A long-delayed light-rail system in occupied Jerusalem is set to move forward after Israel, banks and the group building the 3.3 billion shekel (Dh2.67 billion) project reached a financing deal yesterday.

In the initial phase of the project announced in 2000, to construct Israel’s first intra-city rail system, the first of eight planned lines will be built and is expected to be operational by the end of 2008.

The line will run 13.8km. It will stretch from East Jerusalem to the edge of the Old City through the city centre part of which will be turned into a pedestrian mall and head west past the entrance of the city.

There it will connect with a high-speed train to Tel Aviv that is expected to be completed in 2009.

A fast bus line will also be built to link to the light-rail system.
“In 2008, occupied Jerusalem will be turned into a metropolis with one of the most advanced transportation systems in the world,” occupied Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said.

By 2020, the city plans eight above-ground lines, stretching 50km and with 75 stations.

Israel’s Government is contributing 1.3 billion shekels (about Dh1 billion) to the initial stage of the project with the remaining 2 billion shekels (Dh1.58 billion) coming from the winning consortium.

The consortium includes France’s Alstom, Veolia Envioronment’s Connex unit, Israel’s Polar Investments, Harel Insurance and local building firm Ashtrom.

The group’s share of the project will partly be funded through loans from Israel’s two top banks, Hapoalim and Leumi.

“The project is now in the hands of the private sector,” said Alex Langer, deputy director-general of the Transport Ministry and head of the Jerusalem Public Transportation Authority.

The group, called CityPass, will operate the train system for 28 years before it gets transferred back to the government.

“This is a very important project for us because it includes civil work, rolling stock, track work, signalling and maintenance and operations for 28 years,” Charles Carlier, deputy to the president of Alstom said.

Source: Gulf News