Posted on December 27, 2018 by Branden Charles Johnson
Before moving to Israel in June 2017, I had never set foot in the Holy Land. I finished my conversion to Judaism in October 2015, when I was already too old to participate in a Taglit/Birthright trip. After I was accepted to the 2017 summer intensive program at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, I knew I wanted to maximize my limited time in Israel by seeing as much of as many places as I could.
The first place on my list was Tel Aviv. I had heard of so many wonderful stories about what a dynamic and fascinating city it was that I knew I needed to get lost in the life of its streets, heavy with the sweet, sticky air of the Mediterranean summer.
Since then, Tel Aviv has become one of my favorite cities, a nice place to visit when I need a break from Jerusalem (or just an excuse to go to the beach). I am a huge fan of public transportation, and have no hesitation to hop on the 480 bus line to Tel Aviv, knowing that in about an hour I will be right back where my Israel adventure first started. Recently, however, my life was changed when Israel Railways opened the new electric, high-speed line from central Jerusalem to Ben Gurion Airport.
The high-speed line currently only runs between the new Yitzchak Navon station, across from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, and the Ben Gurion Airport train station. The trip takes 20 minutes one-way, and trains leave every 30 minutes. At least, that’s in an ideal situation.
The Navon Station is quite physically impressive, especially the fact that it takes about seven minutes to get from the street-level entrance to the platforms, via a series of stairs and escalators that descend deep (80 meters) underground. The first time I took the train, in the middle of a Monday afternoon in late October, I had no issues. The train left right on time, the transition to the local train at Ben Gurion was simple and, best of all, the whole trip was free.<
For the first 90 days (the station opened on Sept. 25 of this year after more than a decade and half of construction and anticipation), the trip was free for all riders. In fact, as long as your trip originated in Jerusalem, you could travel to anywhere in the country for free via Ben Gurion. All you had to do was request a voucher online, a tedious process that was apparently unnecessary, as no one bothered to confirm that I had a voucher when I showed up for my scheduled departure.
The second time I took the train, early on a Tuesday morning – I was flying to Spain for the Hanukah break – the trip was still free and, this time, I didn’t need a voucher. Unfortunately, the conductor announced to a full train at 7:03 am that the 7:00 am train would not be departing, and that we would need to board the 7:30 train across the platform. Fortunately, I had given myself plenty of time to get to the airport, and the rest of the trip was smooth.
Although construction began in 2005, and significant delays due to a variety of factors have meant that the high-speed line connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is only partially complete and not yet running at full capacity, this new line has the potential to change the way residents and visitors alike see and experience the center of the country. As it passes through tunnels (five) and over bridges (several kilometers worth) in the hills between Jerusalem and the Coastal Plain, the unrivaled beauty of the land opens before you and offers stunning views that you just can’t get from the window of a car on Highway 1.