Stuttgart 21 project
Photo courtesy NTA
The first of seven lines will be 23 kilometers long and have 22 stations.

Tel Aviv Megarail Project
Photo courtesy NTA

Set for completion in 2017, project construction is estimated to cost $2.5 billion.

With about 400,000 residents and more than 3.3 million in its metropolitan area, Israel's second-largest city, Tel Aviv, is finally getting a mass transit system. After decades of false starts, work has begun on the first of seven planned lines of a combined light-rail and bus rapid-transit network. Estimated at $2.5 billion, it is the most expensive civilian transport project ever undertaken in Israel.

The launch comes a year after the cancellation of a build-operate-transfer contract awarded in 2006 to the MTS consortium that included Israeli and foreign firms, including Germany's Siemens. The Israeli government then moved to nationalize the project and guarantee financing to push forward the work.

Israeli and foreign contractors began work in September on three 25-meter-deep shafts that will be used for the extensive tunneling involved in the 23-kilometer Red Line, which will run from Petah Tikva, a suburb north of the city, through the downtown to Bat Yam in the south. The line is set for completion in 2017.

"At least six tenders for tunneling and construction work are due to be issued over the next year, with much of the work expected to be conducted by foreign firms," sys Udi Lehrman, head of construction at N.T.A. Tel Aviv Metropolitan Mass Transit Systems, the government-owned company in charge of the project. The first tender for tunneling work using the New Austrian Tunneling Method is due out in the first quarter of 2012. About half the route and 10 of the 22 stations will be underground.  The drilling work includes two parallel 8.2-km-long tunnels. In July, NTA selected Canada's IBI Group Inc. and Holland's DHV Group to plan and engineer the underground stations.

"The geological conditions along the route are difficult, as the soil is soft," says Lehrmann. "Also, the underground work will have to be conducted in the underground water table." In addition, he says the route runs close to archaeological sites and buildings dating back to the 19th century.

The system's first four light-rail lines will cover a total of more than 100 km. Government and municipal planning authorities have already approved the project, and detailed planning is continuing on the other segments.