Jan 9, 2007

train fashla

The train from Bet Shemesh to Tel Aviv is a fairly busy line and has been considered extremely successful by Israel Railways. A while back they added Jerusalem to the line.

The line Jerusalem - Bet Shemesh - Tel Aviv is relatively slow. The section from Jerusalem to Bet Shemesh cuts through the mountains and is very circuitous, thus limiting the speed. It takes about 45 minutes to get by train from Jerusalem to Bet Shemesh.

The Bet Shemesh - Tel Aviv section is a bit better, because it is on level ground, not hilly. Only certain sections near the beginning have serious curves, but most of the way is fairly straight. The limitation, however, is that there are sections with only one track. That means that there are points where the train has to wait a few minutes (sometimes up to 10 minutes) for a passing train before it can continue. The ride from BS to tel Aviv takes, officially, 38 minutes (to the first TA station).

That means someone travelling from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv by train had to travel for a minimum of an hour and 20 minutes and likely more.

The only people who considered such a trip worthwhile, rather than taking a bus, were people who lived in Jerusalem in the neighborhoods right next to the train station. Most other people prefer the bus, which takes between 45 minutes and an hour. For those living near the train station, to get to the bus station they would have to spend 20 - 30 minutes in morning or evening city traffic, which makes the trip by train more or less equal to the trip by bus.

The Railways authorities found the Jerusalem part of the line was operating at a loss. They were getting decreasing numbers of passengers. They decided the line was not worth continuing. However, they did not want to cancel service to the capital city, so they devised a new arrangement.

On January 1 they split the line.

The line is now Bet Shemesh - Tel Aviv. The Jerusalem line is now considered a suburban connection of Bet Shemesh.

Meaning, a commuter from Jerusalem who needs to get to Tel Aviv (or vice versa) will take a train from Jerusalem to Bet Shemesh. He will switch trains in BS and get on a train to Tel Aviv.

The problem with this is the schedule. Most of the day is ok. The Jerusalem train is scheduled to arrive in Bet Shemesh about 10 minutes prior to the departure of the Tel Aviv train. However, there are certain hours during the day that, due to scheduling conflicts, the train arrives in Bet Shemesh about 20 minutes after the other train left to Tel Aviv.

Because there is currently only one train per hour between Bet Shemesh and Tel Aviv, that means the commuter during those hours will need to wait an additional 45 minutes or so for the train to Tel Aviv.

The travel time increased from 1:20 to nearly 2:30.

One week later this is all over the media. People are complaining on radio talk shows, they are calling the Railways authority, and today it is in various news sources, including Haaretz and TheMarker (Ha'Aretz's business newspaper).

This situation would have been avoidable, had the line been prepared properly prior to its installation. However, Ariel Sharon, then the man in charge of making the decision, made the decision to go ahead. In 2005 the State Comptroller criticized Sharon and the government that they had approved the upgrade of the line (to Jerusalem) without performing any economic analyses.

The train is a very comfortable ride. Much more so than buses. No company can justify operating at a loss, even a government controlled one, so the current need for changes is understandable. However, the changes implemented are simply untenable. It is ridiculous that a commuter will need two hours and thrity minutes (minimum) to get from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, in this day and age.

Though it happened because there were not enough passengers, they are now driving away (pun intended) the rest of their passengers on that line.

They need to rework the schedule to ensure that, excluding unusual delays, the trains are scheduled to arrive in Bet Shemesh with enough time to make a switch to continue the route with minimal waiting time.

Alternatively, and this is a solution that will solve the current problem as well as improve general service between Bet Shemesh and Tel Aviv, I woudl recommend adding at least one more train to the line. If there is a train between BS and Tel Aviv every half hour (instead of every hour), the waiting time will be cut down dramatically.

In addition that will help all the people in Bet Shemesh who are now limited to a once-per-hour train.

This could be added for only during the busier hours of the day, mornings and evenings. During these hours, the trains are pretty full and adding a train to the schedule would not mean a train running empty. During the quieter times of day where passengers are limited, they could keep it at one train per hour.


  1. Hi Rafi,

    I always assumed they couldn't add any more trains. As you mentioned, there is only one track most of the way from BS to TA. As it stands now, that track is filled with trains in both directions (and don't forget the Ashkelon trains also travel through Ramla on the same one track). Adding another train to the schedule would exacerbate the problem even more.


  2. true - but there has to be a way around that. And I would not mind to sit for a few minutes for a "mifgash rakavot" to have that added flexability of another train per hour...


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