Globes" "The government is committed to conduct talks with CityPass but the final decision is in its hands. There is logic in giving the operation of the line to the present operator, Veolia, but there is no reason at the moment to give construction to CityPass - we aren't under the impression that they are ready for it."

They say that you don't seem ready to implement the extension.

"All these claims are not known to me. Nobody has officially approached us and therefore I declare that the first time an authorized body will want to speak with us we will tell them that CityPass is interested in undertaking the project. The only body that can do it is CityPass with its contractors, Alstom with its systems and Ashtrom with its civil engineering."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on July 25, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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