Deputy CEO of NTA: light rail can work this year
Hundreds of people came out to witness the August 2015 Ma’ariv Bridge explosion in Tel Aviv, signaling the start of work on the Red Line – the first light rail line in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. At the time, the promise was that the red line would begin operations in October 2021. Among those present in 2015 was Keren Zohar, Deputy CEO of NTA – Metropolitan Mass Transit System Ltd., the government organization responsible for the project.
Many eyebrows were raised when Zohar recently announced he was leaving the NTA, just eight months before the redline was supposed to start operations – with the start date pushed back to November 2021, and many experts in infrastructure insist that the red line will not be ready to open on time.
Zohar, 45, a Technion civil engineering graduate, has spent most of his career planning highways. In 2015, he joined the NTA just before the start of work on the Red Line. He said: “It wasn’t such a big change, especially at the beginning, because we were cleaning up the infrastructure, organizing the traffic, building the skeleton of the line – it was almost the same thing.”
Why are you leaving just before the line is put into service?
“I did the work. We have completed 99% of the work on all the metro stations and the line, and there are relatively marginal finishes on a budget that was almost 19 billion shekels. There is no there’s no point in continuing to be the deputy general manager of a project that is ending.”
There are those who say it’s a noble step and others who say you’re jumping off a ship that won’t reach port in time.
“I’m not running away. There’s no reason the Red Line shouldn’t open on time at the end of the year. There are a lot of little reasons and daily battles against just about everything the world but with the existing schedule and the excellent people here, there is no reason the line should not start business operations within eight months.I will come to see this amazing thing as a private citizen.
Aren’t you supposed to stay in terms of responsibility as the leading personality of the project?
“Maybe there are those who see it that way. I’ve been with the NTA for seven and a half years and it’s like 14 years in another company. We’ve been through everything, we’ve done everything and I ‘ve done almost everything that was possible to do it. There remains the question of verification, which also started relatively well and they also know how to do it without me.
Should prices along the red line rise further?
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The Ministry of Transport must help remove the obstacles
Contrary to what Zohar says, the auditing firm appointed to oversee the works has warned of the slow pace of checks and claims that at the current rate the line will not be ready for operation even in 400 months.
Why are things going so slowly?
Zohar explains, “They took a linear sample of testing pace, but the increase in testing pace is exponential. We will be working three shifts a day to close the gap from what we planned six years ago months to a year. , and we’ll catch up in the months to come.”
What are the other obstacles to opening the line?
“We are entering a six month period of very intensive testing and trials of 36 trains and at the same time we have to get approvals from different bodies: the IDF Home Command, the fire brigade, the local authorities, and it is possible that there will be problems with those who issue licenses for stations and other things on the line.There are authorities with whom we have ups and downs like Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan and sometimes Bat Yam I hope all the mayors will cooperate in understanding the huge importance of operating the line, but if not, we will need the help of the Department of Transport with them.”
Does the ministry help you deal with municipalities?
“We are talking about a good ministry with good people but a limited number of people and means. The role of the ministry is not only to control the businesses that depend on them but also to help overcome obstacles and it is very difficult for a single person in charge of NTA to help with these mega projects. A person in charge of the NIS 50 billion red, green and purple lines, as well as the metro, cannot cope alone.
And is there political support against local authorities?
“Yes but not always and not always successfully, because the authorities have the sovereignty to decide what they want.”
Does the Ministry of Transport not have the experience and know-how required to support infrastructure companies like NTA in this project?
Zohar thought long and hard before answering. “There’s the desire. There’s the ability depending on their position. I don’t think everyone has to be a civil engineering professional. They’re the regulator watching from above.”
But maybe what’s missing is someone to get their hands dirty rather than hovering over your heads?
“Yes, it’s missing. This line cost nearly 19 billion shekels, which is like dozens of Netivei Israel or Netivei Ayalon projects. The staff supposed to support its management is not enough.”
Chronic delays: “It is impossible to give a target date”
The auditing firm warns of delays beyond the line’s target date for operation in November and if that happens it won’t be the first time the project has been postponed. In 2019, the project was postponed for 13 months until November 2022 after the CEO and five vice presidents resigned in protest at President Ram Belnikov’s demand for more powers.
From the experience of the Red Line, what lessons can be drawn for the metro project?
“Let the Israelis lead, and if there is a shortage of labor to buy it from abroad, but not let foreign companies take control of the tenders. The Israelis are not less good than foreigners and I didn’t see any advantage in these companies despite higher expectations but in the end I counted on the help of the Israelis Foreign companies with many years of experience end up bringing here mercenaries and there the work is not better.
Even if the Red Line is launched in November, the train will not arrive on time
The red light rail line will run from Bat Yam in the south via Tel Aviv to Petah Tikva in the northeast. According to Zohar, travel time for the full length of the line will take one hour and three minutes. He said, “But it may take an hour and 15 minutes.” And despite promises of a train every three and a half minutes, the line’s operating frequency will be different. “Things will be decided over the next six months with the Ministry of Transportation. In Jerusalem, it took several years for the times to match the simulations.”
Will the line open full including all stations?
“Our expectation is that yes. The relatively lagging station is Carlebach, which should be fully ready by June and by opening everything necessary should be completed to open the line.”
So differences could be in train operations?
“There will be a difference in the turnaround until we manage to get a train running which takes an hour and three minutes. We’re talking about 50 junctions with 70% traffic light priority – so if anyone crosses the track with an electric scooter, the train will slow down, so the public will also have to get used to it.
“The traffic lights will give priority to the train. The story here is ultimately to give priority to 400 people on two wagons rather than a car that takes up 10 meters of road for one person.”
It is still unclear whether the light rail will initially operate free of charge as happened in Jerusalem. “It’s not always good to get the public used to free travel and then reduce the benefits.”
Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on May 4, 2022.
© Copyright Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.