When our kids were young, we had a videotape they used to love called “Road Construction Ahead” which was all about, well, road construction. It featured hard hats, tractors and lots of concrete.
The truth is, I loved it too – I’m a nut when it comes to anything in the stages of being built – highways, bridges, airports. So, when the annual Jerusalem-area “Houses from Within” event featured a tour of one of the tunnels currently being dug out for the fast train line from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, there was no question I’d be there.
Houses from Within began in 2007 with the aim of allowing Jerusalemites to peek inside beautiful houses that would normally be for the enjoyment of their owners only. The two-day event has expanded to include more than 100 homes as well public facilities (you can tour City Hall or the Jewish Agency), educational institutions (check out Beit Avi Chai or the Mormon Center on the Mount of Olives), museums, churches, hotels (a boutique inn in Ein Kerem, the half built Palace Hotel) and now, apparently, train tunnels (that fits the description of “within” though they’re not exactly a house).
The fast train, which will zip between Israel’s two largest cities in an astounding 28 minutes (compare that with the current train which clocks in at nearly two hours), has been an engineering challenge to say the least, and includes five tunnels in total. We were allowed entrance to Tunnel 3A, the second to last tunnel on the way into Jerusalem.
The tunnel is located adjacent to a little known monument memorializing the 9/11 attacks in New York, perched on a hill in the middle of nowhere (the murky directions towards the site called for us to go “straight at the T Junction”).
Once inside the construction fence, we walked into one of two 820-meter long tunnels. The ground was still rough (the rails won’t be laid until much later) and the makeshift fluorescent lights on either side reminded me of a Dr. Who episode that scared the dickens out of me when I was ten.
There are two tunnels to handle trains going in each direction. Why not save money and bore only a single tunnel? Two tunnels make it safer in case of a disaster and would allow the trains to keep running, our engineer and tour guide Sagi told us. While he explained that he was referring to a fire, living in Israel, it was hard not to think about the possibility of a terror attack as well.
Another Israeli aspect to the tour: the Houses from Within program stated that only 20 people would be let into the tunnels at a time, and they’d have to wear hard hats and reflective vests. But Sagi took about 50 of us in and there were two similarly sized groups already inside. No helmets, vests or waivers in case a boulder fell on someone’s head (none did).
Near the end of the tour, one of the participants asked whether the fast train’s construction (due to be completed in 2017) would be finished before the still-delayed Jerusalem light rail is fully functional. “Without a doubt,” Sagi quipped.
Whether that turns out to be the case, I’ll be the first in line to book my ticket. And when we pass through Tunnel 3A, I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren I was there.