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The state will finance most of the cost of developing the infrastructure for Tel Aviv's new mass-transit system, according to Zvi Leshem, CEO of the state's large projects department (known by its Hebrew acronym, Nata). The state is expected to contribute at least $400 million to the project, in another attempt to minimize the risks that the private winning bidder for the project will have to bear.

One option, strongly favored in Nata, is to guarantee the winning developer a minimum number of passengers, to undertake not to run competing bus services along the route of the proposed line, and even to redirect bus routes so as to turn them into feeder lines for the new light train service.

The 22-kilometer-long first (red) route of Tel Aviv's metropolitan train line is to run from Petah Tikva to the southern suburb of Bat Yam, via some of the busiest commercial areas - Jabotinsky Street (Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan), Arlosoroff (Tel Aviv) - and onto Jerusalem Boulevard in Jaffa. A pre-tender presentation for the project was held last month and was attended by representatives from several foreign companies, including Bombardier, Siemens and Alsthom.

The Tel Aviv project had been lagging far behind the plans for Jersualem's mass-transit system, but the gap has closed recently due to hitches with the capital's project. Five parties expressed interest in the Jerusalem tender last July, but three of these have since dropped out. The final date for bids has been delayed twice, at the request of the competing firms.

Nata seems little worried by such snags and is already working on Tel Aviv's second (green) line, which is planned to run from Rishon Letzion, through Holon and Tel Aviv, and to the Arlosoroff mainline train station. Leshem explained that according to the tender for the first line, the government had the right to cancel the tender, if it should choose to do so, and reissue the tender to include the second line too.

However, Leshem pointed out that this would be a costly affair, as the government would have to compensate the wining developer of the first tender for loss of projected earnings and the work that had begun.