Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz
Transportation Minister Yisrael KatzFlash 90

Following many delays and budget breaches, transportation officials in Israel said they are on track for launching a fast train connection between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in early 2018.

The fast connection project, which was launched more than 10 years ago and has cost more than double its initial budget of $800 million, will be finished by March 2018, enabling millions of passengers annually to travel between Israel's largest cities via its main airport in under 30 minutes, according to an interview with Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz published last Friday by Ynet.

“The commitment is to deliver by March 2018,” said Katz.

Transportation by train between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem currently takes more than 90 minutes even though the cities are only 33 miles apart. Using public transportation, traveling to the center of Jerusalem from the current Jerusalem train station at Malha Mall on the city’s southwestern edge can take another 45 minutes. Complicating the train journey are the steep inclines of the Jerusalem mountains. The bulk of passengers therefore travel for 50 to 70 minutes by bus or minibus on congestion-prone roads.

The fast connection project will run for miles through the mountains in a set of tunnels. Once operational, it is expected to save the economy millions in lost productivity and make Jerusalem a more attractive seat for the high-tech industry, among other sectors, currently centered around Tel Aviv.

The connection will have a single stop at Ben Gurion Airport.

But the excavation of tunnels greatly complicated the project and delayed its deadline by approximately seven years. It is also the reason its budget ballooned to $1.8 billion. The latest delay occurred earlier this year, when cracks were discovered in one of the tunnels, requiring urgent repairs and a review of other subterranean passages.

Katz said this was the last delay because all of the tunnels have been excavated and fortified with concrete. The last bridge of the project is on course to be completed next month, making further complications unlikely, according to Ynet.

Among the tunnels dug are two of Israel’s longest, each measuring 7 miles. The route also features Israel’s tallest bridge, at 311 feet, just outside the Israeli capital. The new connection’s Jerusalem terminus will be the centrally located International Convention Center opposite the city’s main bus terminal.