Today, I made my first journey on the new Jerusalem Light Railway. Yes, it’s finally here for real and (since August 19th) actually carrying passengers. During the run-in period, which is to say, till tomorrow, it’s free. Personally, I think they ought to let Jerusalem residents travel on it gratis for the next three years to compensate us for the hell it’s made of our lives while they dug up, filled in, dug up, re-filled, dug-up and re-filled again, large tracts of downtown Jerusalem – and not only downtown. All this for just one line, running from the Neve Ya’acov neighbourhood, in the north of Jerusalem, to Mount Herzl – which isn’t even in the southernmost part of the city. For this, our lives have been rendered hideous for – how many years is it now? I’ve lost count.
How was it? Not an experience of unmitigated bliss, I’m sorry to say. Basically, it was just like travelling in one of the long, articulated Egged buses. It was crowded and noisy and sweaty (admittedly, this was the rush hour). Furthermore, the electronic notice boards inside the carriages which are supposed to announce the next stop, only do so just as the train (well, technically, it’s a tram) is pulling into the station – and well beyond any given station, they’re still telling you that the station you have just left is the next station.
They have not yet announced what the fares will be – I think it hasn’t even been decided – and, in fact, it’s possible that the free trial runs (in which members of the public are serving as guinea-pigs to test if the carriages can pass over the Calatrava-designed Chord Bridge at the entrance to the city fully-loaded, without the bridge collapsing) may continue for some time yet.
On the plus side – it looks very good and it’s lovely to see the centre of town without petrol-hungry vehicles polluting the atmosphere and making it dangerous to cross the street.
Finally, we’ve managed to get one up on Tel Aviv when it comes to modernisation. Tel Aviv has recently overhauled its bus services – but Jerusalem has the only Light Railway (aka tram line) in Israel.