The recently re-opened Beit Shemesh-Tel Aviv railway line halts travel on the Beit Shemesh-Sha'ar Hagai road every half hour for four minutes, leading to major traffic jams during rush hour.
A solution to this problem - the building of an underground pass or bridge for vehicles - is unlikely to take place for many years despite the fact that various transportation authorities agree on such action when a new railway track crosses a road. However, while the state has invested millions of shekels in developing the new line, the tracks were laid on the same level as the road.
The line opened two-and-a-half months ago following a NIS 135 million investment in track renovation and the building of Beit Shemesh's railroad station. The line, which is part of the old Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway line, was closed in 1997 for safety reasons. Two years ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to renovate the tracks. At the same time, the Public Works Department (PWD) invested NIS 15 million to widen Road 38 from Beit Guvrin to Sha'ar Hagai via Beit Shemesh from two to four lanes.
Israel Railways sources said the railway route has existed since 1892, and therefore, it is not considered a new line. When the PWD widened the road, no thought was given to the fact that the tracks would cross it, so the road and railway tracks' levels were not separated. They said that when a new line is laid, its level is separated from that of the road at intersection points. However, the traffic jams in Beit Shemesh are not caused by the train crossings but by the heavy traffic load, they said.
The PWD claims that construction work on the existing track of Route 38, which was intended to ensure safe train travel, was carried out within the inter-ministerial guidelines regarding the intersection of railway tracks and roads. The PWD also said that Israel Railways upgraded the tracks by putting them on a different grade angle from that of the road.
In any case, once future plans to build a new Route 38 with interchanges are approved, the road will be placed on a different level from the railway tracks, PWD said.
Transportation Ministry sources confirmed that the tracks should have been laid on a separate level from the road during construction. However, they explained that long-term, expensive infrastructure projects, such as the Ayalon Highway and the Morasha and Ashdod interchanges, are sometimes carried out in stages due to budgetary shortages or the need for statutory permits.
The sources said that insisting on a comprehensive solution could delay the project by several years. They said that separating the levels was estimated to cost NIS 20 million and would have required special permits, which could have delayed the construction work. Since plans for building interchanges on Route 38 are not included in future work plans, such action will not be carried out for many years, they said.
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