Light rail launch date unclear as Comptroller clears delays

The Tel Aviv light rail Red Line was due to go into service next week, after the launch was postponed to October 2021. But not only will the Red Line not start running next week, but now the official launch date for next year has already been announced.

Meanwhile, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman released a report yesterday on the progress of the Tel Aviv light rail Red Line, which was completed in April when trains were still thought to begin running in November, according to the plan of the NTA – Metropolitan Mass Transit System. Ltd., which is responsible for the project.

Since the Comptroller’s investigation of the project, the light rail system’s ability to operate reliably was supposed to be complete, but this has not happened. The trains regularly come to an unexpected stop and the doors do not even open for the designated openings on the platforms. None of this has stopped NTA Director General Haim Glick from stating that the trains will start running in the first quarter of 2023. Still, the company overseeing the project warns that launch won’t be until June. The body authorized to approve the launch date — the steering committee, which includes representatives from the finance and transportation ministries — is hesitant to make a decision before the light rail is up and running reliably.

The state comptroller’s report denounces a series of delays and increases in the light rail cost estimate. The project was approved in 2000 and a concession was signed in 2007, which was canceled about two years later – as the winning consortium found it difficult to raise funding for the project. In practice, work began with the demolition of the Ma’ariv Bridge in central Tel Aviv in 2015. The project was due to open in October 2021, but was then delayed to November 2022 and has now been postponed again.

The CEO and VPs quit

Not mentioned in the Comptroller’s report is NTA’s request to delay the launch of the line due to a crisis caused by a power struggle between management and the board of directors, who wanted additional powers, and which led to the resignation of the CEO and five VPs. As a result, the company’s operations faltered for months as it was without senior management.

During this period, the Comptroller notes that the project cost estimate has also increased significantly. In 2010 it was NIS 10.7 billion shekels, but when work started in 2015 it had risen to NIS 16.7 billion – and then through links and interest payments to NIS 17.2 billion. By August 2020, with the postponement from October 2021 to November 2022, the estimate had increased by another NIS 1.2 billion.







Sudden stops still happen

As mentioned, the steering committee of the Ministries of Finance and Transport is not ready to announce a launch date for the light rail until its operational reliability has been confirmed, despite NTA’s claim of March 2023 and the overseeing company’s forecast of June 2023.

Although the frequency of the train’s sudden stops has decreased, they have not stopped and the doors still do not open in their designated place. So while it is estimated that the train will start running in the second quarter of 2023, as of now there is no timetable for the completion of the project.

The NTA would like to shorten the duration of the tests, but the problems with the reliability of the systems are major. There are also other problems. While significant progress has been made in licensing and operations at the stations, not all systems have been approved, including the required approvals from the security forces.

NTA said: “Building the Red Line on an overground and underground route is one of the world’s most complex projects and the reliability and stability of operations is integral to completing the project. All involved, including the various ministries , have been routinely updated on progress and assessments on the operation of the line.”

Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on November 24, 2022.


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