The National Infrastructure Committee Will Discuss a Train to the Western Wall

This coming Monday, February 17, the National Infrastructure Committee will discuss the plan to extend the Tel-Aviv-Jerusalem train route all the way to the Western Wall. The plan was advanced by former Transportation Minister Israel Katz, who even declared that “Trump Station” will be built adjacent to the Western Wall plaza. The plan is part of the Ministry of Transport’s strategic plan for 2040.

The Train’s Route

Last June, Ministry of Transport representatives presented a plan to extend the train’s route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem’s city center, the Khan Theatre, and underneath the Hinnom Valley, arriving at the Western Wall. The train was presented as a solution for public transport users arriving from outside Jerusalem who are interested in visiting the Western Wall. According to the ministry officials, other transport options (the cable car and light rail) offer solutions to those arriving to the Old City basin from within Jerusalem.

The plan to extend the train to the Western Wall faced two primary obstacles:

  1. Archaeological damage – According to the Ministry of Transport, the entire route of the train is located within a layer of rock that does not contain antiquities. Yet exiting the station and ascending to ground level will surely entail a complex encounter with archaeological layers.
  2. It could be detrimental to the quality of the Gihon Spring water – The ancient spring is located in Silwan as part of the Kidron riverbed, and there’s a high probability that excavating for a train would compromise the quality of the water. The Gihon Spring is a tourist attraction within the City of David and is a holy site in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Within the framework of committee members’ internal discussions, several additional reservations arose:

  1. Concern about damage to antiquities and Jewish heritage – the train is expected to pass underneath the City of David
  2. The plan to build a cable car to the Western Wall (which has already been approved by the committee) is meant to offer a solution to accessing the area.
  3. No data was offered to show the need for this plan, such that it is clearly guided by a policy decision.
  4. Aspects of international law.

Ultimately, the committee approved the plan to extend the train’s route to the city center and the Khan Theatre, but rejected the request to extend the line via an underground route beneath the Hinnom Valley through to the Western Wall, with a majority of 8 against 1. The sole supporter in favor of the full route extending to the Western Wall, was a representative of the Ministry of Transport.

The Plan’s Return to the Committee

Although it was rejected in June, the plan to extend the line through to the Western Wall will return to the National Infrastructure Committee’s agenda next week. Based on the information we have, settler organizations in the Old City basin placed pressure to advance the route. The light rail is also being advanced.  Recently a budget of 10 million shekels was approved for the plan to extend the light rail’s route to the Western Wall.

The current Minister of Transportation Bezalel Smotrich, a representative of the religious right-wing, recently expressed his support for the cable car plan to the Western Wall, but in tandem he is advancing the train to the Western Wall. Smotrich recently asserted that: “We are promoting a rail solution, but it takes time. The cable car at hand will transport 3000 people an hour, which is certainly an efficient response.” The advancement of the rail plan, along with Smotrich’s statement, corroborate the information we have that the cable car is merely a temporary solution until a train is in operation.

In the absence of a comprehensive single plan for the area under one body, the settlers are able to efficiently exert political pressure and advance initiatives that serve their cause. As a result, the Western Wall and Old City basin are granted diverse transportation solutions that are more expensive and innovative than those at other sites which are clearly more obviously in need of such solutions.