Light rail Red Line opening a political fest

Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai and a light rail train  credit: Eyal Izhar
Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai and a light rail train credit: Eyal Izhar

The plans for the opening ceremony appear to highlight Likud-connected mayors and sideline Tel Aviv's Ron Huldai.

The Ministry of Transport and NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System Ltd. are gearing up for the opening of the Red Line of the Tel Aviv area light rail system in August, after safety approval was obtained last week. The approval is conditional, however, on the safety data remaining stable for a week. If the checks find that all is well, the project steering committee will convene and set a date for the opening. The plan is that this should be a Friday in August, with August 18 as the favored date. The Ministry of Transport rejects these estimates, and says that no date has yet been set for opening the line.

Meanwhile, preparations for the opening ceremony and cutting the ribbon are at their height. This may be of little interest to the public, which has become fed up of the endless works and has yet to merit the use of a modern mass transit system, but that Is not so for the politicians. After decades of planning and execution of the project, and five prime ministers and nine ministers of transport since the plan was approved in 2002, it will be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who was also in office when the works began) and Minister of Transport Miri Regev who will, at least metaphorically, cut the ribbon.

Preparations are proceeding energetically. At the time of writing, the plan is that the ceremony will consist of a festive trip on the line from Bat Yam to Petah Tikva, where, at the light rail depot, the speeches will be made. Besides members of Knesset, the ceremony is also of high value to local politicians, with municipal elections nearing.

One of the guests of honor at the ceremony will be Bat Yam mayor and Likud member Tzvika Brot, despite the fact that State Comptroller’s reports indicate that Bat Yam caused difficulties for the project. "Municipal inspectors imposed fines on NTA contractors because of the Bat Yam Municipality’s objections to the Red Line route and despite agreements," a report stated. Petah Tikva mayor Rami Greenberg, who is also identified with Likud, will benefit from the ceremony taking place in his city.

Holding the event at the Petah Tikva depot may be the most convenient arrangement from the point of view of production and security, but there are those who wonder whether the aim is not to ignore Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, through whose city much of the route passes. Huldai is known for his opposition to the government, and he is a political rival to Miri Regev. Unlike other local politicians, who objected to the plans, Huldai "bet" on the light rail, and has carried out significant changes in transportation in recent years, and has sustained sharp criticism for it. At the "Globes" Real Estate Conference in March last year, NTA CEO Haim Glick said, "If, in the future, they ask why the project went ahead, they’ll understand that it happened thanks to the Tel Aviv Municipality and the mayor, by contrast with other cities that have delayed the project."

According to the plan, the prime minister will not actually take part in the ceremony, but will take a separate trip on the line with the minister of transport. It’s possible that that is connected to security arrangements, but it can also be supposed that at this time, Netanyahu would face extensive demonstrations over the judicial overhaul.

This week, NTA is due to receive final safety certification for operating the Red Line. That will bring to an end a long saga of postponements of the line’s opening, since work began in 2015. The line will start operations with plenty of teething troubles, including low frequency of trains, breakdowns, and overcrowding. But eventually, the line will serve some 250,000 people daily, and will represent a significant upgrade for those who live and work in the metropolis.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on July 31, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai and a light rail train  credit: Eyal Izhar
Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai and a light rail train credit: Eyal Izhar
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