The long-awaited high-speed railway connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem took a major step on Saturday evening toward beginning full operations as Israel Railways commenced daily test runs on the electric line.
Currently, the train only runs between Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion airport because of delays in electrifying the section of track between the airport and Tel Aviv.
Authorities believe the trains will begin carrying passengers directly from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv Hagana at the end of 2019. The train will reach other Tel Aviv stations and Herzliya sometime next year.
Authorities expect to welcome before the end of the year the first passengers on the extended line, which will connect Tel Aviv’s Hahagana Station to Jerusalem’s Yitzhak Navon Station.
Passengers currently wishing to travel between the two stations are required to change trains at Ben-Gurion Airport.
The daily test runs, first carried out on Saturday evening and Sunday morning, will lead to some changes to railway timetables.
While it was originally due to open in 2008, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-transportation minister Israel Katz inaugurated the partially completed railway from Jerusalem to Ben-Gurion Airport in September 2018.
“Connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv within half an hour is major news,” said Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, welcoming the start of the test runs. “I salute Minister Katz for his initiative and progress despite great challenges and opposition. Citizens of Israel, hold your heads high – we have many more tasks ahead of us. We will continue, please G-d, to build, pave and especially advance public transportation for a better future of transportation for Israeli citizens.”
The project, which has required the construction of nine bridges and five tunnels, is expected to cost a total of NIS 7 billion, more than double its original estimate.
After reaching Hahagana, electrification work on the railways is scheduled to continue to connect Tel Aviv’s four stations and end at Herzliya.
A precise date has not been announced by Israel Railways regarding the opening of the severely delayed line.
Trains are slated to reach a maximum speed of 160 kph (99 mph), and carry passengers between the two cities within approximately 28 minutes when work is eventually completed.