Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu officially launched the Tel Aviv light rail on Thursday, August 17, 2023, in a ceremony at the Red Line terminus in Petah Tikva. The event was attended by several ministers, mayors, and other dignitaries, as well as hundreds of protesters who booed and heckled the premier from outside the venue.
Netanyahu praised the project as a “festive day for Israel” and a “milestone for the transportation revolution” that his government has initiated. He said the light rail will serve everyone, regardless of their political views, and will boost the economy, tourism, and quality of life in the metropolitan area.
The prime minister also touted his achievements in other fields, such as opening up the economy after the pandemic, extracting gas from the sea, building the Egyptian border fence, and making peace with Arab states. He said he will also solve the Palestinian issue, despite the opposition from some quarters.
“There are always obstacles. They have to be overcome. When people, some of them behind us here, told us not to open up the economy, we opened it and succeeded,” Netanyahu said, referring to the protesters and his political rivals. “They told us not to extract gas from the sea. We extracted it and succeeded. They told us not to build the Egyptian border fence. We built it and saved the country [from an influx of economic migrants]. They told us it is impossible to achieve peace with Arab states without solving the Palestinians [issue]. We did it and we’ll solve the Palestinians. That too.”
“We did all those things, and today we’re connecting the country — between cities, inside cities, and between states,” he added, alluding to a planned project he spoke of last month to one day run a fast-rail route to Saudi Arabia.
Protesters slam Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan and corruption charges
The ceremony was marred by protests from hundreds of activists who oppose Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan, which they see as an attempt to evade his corruption charges and undermine democracy. The protesters waved Israeli flags and chanted slogans such as “Bibi go home” and “We won’t let you destroy our country”.
The protesters also blew horns and whistles to disrupt Netanyahu’s speech, forcing him to raise his voice. Some of them clashed with police officers who tried to keep them away from the venue. No injuries or arrests were reported.
The protest movement has been active since January 2023, when Netanyahu announced his intention to pass a series of laws that would limit the power of the Supreme Court, change the appointment process of judges, and grant immunity to sitting prime ministers from prosecution. The plan has been widely criticized by legal experts, opposition parties, civil society groups, and international organizations.
Netanyahu faces three indictments for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three separate cases involving alleged favors to media moguls and wealthy businessmen in exchange for positive coverage and gifts. He denies any wrongdoing and claims he is a victim of a political witch hunt.
Tel Aviv light rail opens to public after years of delays
The Tel Aviv light rail is a long-awaited project that aims to ease traffic congestion and improve public transportation in Israel’s largest metropolis. The first leg of the project, the Red Line, stretches over 34 stations from Bat Yam to Petah Tikva, covering 24 kilometers (15 miles) of underground and above-ground tracks.
The Red Line will officially open to the public on Friday, August 18, 2023. Rides will be free on Friday, but the light rail system will start collecting fares on Saturday night. Trips within Tel Aviv will cost 5 shekels (about $1.30), and longer trips will cost just over $3.
The construction of the Red Line began in 2015 and faced several delays due to technical difficulties, budget overruns, legal disputes, and environmental concerns. The original completion date was set for 2021, but was pushed back several times until 2023.
The project is overseen by NTA (the government mass transit agency) and operated by CityPass (a consortium of private companies). The total cost of the Red Line is estimated at 16 billion shekels (about $4 billion).
The Red Line is expected to carry about 250,000 passengers per day once it reaches full capacity. It will connect with other modes of transportation such as buses, trains, bicycles, and shared vehicles. It will also reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging people to use public transit instead of private cars.
The Tel Aviv light rail project also includes two more lines: the Green Line and the Purple Line. The Green Line will run from Holon to Herzliya via central Tel Aviv, while the Purple Line will run from Kiryat Ono to Ramat Hahayal via eastern Tel Aviv. Both lines are scheduled to be completed by 2027.