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Oh where oh where can our light rail be?

by michael August 21 2007
Municipal newsCity planning
Jerusalemite loves Israel and Jerusalem to death, but it's an unfortunate reality that public works projects in the city have as long a gestation and as short-sighted and incompetent a management as, say, the peace process. This is the problem afflicting the much-vaunted Jerusalem light rail. The light rail system was intended to revitalize Jerusalem's flagging downtown, reverse increasing suburbanization, and attract more visitors to the city. Instead, mismanagement, poor planning, shady under-the-table dealings on the part of the municipality, a series of construction woes and endlessly mounting delays have turned it into Jerusalem's white elephant.

Detractors have complained that a thorough cleaning and focus on attracting higher-quality merchants would do much more for the state of downtown than the installation of a light rail, and that the first established routes will not even reach the middle and upper classes in the suburbs whom the municipality desperately wants to draw back into the heart of the city. And Jerusalem residents are getting tired of the ceaseless, and often pointless, tearing up of major roads (many of which were already clogged with traffic before construction) and knocking down of buildings to accommodate track-laying. And the problems are only getting worse, according to an article in last Friday's Jerusalem Post:

The latest incident involves sophisticated track-laying machinery imported from France that has simply failed to function properly. The device, called the Appitrack, should be able to lay tracks at least four times faster than human hands. On average, a team of workers can lay 20 to 30 meters of track per day, while the machinery should be able to lay up to 170 meters a day.

The technology that should be laying track at an admirable rate throughout the city works via a twofold process. First, the SlipForm machine - a concrete spreader - tightens a secondary layer of wet cement. Second, the Appitrack machine rolls over the wet cement and sticks in the pins and plates like candles into birthday cake. When the cement dries, the pins are in place and the rails can be laid accurately and efficiently.

So what went wrong?

According to light rail spokesman Shmuel Elgrabli, this is the first light rail project in the world to decide to use the Appitrack device. It was built in France and tested in the factory there, but never used before on an actual urban track. CityPass dug up the street along Sderot Herzl all at once since it thought it could lay the track in a couple of days. But lack of experience, different conditions from France and "growing pains" meant delays, as the concrete below the tracks was wobbly in some places, and 250 meters at the beginning point at Mount Herzl had to be removed after it was laid down.

As a result, there have been six months of delays, during which nothing has been done.

As an Israeli would say: oy va'avoi.

Jerusalemite thinks Jerusalem residents deserve better than this. And if they municipality can't get the light rail done right, or even on time, can they at least stop putting up signs with pictures of the complete train saying "Thanks for the patience" before they've even done anything?
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