Authorities fast-track plans to extend Tel Aviv-Jerusalem train into capital

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Plans to extend the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway into the capital and build two new stations have been filed with the National Infrastructure Committee, a move expected to fast-track approval of the project.

The plans call for a new Jerusalem Central train station to be constructed close to the intersection of Jaffa Road and King George Street, and the other, Jerusalem Khan, to be near the Khan Theater and the First Station culture and leisure complex southwest of the Old City.

They do not include a controversial idea raised in 2017 to put a train station in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City and name it after Donald Trump.

An Israel Railways spokesman noted that the plans could still change.

Filing plans with the National Infrastructure Committee means they can bypass earlier-stage local and district planning approval, which is normally required before plans go to other national committees. The removal of bureaucratic elements to speed up the plan often makes it harder for the public to file objections.

If approved, the Jerusalem Central platform will be dug some 80 meters (260 feet) below ground — the same depth as the platforms at the Navon station at the entrance to the city, which are accessed via an elevator or three escalators and a staircase.

The station will be located near the intersection of the busy downtown Jaffa and King George streets and will feature a public plaza with parking for bicycles and scooters, but no new parking lots for cars because, according to Peleg Architects — the firm planning the train line’s stations — there is no room.

Travelers getting of at that stop will be able to catch a bus or hop onto the light rail’s Red Line on the pedestrianized Jaffa Road. The latter travels between the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood in the north and Mount Herzl in the west and is currently being extended at both ends.

Plan for the Jerusalem Central railway station at the intersection of Jaffa Road and King David Street. (Peleg Architects)

In the future, they will have the additional option of the Blue Line, accessed from King George Street. This will connect Gilo in the south of the city with Ramat Eshkol and Ramot in the north.

In their Environmental Impact Survey, Peleg Architects say the best way of dealing with traffic in the area is not to attract it in the first place.

The planned Jerusalem Central stop for the Tel Aviv to Jerusalem railway’s extension into the capital. (Peleg Architects)

The Khan stop will be built between the First Station complex and Bethlehem Road. The platform will be located around 50 meters (165 feet) underground.

Section of the Jerusalem Khan railway station, with the subterranean platforms underneath. (Peleg Architects)

Passengers will be able to connect with buses running along Bethlehem and Hebron roads, and with the Blue Line or the light rail, set to cut through part of the First Station complex and to have a stop on Hebron Road.

Architects’ impression of the planned new Jerusalem Khan railway station. To the right is Bethlehem Road and the existing Orient Hotel. To the left are historic railway buildings currently serving the First Station culture and leisure complex. (Peleg Architects)

In the coming years, the area around the Khan Theater will undergo massive development.

A large glass station for a widely contentious cable car route to the Old City will be built next to the First Station to ferry tourists to the Western Wall and help reduce the pressure of polluting buses around the Old City walls.

Work on that project, according to a brief statement from the Jerusalem Development Authority, is continuing “in accordance with approved plans and implementation stages.”

An artist’s rendering of a station on the route of the future cable car that will stretch from Jerusalem’s First Station to the Western Wall in the Old City. (Courtesy Jerusalem Development Authority)

A large parking lot to the south of the First Station, which borders Hebron Road, will be converted into a major residential, commercial, and leisure hub.

Helping to service these new developments will be the narrow two-lane David Remez Street, from which both the Khan Theater and the First Station are directly accessed. One lane is, and will remain, restricted to public transportation.

Other major road changes in the vicinity will include the abolition of the David Remez Square traffic circle and the conversion of one lane for public transportation on the parallel Bethlehem and Hebron roads.

The architects recommend that “the movement of private vehicles in the vicinity of the complex must be reduced.”

David Remez Street (going south) with the First Station visible on the right. A bus can be seen turning around the current traffic circle. (Google instantstreetview)

Plans unrelated to the railway station call for a 500-space underground Park and Ride lot nearby, plus spaces underground for railway and other workers, according to the architects. There will also be private underground parking for some of the buildings in the new hub.

But given that the existing public parking lot south of the First Station will disappear in favor of the new commercial and residential hub, it remains unclear whether public transportation will be sufficient to ferry all those who want to get to and from the First Station, the Khan Theater, the cable car, the light rail and the railway, not to mention other nearby facilities such as the Yes Planet cinema complex at the northern entrance to the Jerusalem Promenade.

Israel Railways, which is working with the Transportation Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality, said in a statement that the project was “in advanced planning and approval stages, and work is expected to begin soon.”

In their Environmental Impact Survey, the architects write that tunneling work — to start at the Khan Theater end — is due to start in the middle of next year and finish toward 2031.

Udi Etzion, transportation correspondent for the mass daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, cast doubt on the timelines, noting that time will be needed to issue the plans for public comment and deal with objections, approve them, issue tenders to dig the tunnels and the new stations and choose the winner.

Technically, the digging will be far more expensive and challenging than it was during the construction of Highway 16, which opened last year connecting the western entrance to the city with its southern and central neighborhoods, he said.

A general view of Road 16 and its tunnels that provide direct access to the southern and central sections of Jerusalem from the west, August 31, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Etzion explained that explosives used to break the rock for Highway 16 could not be used beneath urban buildings, while the alternative to dynamite — tunnel boring machines — needed to be custom-made and were very costly.

The Red Line, the city’s first light rail to be built and the only one currently functioning, suffered multiple delays.

The Jerusalem to Ben Gurion Airport rail, originally scheduled to open in 2008, only did so a decade later.

Eventually, the new line is also intended to reach the Malha business and technology district in the city’s southwest.

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