Israel is a small and very diverse country about the size of New Jersey. That's why buses have traditionally been our best way to get from one place to another. However, starting with one little train that ran between Jaffa and Jerusalem, Israel Railways has expanded to the great relief of commuters and other travelers. You can now go from Hailfa in the north all the way south to Sderot (the target of all those rockets from Gaza you've read about).
There are now branches to some of the small centers that connect them to the rest of the country and there is talk about extending the railway all the way to Eilat on the Red Sea. Jerusalem still depends on a rail line that takes longer to get to Tel Aviv than if you drive. They are also working on a high speed line to connect the Capitol to the center. About time.
However, after 10 years of construction, Jerusalem now has a Light Rail running right through her center that goes from south to north in 20 minutes. The Light Rail was built by a French company that didn't know what it was doing. It was their first job with these trains. They laid tracks and then ripped them up — long stretches of them. That's why it took 10 years. The construction phase was a nightmare and the merchants on Jaffa Road (the city's main street) complained bitterly that it was putting them out of business. Customers couldn't navigate the torn-up street or deal with the dirt and noise.
Today that train has surpassed all expectations and it's amazing how everyone has taken to it. Each car has about 50 seats and at peak times 250 people jam themselves into those cars. They are clean, quiet, air conditioned, heated and comfortable — and they don't jerk. You never have to wait more than seven minutes and they have an electronic sign that tells you when the next train is due. That's NEW for Israel. And they are promising to put more cars on.
The Light Rail now has 23 stations along its 13.8 kilometer route and the number of trains has been increased from 11 to 21. It carries 130,000 passengers a day, compared to 160,000 a day for Israel Railways, and it is projected to reach 200,000 daily when the line is extended. And, fulfilling another of its objectives, the Light Rail has helped to revive Jerusalem's dying center city.
But buses, for which the country is well-known, are still the best way to get to all the holy and historical sites.