After years of delays, the Tel Aviv light rail’s first line is scheduled to start operating by the end of the month, the Israeli Transport Ministry announced on Sunday.
The 24-kilometer (15-mile) Red Line, which connects the coastal city of Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv, with Petach Tikvah, east of Tel Aviv, has been green-lighted after all outstanding safety approvals were granted.
Originally scheduled to begin operation nearly two years ago, the nearly NIS 19 billion ($5 billion) project was repeatedly derailed by malfunctions, including, most significantly, in its signaling and emergency braking.
The line includes 33 stations and runs from Bat Yam through Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan to Petach Tikvah in both directions. Half of the route goes through an underground tunnel.
“I am glad that soon there will be a first step to solving the congestion in [Metropolitan Tel Aviv] when the Red Line will run there,” said Transport Minister Miri Regev in a written statement issued from the Republic Georgia, where she is on an official visit. “If there are no special problems, soon the citizens of Israel will enjoy the line.”
She added that two additional light rail lines are under construction.
The inauguration of the Red Line is supposed to include a free-ride period, although the length of the grace period is still under discussion.
Regev has been repeatedly embarrassed by the delays in the start of the city’s flagship transportation program, known in Hebrew as Dankal, with her previously announced start date of shortly after Independence Day in late April passing without the line running.
The train has been undergoing test runs without passengers for months, with the spring national and Muslim holidays adding to the delays, frustrating Tel Aviv residents who often watch it pass by as they are stuck in traffic in the congested city.
The first tender for the rail line was published nearly two decades ago while Prime Minister Golda Meir broached the idea of a metro line for Tel Aviv a half-century ago.
The Jerusalem light rail’s first line, also called the Red Line, was launched in 2011 after similar delays and has since become a distinct feature of the capital city that is used by Jewish, Muslim and Christian residents as well as tourists. Several additional lines are planned.