The last time I was in Israel, two years ago this week, the streets of Jerusalem were being ripped up to embed track for the city's new light-rail transportation system. Light-rail, essentially what used to be called trolley cars, is a relatively cheap form of transportation, far easier to implementthan digging subway tunnels. Wiith traffic barred from those streets where they operate, the streamlined above-ground cars are far more efficient than buses that get caught in and cause traffic jams.
I remember walking past the tracks that approach the Old City and imagining the amazing picture it would soon make when state-of-the-art, streamlined trains with their computerized displays one day pass by the walls of the city built by the Ottomans in 1538.
Thanks to photographer Jacob Richman, an avid chronicler of Israeli life, you can get an idea of what it's like to ride those now-functional trains through the heart of the new city of Jerusalem via this video, currently featured on our web site. The system, under construction since 2002 began operating Aug. 19, and includes 23 stations along 8.7 miles of routes. If you haven't been to Jerusalem in a while, you may be dazzled by what you'll see, most of all by how routine this major change in their daily transportation looks to residents. Israelis are known for quick adaptation.
Noteworthy is that the main conduit through the center of town, Jaffa Road, is completely automobile-free for the first time in its history (though bicycle riders seem unintimidated), deferring to the electric-powered silver beasts that run on carefully calculated routes from one end to the other. Richman tells me that cars and (still-running) buses must now use side roads like Haneviim and Agrippas that are likely experiencing unfamiliar levels of trafic, fumes and noise.
I understand that this is progress in a very busy, heavily visited and highly populated modern capital city. But I can't help feeling that it doesn't belong there. In many parts of Jerusalem, you can walk around and feel a sense of time warp, not back to the original Israel but surely to the early days of the modern state, with century-old buildings, storefronts that haven't changed in six decades (and even some people who have been around that long).
The hum of these new trains will surely be something of a buzzkill for those of us who enjoy that kind of nostalgia. Then again, if gets me from the bus station to my hotel or the Old City during my next visit in a few short minutes without a diesel-clouded traffic jam, I, like the natives, will probably learn to live with it.
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