Just one month before the scheduled opening of the high-speed railway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, a "Globes" report finds that the work on it is far from finished. Furthermore, engineers and safety experts are warning that if the trains are operated in late March, as Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz and other ministry figures recently stated, the result is liable to be a disaster. Recent audit reports and oral assessments by experts obtained by "Globes" state unequivocally that the railway line cannot be used for passenger trains before August at the earliest.
An investigation into the matter by "Globes" found that much work remains incomplete. Laying the track is still taking place, the communications systems in the tunnels are operating only in part, electrification work has not yet been completed, and essential coordination checks between the various systems have not yet been carried out. Even worse, information obtained by "Globes" indicates that safety rules are being ignored in the feverish effort to finish the project on time, while the State Comptroller has already warned in his recent report that the rush to finish the project is liable to endanger human life.
"There is no reasonable chance that the project will be completed on time without breaching the safety rules," a senior electrical engineer accompanying the project told "Globes" today. "Even if they finish the work on time, they have to test all the systems for several months. I have accompanied several overseas projects, and I have never seen such a thing before, maybe only in developing countries like India, where people travel on the roofs of the railway cars. The Ministry of Transport is pressing very hard to finish the project on time, so the railway doesn't dare say that it won't be ready on time."
The engineer said that the two most important systems that must undergo several months of testing are the electrical system and the command and control system. "If the cables touching the train are not well synchronized down to the millimeter, there is a risk of collapse - including during a journey."
"It's too bad that they are messing up at the very end"
One month ago, Katz invited reporters to an initial test journey on the line in the area of Mishmar Ayalon (a 12-kilometer section), and announced March 30 as the date for operating the first track in the project. Last week, Ministry of Transport deputy director general Colonel (res.) Yaakov Blitstein announced that starting on March 29, it will be possible to travel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and back in 30 minutes each way. Last Thursday, Katz met with Israel Railways CEO Shahar Ayalon, and asked whether work on the project would be completed on time. He was told that it would.
Talks with contractors and engineers involved in the project, however, tell a different story. Work on all the main systems comprising the project has not yet been finished, not to mention the coordination and synchronization between them, which should take months before a passenger train can be run on the line. The most prominent example of the state of work is the railway bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem (Bridge no. 10). The bridge itself is standing, and laying the track on it was completed in recent days, but one basic thing is still missing - the electric poles. Laying the electric poles on the bridge is expected to take several weeks, among other things because of its great height, which reaches a peak of 100 meters. The work itself has not yet begun.
Responsibility for electrification of the railway and putting up the electric poles does not lie with Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) (TASE: ELEC.B22); responsibility rests with Spanish company Semi, which won a NIS 2 billion tender two years ago. At the request of Israel Railways, IEC helped with two temporary electrical connections - at Sha'ar HaGai and near Holtz Technical High School in Tel Aviv.
Another important point is the Hahagana railway station in Tel Aviv - the final stop or first stop on the line. Work on connecting the Hagana station to electricity is also far from finished, although it is a very difficult project that must be carried out in a densely populated urban area.
"I have been watching this work from the side, and I simply don't understand," another senior electrical engineer regularly in contact with engineers on the line said today. "Either the minister has not been informed or I don't know what, but it would be crazy to put a passenger train on this line in a month from now."
Another important matter far from completion is test journeys. According to the plan, trains loaded with cargo are meant to travel on the track in order to smooth it down. The test was supposed to take seven months, but it actually began only in January, and for certain parts of the route, no such tests at all have been conducted.
A check by "Globes" also shows that the trains are traveling in the tunnel along the track, even though their communications systems are not yet working. This is a real violation of the safety rules, which forbid putting trains into the tunnels without internal communications systems capable of issuing alerts of malfunctions or accidents.
Another problem of critical importance for passenger safety is coordination between the electrification and signals systems. Tests of the coordination between these two vital systems cannot be conducted in full for the simple reason that the full length of the line has not yet been electrified.
"They waited a decade, and it's too bad that they are messing up at the very end," a transportation source told "Globes."
Relieving the traffic jams between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv
The high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem train, considered the Ministry of Transport's biggest project, estimated at NIS 7 billion, is designed to connect Israel's capital to the Greater Tel Aviv metropolitan region and the central region, and to relieve traffic congestion. Travel time on the high-speed line from Tel Aviv to Binyanei Hauma (International Convention Center), the last stop on the line, located at a depth of 80 meters underground, is projected at less than 30 minutes.
The project began in 2001, but following a series of managerial missteps, the completion date was postponed from 2008 until 2017, and then to late March 2018. The line is 57 kilometers long, including 32 kilometers of new track from the area of Kfar Daniel to Jerusalem, with a system of nine bridges (with a length of three kilometers) and five tunnels (with a length of 19 kilometers). This system was designed to make the journey straight, continuous, and fast.
In the first stage, the railway is scheduled to operate one track from the Binyanei Hauma station to the Hagana station in Tel Aviv. Frequency on the line in the early months will be two trains per hour in each direction. In the second stage, which will begin several months later, the railway will operate two tracks between the Binyanei Hauma station and the Hagana station, and the frequency on the line will be increased to three trains an hour. In the future, frequency will rise to six trains an hour at peak times.
The project set several local records: construction of the longest bridge in Israel - 1.25 kilometers, the highest bridge - a peak height of 90 meters, the deepest railway station at a depth of 80 meters underground, and the longest design and construction time - almost two decades.
Israel Railways said in response, "The plan for the transition to electrical propulsion and laying the high-speed railway line to Jerusalem was approved by the planning authorities, and is being carried out carefully, one step at a time, as necessary with close cooperation between all the relevant agencies and complete dedication by all parties. Great efforts are being made to finish the work and open the line as planned, provided that the safety aspects are satisfactory and ensure the passengers' safety."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on February 18, 2018
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