Tel Aviv light rail Red Line won't open next year

Shlomo Hamelech station on TA Light Rail Red Line under construction  photo: Amiram Barkat

NTA's board has reported that the Red Line won't be ready until 2022 and that tender deadlines for the Green and Purple lines have been postponed by six months.

NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System's board of directors has reported a 6-12-month delay in the timetable for operation of the Tel Aviv light rail Red Line. The State Comptroller warned in a report published in March 2018 that delays in construction of the underground railway stations in Tel Aviv along the route of the Tel Aviv light rail Red Line were liable to delay completion of the project until November 2022, instead of the current official date of October 2021.

The State Comptroller's investigation revealed that the oversight company of the Red Line had warned of the emerging delay in the project's completion as early as the end of 2016. "The critical route of the Red Line project goes through the underground stations," the author wrote. "The pace of progress shows a large-scale deviation from the planned completion date. In the opinion of the oversight company, all of the work on the underground stations is behind schedule. Six of the nine stations that were to have been completed in October 2021 (the planned date for operation of the Red Line) are far behind schedule, and it is estimated that completion of one of the stations will be delayed until November 2022."

Until he left NTA last year, CEO Yehuda Bar-On insisted that the timetable could be met, except for one station on Carlebach Street, whose completion would be delayed by a few months due to the fact that it was also designed to serve the Green Line.

Bar-On resigned from NTA in June following a professional dispute and bad personal relations with new NTA chairman Ram Belinkov, who was appointed at the initiative of then-Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz. Following Bar-On's resignation, 10 NTA VPs signed a letter to the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Finance calling on them to intervene to keep Bar-On in the company. Since Bar-One made his remaining at NTA contingent on Belinkov's removal, the letter was interpreted as a rebellion against Belinkov, who had been appointed in late 2018 by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Transport.

Following the rejection of the letter, NTA's legal advisor, VP resources, deputy CEO, VP planning, and spokesperson resigned from the company. Rishon Lezion municipality director general Haim Glick was appointed to replace Bar-On as CEO in October. Glick has extensive managerial experience, but not in transport infrastructure.

After Bar-On left, French company Aegis, the auditing company for the project, published an internal report stating that it was likely to be delayed six months because of delays in construction of the stations in the Bnei Brak sections.

The Red Line stretches from Petah Tikva to Bat Yam. The state has been trying to move this project ahead since 2006, but the attempt to carry it out through a private franchise holder failed, after which the project was nationalized and NTA was made responsible for it. Construction work on the Red Line began in 2016, and a target date of October 2021 was set for completion of the work, with a total budget of NIS 17.6 billion.

Delays in Green Line and Purple Line tenders

NTA has also notified the international companies participating in the tender for construction of the Tel Aviv light rail Green Line and Purple Line of a six-month postponement in the deadline for submitting bids. NTA, a government company, is responsible for the project. Sources familiar with the project believe that additional postponements are to be expected. As of now, the unofficial date for completing the two lines is 2026.

Postponement of the project will cause heavy economic damage in road congestion estimated by the Ministry of Finance at NIS 40 billion. With an estimated investment of NIS 30 billion, the Green Line and Red Line are planned to provide an aggregate 125 million rides a year, and each line is designed to get tens of thousands of vehicles off the roads leading to Tel Aviv.

The delays in the project emerged in recent months after NTA CEO Yehuda Bar-On left the company last June. Since then, a number of other senior officeholders associated with him have left the company. NTA also attributes some of the delays to previously unknown difficulties revealed by new CEO Haim Glick in a comprehensive review aimed at validating the various elements in the project.

Some of the tenders were not published

The immediate result of the delay for residents of the Tel Aviv area is that work on vacating infrastructure for the routes that was scheduled to begin in the coming months along the main traffic routes in Tel Aviv and other location in the surrounding area will not begin on time, and may not begin at all this year.

The work was planned as part of Infra-1, the first of the two construction stages in the project. In Infra-1, NTA is to widen the traffic arteries, build fences, and vacate electrical, water, and communications infrastructure. After Infra-1 is completed, construction of the railway itself by an international consortium will begin.

NTA was to have published 20 Infra-1 tenders to date for infrastructure work on various sections along the planned Green Line and Purple Line routes. Only a small fraction of the planned tenders has been published, however. Vacating of infrastructure has begun on Arlosorov Boulevard in Tel Aviv for the Purple Line and on Jerusalem Boulevard in Holon for the Green Line, but it is unclear when work will begin on other sections. For example, "Globes" reported in November that NTA had begun vacating residents living along Ibn Gvirol Boulevard close to the route of the Green Line, and had offered them acoustic treatment for their homes because of the expected noise and dust during construction work on the underground railway stations planned along the street. Work on Ibn Gvirol was scheduled to begin in March-April, but as of now, no date for beginning the work has been set.

The problem is that 2020 is emerging as a lost year in budgets for transportation projects that have not yet reached the construction stage. First of all, starting on January 1, every new agreement by the state requires special approval by an exceptions committee in the Accountant General department. Secondly, the continuation state budget that the Ministry of Finance is entitled to distribute each month is inadequate for the needs. The gap between the demands for transportation and the approved 2019 transportation budget that the temporary budget is based on is NIS 10 billion.

The unavoidable delay in work on Infra-1 is likely to be rolled over onto the later stages in the project, headed by Infra-2 or the construction of the light rail systems on the traffic artery when it is ready. For this reason, the consortia participating in the international tender for constructing, operating, and maintaining the light rail on the Green Line and the Purple Line were notified in recent days that the deadline for submitted bids in the tender had been postponed until late June.

Seven international consortia that passed the preselection stage are participating in the huge tender. These are Spanish railway manufacturer CAF and its Israeli partner, Shapir Engineering and Industry, which have already won a tender to construct the Green Line and extend the Red Line of the Jerusalem light rail; Chinese company CRRC in cooperation with Shikun & Binui and Egged, which came in second place in the tender in Jerusalem; a consortium of French company Alstom in cooperation with John Laing and Dan Bus Company; German company Siemens in cooperation with Minrav Projects , Allied, and Paz; Chinese company CREC in cooperation with Canadian company Bombardier, Excellence, the Noy Fund, and Phoenix; and a Chinese consortium of CCCC and CHEC.

The Green Line, with a cost estimated at NIS 20 billion, is planned to stretch for 39 kilometers from Beit Dagan Junction and Rishon West Interchange in the south to Kiryat Atidim and the Hasira Interchange in the north. 64 railways stations will be built along the route, four of them underground stations along the Ibn Gvirol artery. The Purple Line, whose cost is estimated at NIS 8.6 billion, is planned to stretch for 29 kilometers from Hatayassim Intersection and Givat Shmuel in the east to central Tel Aviv in the west.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 13, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Shlomo Hamelech station on TA Light Rail Red Line under construction  photo: Amiram Barkat
Shlomo Hamelech station on TA Light Rail Red Line under construction photo: Amiram Barkat
Twitter Facebook Linkedin RSS Newsletters גלובס Israel Business Conference 2018