For the last five years, we have watched the new high speed railway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem being constructed. Major sections of it in the Mountains of Judea are visible from Road 1, the major highway between the two biggest cities in the country. From one week to the next we’ve witnessed bridges gradually working their way over valleys and seen evidence of the tunnels being bored through mountains.
When the high speed rail line is finished, in 2018, the trip between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will be 26 minutes long. Today the journey takes about an hour and a half by car, if you are lucky. With the train, people will be able to live in one city and work in the other, without sitting forever in traffic jams.
We’ve also watched the new train station being constructed. It will be called Hauma Station, because it is located across the street from Binyanei HaUma, the International Convention Center. The sheet metal wall around the building site has kept us from monitoring its progress closely. Additionally, most of the station building will be underground, so even without the temporary wall , we wouldn’t be able to observe the construction process.
In late September, however, the secrecy was broken during Open House Jerusalem. Someone, perhaps in the Ministry of Transportation or perhaps in the contractor’s office, decided that the new train station would be open for public tours. Like all the other events during the Open House, tours of the uncompleted building were free. We just had to register in advance.
The tours were led by workers at the site, wearing their bright yellow work vests.
Our guide, Shimshon, a project manager proudly stated that the project is being brought in on budget, at seven billion NIS. The Hauma station is now estimated to be completed by Pesach 2018. However, like most Israelis, I am skeptical as to whether or not it will be completed on schedule. After all, the original estimated completion date was 2008.
Constructing this rail line, the largest and most challenging building project in the country’s history, has required solving many problems in innovative ways. For example, to allow animals living in the Jerusalem Forest to cross the tracks safely, several wide “green bridges” are being built over the tracks. Teams of civil engineers, consulting with geographers and geologists were able to work through many issues. But they also faced issues unique to building in the Holy Land, and needed to consult with archeologists and Rabbis. And, obviously, environmentalists had their say as well.
One major design problem was the change in elevation. Tel Aviv is at sea level, while Jerusalem is 786 meters (2578 feet) above sea level. The rise is almost imperceptible for the first half of the trip, The halfway point is only 103 meters above sea level. However, the terrain from here to the Jerusalem terminus does not permit a uniform grade
In some places the grade is too steep for a fast train. In others, the tracks would have to follow sharp curves around the sides of the mountains, which is not acceptable from an engineering standpoint. The route problem was solved by using tunnels and bridges. From Modi’in, in the foothills of the Judean Mountains, to Jerusalem, in the heart of range, the trains will never travel on the earth’s surface.
Additionally, they decided to place the train platforms in the Jerusalem station far underground– 80 meters (262 feet) below street level. It will be one of the five deepest train stations in the world.
Shimshon easily recited numbers and statistics. The railroad line goes through five tunnels totaling 37 km, including the longest tunnel in Israel, 11.6 km (7.2 miles). It also crosses ten bridges, totaling 6 km., including the highest bridge in the country, over the Yitlah Stream. You can see it from Road 1. It is scary high, 97 meters (318 feet). When I ride the train, I may decide to bury my head in a book when crossing that bridge.
Most passengers will travel between the station entrance to the train platform on an escalator. An escalator that descends 80 meters is too frightening for most people, Shimshon said. I silently agreed with him. The escalator in the Dupont Circle metro station in Washington D. C. is 57 meters long, and it scared me. Passengers here will therefore travel on a series of three escalators, each 40 meters long, transiting one level each. After we had viewed the train platform, we ascended on an escalator. It was about as long as I care to travel on a moving stairway.
Small children, travelers with heavy luggage, and people using wheelchairs need a different way to move between levels. So the escalators will be supplemented by elevators with a capacity of 33 people. These will whisk passengers down from the entrance to the platform in about 20 seconds. Although the elevators travel at a high speed, the ride is designed so there is no sensation of speed. Indeed, when we rode the elevator down, I could barely feel it stop or start. The doors closed, and a few seconds later they opened dozens of meters below the starting point.
The lowest level we went to was the one above the train platforms. Shimshon pointed out a large rectangular sliding door at the entrance to a tunnel. “You see that door?” he asked. Doors like those are on all the tunnels. The Hauma station will be the largest public bomb shelter in the country—it can hold five thousand people. There are arrangements for air and water. All services are under the control of Homeland Security.
Two piers in the middle of the open area rise above the roof. They contain ventilators that bring fresh air in. If there is a fire, they automatically increase the air flow to remove the smoke.
One of the men in our small group asked, “What about earthquakes?”
Shimshon laughed.”Here you are inside the earth itself!”
I’m not sure he realized that was what we were all worried about—being trapped inside the quivering shaking earth during a temblor.
He went on, “The walls are half a meter of concrete. You are protected.”
He’s an engineer. He should know. I just hope I won’t be down there when the “big one” hits.
We walked to the end of the level. Whereas upstairs some of the walls were finished, covered with ceramic or glass tile, on this level all was still dark gray concrete. We looked over a chest-high wall topped by a railing at the train platforms below. They seemed far below us. Shimshon started spouting numbers again. “Those are two platforms. Beyond that wall,” he pointed to our right, ”are two more platforms, the same. There will be a train every 15 minutes. Each train can bring a thousand people. The escalators will run only one direction, timed to train arrivals to take people up from the platforms. Trains will make two stops—Ben Gurion airport and the Haganah Station in Tel Aviv. Behind you, will be a shuttle to Modi’in, also every 15 minutes.”
The whole building was very impressive. I’m sure when it is completed, with shiny tile walls and floors instead of concrete covered with heavy protective paper or construction debris, it will be even more impressive.
I, and probably most other Israelis, hope the estimated opening date is accurate. And we look forward to a quiet half hour trip to Tel Aviv at that time.