Traveling anywhere in Israel from the Holy City isn’t going to be easy on the day President Bush arrives, but it is a perfect day for experiencing the low carbon pleasure of train travel. For a start, Malcha station at 9 a.m is empty – it seems many commuters, tourists or day-trippers have left earlier, or stayed home for the State visit.
Once we get going, precisely at 9.41, the initial part of the journey takes in wonderful views of the Har Giora Nature Reserve, winding around the valley floor, and picking up the course of the Soreq river. Leaving the City this back way, around its rump as it were, gives the traveller the unexpected delight of seeing such fertility. We weave through Cypress groves and olive tree plantations.
Only train passengers and hikers and herders see this. It is an ecological niche; a basin of CO2 absorbing trees, with several types of lichens in abundance.After my reverie caused by exposure to wildness, I try to calculate the environmental costs and benefits of making this journey: if Jerusalem to Tel Aviv via Bet Shemesh is roughly 90 km, then approximately 16 units of CO2 emissions are used per trip.
For a similar journey by car it would be 30 units of CO2 (approx), and to make the journey by plane (or to be carried Presidentially by helicopter) it would be in the region of 100 units of CO2 emitted by the aircraft.See GreenProphet post: Carbon Footprint on the Holy Land.But, and this is a big BUT, the journey takes just over an hour and forty minutes, with a ridiculous change of trains in Bet Shemesh, including 2 x 5 minute stops to allow approaching trains to pass. Considering the first train in 1892 from Jaffa to Jerusalem took 3 hours and fifty minutes, I suppose there have been slow improvements.
The high speed link connecting J to TA via Modiin scheduled to open soon will cater for those in a hurry. The 20 or so passengers who boarded at Malcha were swelled by around 150 who got on to the new, double decker train at BS, after the train had passed through a working quarry, and off we went again.
Then on through the lush agricultural belt. Lots of fields lying fallow, covered in grasses and natural green fertilisers, doing all the hard work in this shmitta year. Satsumas and lemons sitting plumply in their trees. This part of the journey takes us through a managed landscape, in preparation for the concrete landscape up ahead. Crossing the Latrun-Be’rsheva road, the continuing expansion of the Country’s road network is seen up close. Heavy machinery cuts the land up. Perhaps this sad sight shows that the re-opening and up-grading of this railway line (in 2004) hasn’t so far been a success.
We ramble on, cruising gently through Ramle and Lod, cities of crumbling poverty and camels, distinguished by a mixed population, trying to get on with life. I’m tempted to jump out and find the last resting place of St. George, who I think would have appreciated this leisurely modus operandi conveying us (serenely) forward. My fellow passengers speak a great mix of languages, and demonstrate a great variety of ring-tones. Some sleep, some shout, while kids play in the aisles and enjoy not being couped up in a car. Others don’t seem to notice that we are now in the middle of the Ayalon highway, hurtling along at a good speed, surrounded by concrete and in sight of the Tel Aviv towers.
The train glides into the 3 Tel Aviv stations, and anyone wanting to go North must change here. It is a blessing to take this leisurely meander through the poetic and ever-changing landscape of Israel. As a humble train passenger, you get closer to the rhythms of land, in all its diversity and ecology.
I love train journeys; across Russia by Trans-Siberian, or London up to Edinburgh are highlights of a life by train. They are usually wonderful experiences, and this trip today ranks highly.Get going by train, greenies!::Israel Railways (English)Book: Travel the World By Train: Near & Middle East (Turkey, Syria, Israel, Iran, India)