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After endless delays, first Tel Aviv light rail line set to open August 18

Tel Aviv’s long wait for its first light rail line is finally slated to come to an end later this month, authorities announced Friday, following a string of delays that have repeatedly pushed back the opening.

The inaugural Red Line of the Tel Aviv light rail, which will travel 24 kilometers from Petah Tikva to Bat Yam via Israel’s economic heart, is set to open on August 18, Transportation Minister Miri Regev’s office said.

“During the morning, the company received all the necessary authorizations to open the light rail,” a ministry statement said, referring to the NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System, known in Hebrew as Neta, which is building the system.

It said the approvals had been granted by unnamed “independent German firms,” who had concluded in a report that the line is ready to open.

The rail, the first of three planned light rail lines that will largely travel overland, is seen as a major boon for the Tel Aviv region, which is choked by major congestion on its roads daily.

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Work on the system began a decade ago, but the projected opening has been repeatedly pushed back by malfunctions, safety issues and other delays.

Miri Regev and Moshe Ben Zaken, right, at the Likud party headquarters on March 2, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In May, Regev threatened to strip NTA of responsibility for a subway system slated to complement the light rail, citing the delays and what she said were cost overruns of NIS 3 billion ($828 million) on the Red Line. The minister has regularly disparaged the Tel Aviv network, preferring to funnel money to improving transportation in underserved outlying areas, or ultra-Orthodox communities, where vehicle ownership is generally lower.

According to a Channel 13 news report that month, NTA had sought to open the Red Line by May 15, but a problem with the emergency braking system had not been resolved. Other problems, the report said, included faults in a variety of systems that impair the reliability of the train’s performance, the signaling system, the driver assignment system, the data reporting system and the ticketing system. Reports continued to tease the line’s imminent opening throughout the summer, with dates proposed in June and July as well.

The line, consisting of 34 stations and a spur, is expected to carry some 235,000 passengers daily, according to NTA. Trains are expected to run every six to eight minutes, taking some 80 minutes to traverse the complete route.

Illustrative: Heavy traffic on the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, June 28, 2012. (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

When completed, the three light rail lines and three subway lines are expected to transform Tel Aviv, long served solely by buses and shared taxi vans.

“There’s no doubt that this is amazing news for the people of Tel Aviv,” Regev’s office said.