The long awaited light rail transportation system for the greater metropolitan area of Israel’s biggest city, Tel Aviv, is up and running.
After a two decade delay, eight years of construction and a A$7.5 billion investment, the first stage known as the Red Line has commenced operation, connecting five municipalities: Petah Tikvah, Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Bat Yam. There are 34 stations along the line, including 10 underground stations.
The full rail project is still far from completed and will cost tens of billions of dollars more. The Red Line is the first of three light rail and three metro routes being developed by the government-owned NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System to serve Israel’s principal commercial and economic hub, which has a rapidly growing population of around four million residents.
The Red Line has been designed as the backbone of the biggest public transportation project in Israel’s history. Two more lines, Green and Purple, will ultimately connect 14 cities in metropolitan Tel Aviv with 139 stations. They’re due to be completed in 2026 and 2028, respectively.
Like the Jerusalem light rail, the Tel Aviv system will not operate during the Friday-Saturday Shabbat or on Jewish religious holidays which has drawn criticism and protests in the predominantly-secular city and reignited the debate over public transportation on the Sabbath .
Meanwhile, the Israeli cabinet has announced a A$1.3 billion plan to re-develop East Jerusalem, which is 60% Palestinian and 40% Jewish. The Jerusalem Minister Meir Porush presented the plan, insisting that the Netanyahu government is investing in the Arab population “because it’s the most humane thing to do,” and not for political gains, such as additional seats in the ruling coalition.
It will invest in housing, health, education, infrastructure, public transportation, crime fighting, sustainability, land management, environmental quality, social welfare and cultural programming. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the five-year plan from 2024 to 2028 aims to reduce social and economic disparities in East Jerusalem. “This decision will change the face of Jerusalem. We are uniting Jerusalem,” he proclaimed.
Hardline Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich stressed that the plan will reinforce Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, saying that “a united Jerusalem is not just a slogan, it is a responsibility. A responsibility to every resident, a responsibility for the development and prosperity of Jerusalem as our eternal capital.”
Another hardliner, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, underlined the importance of ensuring that money allocated to East Jerusalem’s infrastructure reaches “the right places.” “It’s no secret that universities and other educational institutions serve as breeding grounds for incitement to hatred against the State of Israel, IDF soldiers and our country, and I’m very concerned that this money could end up in the wrong hands,” Mr. Ben-Gvir stated.