A brush fire in fields adjacent to the Ayalon Highway caused massive rush-hour traffic jams in the Tel Aviv area yesterday evening after smoke obscured a section of the highway. The traffic confusion was compounded by a computer malfunction at Israel Railways which shut down the country's entire train network during evening rush hour.
The smoke from the brush fire, which billowed over a section of freeway between the Kibbutz Galuyot and Ganot exits, was thick enough to shut down a southbound portion of the highway for about half an hour. Firefighters who arrived at the scene worked to extinguish fields that caught fire a short distance away from the road. Curious motorists slowed down to gaze at the blaze, but the highway remained clogged even after the road was reopened and the fire brought under control.
Strong winds and the proximity to the freeway prompted the decision to close the highway's southbound lanes until the smoke cleared.
On a normal afternoon, about 7,000 cars an hour use Ayalon's southbound lanes. The closure caused a back-up all the way to the Keren Kayemet exit, at the northern end of the city. Traffic only cleared around 9:30 P.M.
Train passengers fared no better than Tel-Aviv area motorists when a technical problem occurred at the Israel Railways facilities at 6:15 P.M., causing the signaling system serving all the country's trains to fail. The problem, which arose at the railroad's new control center in Haifa, shut down the entire Israel Railway train network. Railways chief executive Yitzhak Harel announced that he has opened an investigation into the incident and indicated that train passengers who were delayed would get three free train tickets to compensate for the inconvenience. The technical problem was fixed in about a half hour, and train traffic resumed in the center of the country at about 6:50 P.M. Trains in the north were moving again about 15 minutes later.
The Israel Railways national control center at Haifa's Hof Hacarmel train station was just inaugurated four months ago at a cost of about NIS 140 million. The system underwent several days of trial runs before being put into operation, but has experienced other technical problems in recent months.
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