Friday, August 17, 2012

Tunnels to Jerusalem

A few years from now the new high speed train to Jerusalem will make its speedy way to the capital on a route not far from my home. I will never see the train as it passes because it will be traveling through a tunnel under the mountain ridge on the other side of Nahal Yitla, the picturesque valley that runs to the north of Moshav Neve Ilan. 

I recently hiked through this valley, almost reaching a controversial railroad bridge that nearly destroyed the mini-canyon, considered the deepest and most impressive in the Jerusalem Hills, but I hadn't ever managed to see the bridge or the rail tunnels until now.

Last week I joined a group of members from the moshav on a visit to the construction site of the central section of the new high speed rail line. The Shapir Pizzarotti Company is responsible for the tunnels and bridges between Shaar Hagay and Mevesseret; we accompanied one of its engineers to a construction site located in the foothills behind the Shaar Hagay gas station. There we saw a huge cement factory where arc-shaped pieces were being cast for the tunnel walls. We were told that when the rail line is completed in a few years, the factory will be dismantled and the area would once again serve as agricultural fields.

We drove through one of two parallel 900-meter long tunnels to arrive at Bridge #8, a 144-meter long bridge that had been opposed by environmentalists in fear that it would destroy the habitat. Our host showed us that even though the tunnel’s end was blasted out from within the mountain, no debris had fallen to the valley floor and no damage, besides the eyesore of the bridge itself, had been caused to the scenic canyon.

As if these tunnels weren’t impressive enough, we then turned to regard the main focus of the project. Work was just beginning on the 11.2 kilometer-long tunnels that would go all the way to Mevesseret. A special tunneling machine, two stories high and nearly a city block long, was being prepared to begin its mission. A second machine would work in parallel on the other tunnel. The tunnel would be dug at a rate of one meter per hour, with the machinery responsible not only for digging and clearing the stones and dirt, but also for fitting the arc-shaped cement pieces into place on the tunnel walls.

With years of tunneling ahead, it will be quite some time before the high speed train races under the Jerusalem Hills. Having seen the tunnels and Bridge #8, I realize that future passengers who will travel this route to Jerusalem will have only a brief few seconds to view the scenic Nahal Yitla valley, something I can enjoy every day from my home high above the tunnels.

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