What hasn't been said or written about the farce at Israel Railways over the past month. In the north there are not enough carriages to meet demand on the existing lines while in central Israel half a new line has been opened (the Jerusalem-Ben Gurion airport section of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv rail link), which suffers daily breakdowns. Other trains are overcrowded with insufferable conditions imposed on passengers.
Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz, known as a bulldozer in the transport sector, can be satisfied about at least one thing: his aim has been achieved of opening the new electrified line linking Jerusalem to Ben Gurion airport was opened on time, as promised, one the eve of the Sukkot holiday.
The electricity supplying the new line and its depot is are provided by temporary transformer stations, the carriages that were ordered have yet to arrive, and a string of breakdowns have been caused by the enormous pressure to open on time. But the promise by Katz was kept during this termj of office, ahead of next year's elections.
Israel Railways knew that the timetable demanded by Katz was too rushed but were too scared to tell him the truth and thus they conspired with him on the fast rail link farce. Consequently, communications between Israel Railways and the media is now carried out through WhatsApp, where the spokesperson, currently working overtime, informs journalists on a daily basis of the latest breakdowns and disruptions in train services. Earlier this week one Jerusalem train was even stuck in a tunnel for over two hours.
What sort of country inaugurates half a railway line on the basis of political promises. Surely the safety of passengers is a greater priority? What sort of country opens a railway line to serve real passengers, not trial dolls, that operates on temporary transformers because the permanent ones are ready yet?
The full damage from this farce will be seen in the coming weeks as more and more passengers will become justifiably disappointed with Israel Railways and switch back to their cars, exacerbating the country's traffic jams. Trains leaving Jerusalem are already half empty, even though they are free, while commuters cram into carriages on the coastal line between Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Israel Railways has already announced that it is adding trains to the coastal line to cut the overcrowding but only at the expense of the valley line to Afula and Beit Shean. The resources are too thin and there is not enough rolling stock for both northern residents and those living along the valley line.
It is surely time to admit that opening half of the Jerusalem line so that trains can travel half empty was a mistake. The carriages should be given back to the lines that need them, where there is genuine distress.
The shortfall in carriages, which were ordered late because of a dispute between the Ministry of Finance and Israel Railways, will only be solved next March when the new carriages arrive in the country. Nor have any lessons been learned from the past. Only this month Israel Railways asked for 64 new carriages to meet demand in 2020. The Ministry of Finance insists that the procurement can only be made through a new tender, which will delay the purchase by several years. So in 2020 we can expect another shortfall in carriages and overcrowded trains.
The Ministry of Finance's demand for a new tender is understandable. It would enable Israel Railways to terminate the contract with the current supplier Bombardier, which has come in for major criticism. But meanwhile time is flying by and with no new tender on the horizon, railway passengers will pay the price.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 18, 2018
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