Light rail launch date unclear as Comptroller slams delays


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

Meanwhile State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman yesterday issued a report on the progress of the Tel Aviv light rail Red Line, which was completed in April when it was still thought that the trains would begin service 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’s systems ability to reliably operate was supposed to have been completed but this has not happened. The trains regularly grind to an unexpected halt, and the doors do not even open in front of the designated openings on the platforms. All this has not deterred NTA director general Haim Glick, from declaring that the trains will begin running in the first quarter of 2023. Yet the company overseeing the project warns that the launch will not be until June. The body authorized to approve the launch date – the steering committee, which is made up of representatives of the Ministries of Finance and Transport – is reluctant to make any decision before the light rail is functioning reliably.

The State Comptroller’s report slams a series of postponements and increases in the light rail cost estimate. The project was approved in 2000, and in 2007 a concession was signed, which was canceled about two years later – due to the winning consortium finding it difficult to raise financing for the project.. In practice, the 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 until 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 postpone the launch of the line due to a crisis caused by a power struggle between the 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 activities faltered for months as it coped without senior management.

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







Sudden stops still happening

As mentioned, the steering committee of the Ministries of Finance and Transport is not prepared to declare a launch date for the light rail until its reliability of operations has been confirmed, despite NTA’s assertion of March 2023 and the supervision company’s forecast of June 2023.

The frequency of the train’s sudden halts has indeed decreased, but they have not stopped, and the doors also still do not open in the designated place. So while estimates are that the train will begin operating in the second quarter of 2023, as of now, there is no timetable for the project’s completion.

The NTA would like to curtail the duration of the tests, but the problems in the systems reliability are significant. There are also other problems. Although there has been significant progress in licensing and work inside the stations, not all the systems have yet been approved including approvals required from the security forces.

NTA said, “Building the Red Line on an over-ground and underground route is one of the world’s most complex such projects and the reliability and stability of operations is an integral part of completing the project. All those involved including the various government ministries are routinely updated on the progress and assessments about operating the line.”

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




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