(February 20, 2020 / JNS) In what is being dubbed as a historical development, Israel’s Transportation Ministry announced this week that it is moving forward with plans to extend the new Tel Aviv-Jerusalem high-speed rail line in order to connect Ben-Gurion International Airport directly to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
The new route for the railway extension was approved by the National Planning and Construction Commission. It will feature a 1.8-mile underground tunnel with two new stations, including one adjacent to the Khan Theatre Complex in downtown Jerusalem and the other inside the Old City.
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich hailed the announcement, saying the new line would help ease Israel’s transportation crisis. In fact, recent studies show that Israel suffers the worst traffic congestion out of all OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations.
At the same time, the minister said that new line “allows us to advance a Zionist and Jewish ideology.”
Tourists arriving in Israel will be able to hop on a train straight to the Western Wall as their first destination while visiting the country.
In response to the new rail line, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum told JNS “we are thrilled that the Transport Ministry has decided to build the train line from Tel Aviv directly to the center of our capital city and the beating heart of our people. This is the modern expression of King David’s vision of Jerusalem and the Old City as the place where people ascend to from Israel and indeed across the world.”
Rabbi Steve Burg, CEO of Aish HaTorah, with headquarters based in the Old City of Jerusalem, told JNS that “the extension of the high-speed rail to the Old City of Jerusalem is a major achievement for Israel. Jews from around the world will be able to land at Ben-Gurion and in a short amount of time be at the Western Wall to be spiritually uplifted. It’s the perfect blend of modern technology and ancient spirituality.”
‘Might improve hotel prices in Jerusalem’
But not everyone is praising the approval. As JNS reported earlier this week, Jordan officials called the move a “flagrant violation of international law.”
Its foreign ministry spokesman, Daifallah al-Fayez, insisted that the international community “assume its responsibilities to resist the illegitimate and illegal Israeli steps.”
Jerusalem resident Yomi Groner, a licensed tour guide with Israel’s Ministry of Tourism for the past 11 years, hailed the project, telling JNS that “Israel has a massive problem, especially in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem vis-à-vis public transportation. With the planned development of a business center at the entrance to Jerusalem, you are going to have major problems getting from one part of the city to the other. But if you can ride a train across the city, it will be more beneficial to the majority of people.”
He added that “unless you are going to tell people not to drive cars inside the city of Jerusalem, this is the only solution which is realistic and effective.”
Groner said colleagues in the tourism and travel industry, including bus drivers and mini-bus drivers, as well as tourists themselves have been complaining about the situation for years. He noted that some of the problems include not only the traffic itself, but a lack of parking available near tourist sites around the Old City.
He did acknowledged that while under construction the train project will most likely be a headache for Jerusalem residents, but in the end, it is a must to alleviate the congestion.
At the same time, he mentioned, it “might improve hotel prices in Jerusalem.”
Groner said, “If people know they can stay outside of Jerusalem and hop onto a train and get to the Old City, maybe it will start pushing hotels in Jerusalem to bring down their prices.”
Smotrich concluded his comments on the announced approval, saying, “The Temple Mount and the last standing remnant of the Holy Temple, the Western Wall, represent our [the Jewish] right to exist here. Millions of visitors come on pilgrimages and are forced to hike to the Western Wall due to a lack of proper transportation. The Jewish state cannot allow such a reality, and today we have taken an important step towards a solution.
“A rail line to the Western Wall is a huge development for Israeli citizens and millions of tourists who enter the gates of Jerusalem,” he continued. “This is an exciting moment for the State of Israel and for future generations. This is a true expression of Zionism.”
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