We have to hope that the wheels of the train will move faster than the wheels of the bureaucracy that preceded the construction of the new station in Sderot, which was inaugurated on Tuesday.
The station was first planned a decade ago. Since then, Sderot has become not only a symbol of the Israeli periphery, but also a town periodically under attack by missiles launched from Gaza. When the planning was renewed two years ago, it was clear that defense against missiles would be a central theme of the railway structure.
There were no specific regulations governing important questions, such as how to protect the station, how much to seal and from what height this should be done, noted the station’s architect Ami Shinar. (The planning team consisted of Martin Neiman and Kedem Shinar of Amir Mann-Avi Shinar Architects and Planners.) The railroad track is laid north-to-south, with the platforms facing east and west. In order to protect against the possibility of rockets flying in from the west, the building was constructed more massively than the average suburban station.
The station building has a marginal role, of course, within the larger context which is that on Tuesday Sderot was finally connected to the national railway network. From now on the trip to and from Tel Aviv will take less than an hour (compared to an hour and a half on public transportation until now, and even that, only on a direct line). It will take 12 minutes to reach nearby Ashkelon (compared to 20 minutes by car today, and over 40 minutes by bus.) The train will pass through Sderot every hour, and twice an hour during rush hour. Meanwhile the work on the southern route is continuing, with the Netivot station expected to open at the end of next year, and the Ofakim station during the second half of 2015, completing the connection to Be’er Sheva.
Inadequate transportation has been an acute problem for many of the 20,000 residents of the Sderot. About half the families in town have no vehicle, while about a third are employed outside the city, according to figures from Israel Railways. In a press release, the company said it hopes “this will attract many entrepreneurs who will bring significant development of infrastructure and welfare.” A new shopping mall is already being built next to the train station.
The station and the mall, which are located outside the entrance to the town, can be reached by car, bus or by walking along a path. Another access road, in the form of a one-kilometer pedestrian and bicycle path, will be opened from the direction of Sapir Academic College, and is expected to ease the movement of the thousands of students in the area. The entrance terminal is located east of the road, but the path to the railway, which is located west of the terminal, passes through a wide corridor 100 meters long. Half of it can be sealed off to serve as a protected space in time of need. The centers of the platforms are also protected with roofing. The walls are made of poured concrete, 40 to 50 centimeters thick.
The suffering of the residents of the Israeli communities near Gaza is twofold. First, there are the missile attacks themselves. Then there are the ubiquitous reminders of the threat reflected in the hasty construction of various protective structures, fortifications and walls, all of which darken buildings, prevent the flow of air and contribute to an overall feeling of living inside a bunker.
The station has turned out better both from an aesthetic and security point of view than it would have had it been built hastily a decade ago. The design is based on an underground structure and a motif of triangles in the construction, the surface and the lattice work. This geometry gives a rocky look to the two structures that form the station on both sides of the highway. The emergency pavilions along the exposed platforms were designed in the same spirit.
Despite, and perhaps because of, the ostensibly rigid preconditions dictated by the location of the station, the design suffers in many places from excessive efforts to turn a lemon into lemonade. One point that illustrates this lack of coherence is the roof of the station, a factor that would be negligible if the station weren’t sunk below the highway. It is now the most prominent thing you see as you approach the station, but it wasn’t designed with visual considerations in mind.
In the past few days, in preparation for the opening ceremony, the gardeners planted blue and white flowers in the shape of the logo of Israel Railways in front of the station. But in the future the blue and white will give way to red, with poppies decorating the area adjacent to the station.