Transportation Minister Miri Regev (Photo: Reuven Castro)
Haim Glick, CEO of NTA (Photo: Reuven Castro)
This is the scenario that is being talked about apprehensively in the corridors of the Tel Aviv municipality. It seems at first glance imaginary due to potential harm to the public due to political considerations, but it has precedents only from last year. Does Miri Regev intend to delay the approval to operate the light rail's red line until after the local elections in order to prevent Ron Huldai, one of the biggest supporters of the protest against the legal revolution, from winning the elections?
Since the opening of the Red Line was postponed from November 30 last year, the Ministry of Transport and NTA have refrained from setting a new and binding official date for the opening of the first line of the light rail in the center, 24 kilometers of which are half underground and 34 stations, from Petach Tikva, via Ramat Gan, Bnei Brak, Tel Aviv, Jaffa and Bat Yam.
Even during the tenure of former Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, the Ministry was in no hurry to trust NTA's optimistic estimates of new opening dates. Haim Glick, NTA's CEO, promised at the end of 2022 that the line would start operating in the first quarter of 2023, which has also passed. Regev announced that she expected NTA to open the line by Independence Day at the end of May, which also did not happen.
Since then, there have been no new opening dates, only one that has been dragged from month to month: two weeks after NTA, which built the line, and Tevel, which will operate it, will receive safety permits from the two German companies accompanying the project. The professional echelon in the Ministry of Transport has already determined in the past that it will be possible to begin commercial activity of the line two weeks after receiving the approval: the line has already been delivered to Tevel at the beginning of April, for 45 days of practice of operating the line, through the operating personnel, drivers and ushers it recruited and trained.
Allenby station of the Red Line. Ready to go (Photo: courtesy of NTA)
As part of the period, an examination of the false braking rate of the automatic safety system on the train is carried out. NTA's previous management chose to separately purchase the trains, the control system and the safety system from three different suppliers. When the trips began, it became clear that the systems did not completely "talk" to each other, leading the system to a high rate of emergency braking without justification.
Since then, NTA, France's Alstom system's manufacturer, China's CRRC railway manufacturer and China's CRTG control system manufacturer have also invested efforts to solve the problem. The success was great, but not completely complete.
In the current trial sessions of dozens of train journeys every day, 2-3 such brakes are still recorded, and German inspection companies will have to decide how significant they are. Some of them, for example, occur when the train stands at the station, and slips back slightly, and then its brakes are applied, without the passengers noticing anything, but additional uncontrolled braking is recorded in the reports.
Elizabeth Lane in London. It opened 3.5 years late, with a £4 billion overrun, and when it wasn't fully prepared (Photo: TFL)
It should be noted that the new London Underground line, the Elizabeth Line, which was inaugurated last May, has also opened although it still suffers from problems with its signalling system. The line, which began operating three and a half years late, and exceeded its £4bn budget by £19bn, initially lacked one of its stations that was not ready in time, did not operate on Sundays to allow an extra day for testing, and was not on its full route. Only later did the line switch to full operation. Elizabeth Lane, by the way, transports about 50% more passengers a year after its operation than originally anticipated by the British Ministry of Transport and the London Transport Authority.
Either way, the final approval for the operation of the Red Line must be provided by the Ministry of Transport. The Tel Aviv municipality is concerned that even if safety permits are received from abroad, Minister Regev will declare that for the safety of passengers, it is necessary to wait until the false brakes are finally eliminated.
Such a move has precedent: Last summer, the Likud prevented the advancement of two laws that are not controversial and of great public importance, the Metro Law and legislative changes intended to make it easier for Israelis to obtain visas to the United States, in order to prevent a political achievement from the Bennett-Lapid government just before the Knesset elections.
Evacuation of the invaders in an entire village. Regev refused to approve, the purple line was delayed, and then she accused NTA of not meeting the deadlines (Photo: Maariv, Avshalom Shouni)
It should be noted that Regev is in an ongoing conflict with NTA and has already announced her intention to take the metro project out of the hands of the government company, claiming that it does not meet the schedule and budget set. This is despite the fact that during her previous term as Minister of Transportation, such as her refusal to approve the planned evacuation of squatters from the Purple Line route of the light rail in southern Tel Aviv, led to a delay of more than a year in the project.
This is despite the fact that in a discussion before the Knesset State Audit Committee, Elias Matar, head of the Railways Department at the Ministry of Transport and the ministry's regulator for the project, sided with NTA. "There is a large gap in expectations between the Ministry of Transport, the public and the media, and there is disappointment," Matar said. "But it should be made clear – this is a worldwide phenomenon in which such projects have significant postponements. Regarding the red line, the state did not appreciate the complexity, the combination of underground and superior systems, and how to integrate almost 7-8 independent entities under one government company. It is true that there is a delay and delay with us, but we must understand that hard work has been done and is being done. I would like to commend NTA for its work."
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- The Red Line
- Miri Regev