If you were one of the hundreds of people doing "double-takes" as you saw the Jerusalem Light Rail pass by you full of passengers last Friday, then you are not alone. Your eyes have not deceived you; it has actually happened, folks. The Jerusalem Light Rail, after six years in the making and after more than a decade since its first mention, is finally a living reality. Looks like August 19, 2011 was the magical opening day for the modern transportation system for which the city has been eagerly awaiting usage for several years.
Residents of Jerusalem have been impatiently awaiting this day for years, similar to the hypothetical opening of the 2nd Avenue subway in New York City. You didn't know whether to really believe in its reality or not because the "open date" continued to be pushed back and back by inevitable and mounting obstacles. We saw the construction going on daily, we witnessed the opening of the "Chords Bridge" (below) built specifically for the Light Rail System and we watched for what seemed like years as the crew tested out the completed rail systems on their tracks.
Well, wait no more, for the construction is finally complete and all tests have been approved for use. For the first few weeks, the Light Rail System's first open line will be free of charge since appropriate traffic lights have yet to be built along its track, making the ordinary journey of 40 minutes instead a 70 minute ride. Additionally, the ticketing system has not yet been firmed up, adding another reason for the free usage of the rails at the onset of their operation.
The $360 million project was supposed to be completed back in 2008; however, completion was pushed back for a number of reasons everywhere from construction issues to the unexpected discovery of historical artefacts. Widening the road and building the tracks has taken five long years to complete, causing added traffic jams and congestion to a city already overwhelmed by nearly 790,000 people in its tight boundaries. Despite the headaches over the years caused by the Light Rail's unveiling, residents here seem to be delighted today and feel that it was all worth it.
The Light Rail has come under some controversy and political attack because of the fact that the track runs through a large part of East Jerusalem, the same area that Palestinians want as the capital of their future state. Beginning at Mount Herzl, the route of the first line of the Light Rail then heads toward the Central Bus Station, then making its way through the center of town at Jaffa Street and King George Street, onward to the Old City and French Hill, and ending its route in Pisgat Zeev. Such a system might make it possible to work on the opposite end of the city with just a short 20-30 minute transport trip as opposed to over one hour each way (plus change time) on the bus system.
Though a few kinks still need to be worked out, it looks like the Light Rails are here for good. If you have visited Jerusalem over the last few years or have lived here for any time at all, then you will relate to the excitement that residents feel at the accomplishment of this long awaited luxury in transportation.
As I've said several times since beginning this blog, it's amazing to see this ancient city grow into a modern one before my eyes. You would be stunned at the "then" and "now" that even I have witnessed from my first trip here as an 8-year old to today, 20 years later, as a 28-year old. I can only imagine what it will look like in 20 years from now. Likely, the city will continue to grow by leaps and bounds as cities tend to do once they begin the modernization process. Get out there and try the new rail system!