A week before the planned opening of the high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway line, the required safety approval from the Independent Safety Assessor (ISA) international safety standards institute has not been obtained, sources inform "Globes." In addition, some of the evacuation and rescue drills conducted in the past two weeks in preparation for opening the line were unsuccessful. The drills involved tunnels on the route and the bridge at the exit from Jerusalem.
ISA is an international standard that is essential for commercial operation of a passenger train service. Approval could still come at the last minute in the coming week. If it is not given in time, however, it is not clear what will happen and whether it will be decided to again postpone the opening of the line.
Independent safety tests are conducted by German standards institute TUV-SUD. They give approval for all the systems on the line, including tunneling, fire-fighting, electrification, and communications, after all of the systems are constructed and tested in accordance with international standards.
In his most recent public comment about the high-speed line to Jerusalem, Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz said that it would be partially opened on schedule before the Sukkot holiday on the segment connecting the station opposite the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC) (Binyanei Ha'Uma) and Ben Gurion Airport. Passengers traveling from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv will have to switch trains at the airport.
"Many bypasses and improvisations"
A professional source accompanying the project told "Globes" today, "Israel Railways will not dare to open the line without ISA approval." The source added that over the past two weeks during the course of safety testing on the high-speed line, there were many emergency drills that ended unsuccessfully. For example, the rescue drill from Bridge 10 at the exit from Jerusalem was stopped in the middle. The exercises in the long tunnels were also not completed because of difficulty in driving the rescue vehicles and other problems pertaining to the ability to enter and use the tunnels with the escape openings.
"There were many bypasses and improvisations in order to launch this line before Sukkot, but hermetic closing has not yet been achieved. Safety sources at Israel Railways will say that they've had many headaches from this line," the sources asserted.
One of the "improvisations" he is referring to is opening the line without the special electrical depot for daily handling of the high-speed train. The four trains an hour initially planned cannot be operated until the electrical depot is completed, because daily operations will take place in a depot working on a generator, which restricts the number of trains per hour. Work on the depot is scheduled to be completed in three months, meaning that it is likely that there will not be four trains an hour during this time.
Last Friday, Israel Railways conducted a successful test run of the high-speed line on the segment between Ben Gurion Airport and Jerusalem. At the same time, professional sources accompanying the project say that an important part of the tests should take place for a specific period after construction is completed.
Concern about a flood of passengers
The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed railway is extremely challenging in both engineering performance and safety and rescue requirements. The line includes nine high bridges totalling three kilometers and five tunnels totalling 19 kilometers.
According to the plan, one train an hour will be operated in the first stage and the frequency will be gradually increased to four trains an hour. Travel on the train during the running-in period will be free for Jerusalem residents, but Israel Railways plans to initially give tickets only to people booking over the Internet because of concern about a flood of passengers.
The original date for opening the high-speed railway was postponed first from late 2017 to before the 2018 Passover holiday. Israel Railways then announced a last-minute six-month postponement, due to safety requirements by the police and the rescue forces. As reported by "Globes," however, the engineering work being carried out under supervision of Israel Railways is also far from completion.
The cost of the high-speed train to Jerusalem, the Ministry of Transport's largest-ever project, is estimated at NIS 7 billion. The line is designed to connect Israel's capital to the Greater Tel Aviv metropolitan area and the central region and relieve traffic congestion. Travel time from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the last stop on the line, is meant to be less than 30 minutes.
The project was first started in 2001, but following series of managerial missteps, the completion date was postponed from 2008 to 2017 and then to March 2018. The line is 57 kilometers long, including 32 kilometers on a new segment from Kfar Daniel to Jerusalem containing nine bridges to make the line direct, continuous, and fast.
The State Comptroller previously warned against shortcuts that would jeopardize passenger safety on the high-speed line. The most recent State Comptroller's report published in October stated, "The State Comptroller cautions the Israel Railways that its aspiration to operate the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed line in March 2018 is liable to cause shortcuts, damage the projects' quality, detract from safety, and increase the future total cost of the project, due to the need to repair defects."
The State Comptroller described the difficulty of the project in his report, noting, "Opening the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed railway is contingent on completion of additional actions by the Israel Railways in many areas, such as changing the signals and control systems, replacing tracks, adaptation of the safety requirements, etc."
In an attempt to get answers, the agencies involved referred us to each other: the Ministry of Transport referred us to Israel Railways, which referred us back to the Ministry of Transport. No response from Israel Police was available as of web posting.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 16, 2018
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