Israel opens high-speed rail link between Tel Aviv airport and Jerusalem

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FILE PHOTO: An Israel Railways employee stands near a newly built bridge during a media tour showcasing the last stages of the construction of a new high-speed railway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, near Jerusalem September 6, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Two newly built bridges are seen from below during a media tour showcasing the last stages of the construction of a new high-speed railway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, near Jerusalem September 6, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Construction workers walk during a media tour showcasing the last stages of the construction of a new high-speed railway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in Jerusalem September 6, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks out a train window as he participates in a test run of the new high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, near Lod, Israel September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits next to Israel's Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz during a test-run of the new high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, at the Yitzhak Navon Railway Station in Jerusalem September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
An Israeli soldier uses the escalators inside Israel's new high-speed rail line station in Jerusalem September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
FILE PHOTO: Members of the media interview an Israel Railways official during a media tour showcasing the last stages of the construction of a new high-speed railway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, near Jerusalem September 6, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
People walk on the platform at Israel's new high-speed rail line station at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Lod, near Tel Aviv September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) stands next to Israel's Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz on an escalator as they visit the new high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, at the Yitzhak Navon Railway Station in Jerusalem September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
Passengers look out of a window as they travel on Israel's new high-speed rail line from Ben Gurion International Airport to Jerusalem September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel opened a high-speed rail link between Tel Aviv’s international airport and Jerusalem on Tuesday, part of a $2 billion project that has drawn Palestinian complaints over its route through small parts of the occupied West Bank.

The train will cut travel time between Ben-Gurion Airport and a new, 80-metre-(260-foot)-deep underground terminal at the entrance to Jerusalem to around 20 minutes. By road, the trip takes at least 40 minutes.

At the airport, the bright red train drew smiles from eager passengers.

“It was like a dream come true … It’s really quite amazing

and will be a valuable asset to people wanting to get to and from the airport,” said Manchester-born Eli Rothbard, 45, a ground services employee at Ben Gurion.

The train, travelling at speeds of up to 160 kilometres per hour (100 mph), traverses a series of new tunnels and bridges, passing through hills between Jerusalem and the airport, about 40 km (25 miles) away.

The line runs through sections of land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war near the Palestinian village of Beit Surik, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and in the Latrun Valley, about midway between the holy city and Ben-Gurion airport.

Palestinians who live in the West Bank are largely barred by Israel from travelling abroad via Ben-Gurion, and cross overland to Jordan instead to fly out of the airport in Amman. Israel cites security concerns for the ban.

“It is very sad that you see a railway and see modern technology on your land and inside your land and you cannot use it or exploit it because of the element of power of the occupation,” said Mohammed al-Tari, 55, from Beit Surik.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Israel of “illegally making use of occupied Palestinian land” in setting the train’s route, which will eventually include a direct high-speed link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv city itself.

Passengers and a dog travel on Israel's new high-speed rail line from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion International Airport September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A bridge, part of the tracks of Israel's new high-speed rail line between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is seen in the outskirts of Jerusalem September 23, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
An Israeli soldier is reflected in the window as she travels on Israel's new high-speed rail line from Ben Gurion International Airport to Jerusalem September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks inside Israel's new high-speed rail line station in Jerusalem September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A view shows a new Israeli high-speed rail service that connects Ben Gurion airport with Jerusalem as seen from the the occupied West Bank September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
People sit outside Israel's new high-speed rail line station in Jerusalem September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
The Palestinian village of Beit Iksa in the occupied West Bank is seen in the background as Israel's new high-speed rail line travels on its tracks in Jerusalem September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) sits next to Israel's Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz during a test-run of the new high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, near Lod, Israel September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
Passengers travel on Israel's new high-speed rail line from Ben Gurion International Airport to Jerusalem September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
A view shows a new Israeli high-speed rail service that connects Ben Gurion airport with Jerusalem as seen from the the occupied West Bank September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
A bridge, part of the tracks of Israel's new high-speed rail line between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is seen in the outskirts of Jerusalem September 23, 2018. Picture taken September 23, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
FILE PHOTO: A labourer carries reinforcement bars in front of a tunnel at the construction site of Israel Railways' Jerusalem High Speed Link project some 20 km (12 miles) west of Jerusalem July 5, 2012. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo

Erekat said the train was part of Israel’s “agenda of turning its occupation into annexation”.

On a test run last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the opening of the line was “an historic moment” heralding a “new era for Jerusalem and the state of Israel.”

There have been plans for a fast train between Jerusalem and the city of Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial hub on the Mediterranean coast, since 1995. But the project – infrastructure work began in 2005 – has been slow-moving, plagued by a lack of funding and environmental concerns.

Completion of electrification work and the opening of the 60-km (37-mile)-long route between the two cities has been frequently postponed. No firm inaugural date has been announced.

When completed, the train journey time between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will take under half an hour. The drive takes at least an hour. An existing rail line built by the Ottoman Turks more than 100 years ago meanders around picturesque hills and the journey takes more than 90 minutes.

At Ben-Gurion, Yogev Yair, a 41-year-old high-tech employee travelling with his toddler son to Jerusalem, hailed the opening of the high-speed link. “I personally have no problem with the line traversing the ‘Green Line’ (into the West Bank),” he said.

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