Uphill Battle for Jerusalem Corridor Train Station

Locals demand train stop, but officials say it's too costly and difficult.

Two giant train and highway projects in the Jerusalem hills are due to be completed in the coming years, but residents in Mevasseret Zion and Jerusalem corridor locales protest that while both major transportation axes will run near and around them, neither one will do them anything but harm.

The projects in dispute are the railway line between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and the upgrading of Highway 1 between Sha'ar Hagai and Jerusalem. Most of the residents' objections over how the road is being paved and the placement of train tunnels underneath their homes have been rejected. Now the locals are waging another battle that even they admit has little chance of succeeding: to establish a train station between Sha'ar Hagai and Jerusalem.

Under the existing plan, the only train station on the line to Jerusalem will be at the entrance to the city, 80 meters below the International Conference Center (Binyanei Ha'uma ). According to the opponents, among them Eliyahu Hasson, former director general of the Transportation Ministry and a Mevasseret resident (disclosure: also a distant relative of this writer ), there is no precedent for such a long line serving about 1 million inhabitants making do with only one station. For the sake of comparison, in Tel Aviv there are four stations, while in Haifa and its outlying towns, there are seven.

The residents' demand is that the train stop near Mevasseret and thereby serve more than 10,000 people from the area. But the topography is a problem.

"There are three possibilities, all which have been missed," says Hasson. The first is a station at Nahal Luz, north of Mevasseret, where the train passes through a tunnel and over a bridge. Hasson's says it would have been possible to build an additional tunnel, expand the bridge and create a bypass where a passenger platform could have been built. But this solution is nearly unimaginable because of the cost and engineering difficulties.

The second possibility, equally complicated for engineers, is to construction a station 110 meters below ground in the area above Beit Nekofa. The estimated cost is NIS 500 million.

The third and simplest possibility is to build the station before the train route begins the climb to Jerusalem, behind the Sha'ar Hagai gas station. However, stopping at the station before the climb would impede the train's momentum, lengthen the trip's duration by more than 10 minutes, and in effect forfeit the promise of a 28-minute ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Other possibilities are the building of branch lines to areas where a station could be built with relative ease, but here, too, the cost is prohibitive.

According to Hasson, the project going up today is obsolete compared to similar projects abroad that have dealt with more difficult problems.

"The technology they are using," he says, "dictates a slope of 1.9 percent. In Europe today they already know how to build slopes of 4 percent with a train that goes 300 kilometers per hour and not 160, as is planned here. They were thinking small and in a way that was unfortunate." Motti Cohen, one of the leaders of the residents' campaign, insists that "a station in the Jerusalem corridor will go up in the end. It's preferable that the decision be taken now, before the line is completed. Afterward the costs will be higher." To date the activists have collected nearly 3,500 petition signatures and gained the support of MK Nachman Shai (Kadima ).

Israel Railways responded: "The route of the track for the fast train to Jerusalem was planned over a long time, and in the framework of the planning the possibility of building a passenger station in the area of Mevasseret Zion was examined. However, because of the engineering constraints of the slope of the line (about 3 percent ) and the depth of the tunnel (about 200 meters ) there is no possibility of building a passenger station in the area. In light of this, there has been a preliminary examination of an alternative that could locate a station in the area of Beit Nekofa, and another stop in the area of Mount Heret and the Hadassah [University Hospital]. However, as of this time, the difficult topographical conditions make this project not worthwhile economically."

Emil Salman