The Jerusalem Light Rail Transit (JLRT)

The Jerusalem Light Rail Transit (JLRT) project came into being following the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993. It was intended to improve the mobility and economic development of the local population.

The JLRT opened to the public on 19 August 2011.

Veolia Transport, a subsidiary of Veolia Transdev, is a 5% shareholder of the CityPass consortium, which won the international tender procedure launched for the construction and operation of the JLRT.

In 2010, Veolia Transport started negotiations with a view to transfer to the Israeli transport company Egged Holdings Limited its shareholding in the CityPass consortium, together with all its shares in the company responsible for running the JLRT.

This operation was rejected by the Jerusalem public transportation authorities in January 2012, judging that Egged did not have, for now, the Veolia Transport's expertise in terms of operating a light rail system. Nevertheless, Veolia Transport still intends to transfer this activity when all the necessary conditions are met.

Veolia Environnement's intention remains to continue to invest in the development of essential infrastructures in the environmental services and sustainable development sectors in Israel.

The background to the JLRT project

Factual background

The Jerusalem Light Rail Transit (JLRT) project came into being in the period of optimism that followed the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. The JLRT is intended to improve the mobility and economic development of the local population.

An international tender procedure launched by the State of Israel with the Jerusalem Public Transportation Administration (JPTA) in 2000 was won by the CityPass consortium.

The company responsible for operating and maintaining the JLRT will provide those services for a period of 27 years from its entry into service in 2011. The operator will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the system (customer service, service planning, ticketing and fare collection, track control, etc.).

The legal proceedings

In 2007, AFPS, a French Palestinian solidarity organization, filed civil proceedings against the French companies Veolia Transport and Alstom at the Nanterre courthouse. It asked that the concession contract for the construction and operation of a light rail system in Jerusalem be cancelled.

Following a series of postponements at AFPS' request, the court ruled on May 30, 2011 that Veolia Transport had not committed any act that infringed upon international law in signing the contracts for construction and operations and maintenance, nor had it violated Veolia Environnement's Ethics, Commitment and Responsibility program.

AFPS filed an appeal on July 7, 2011.

The Court of Appeals in Versailles upheld the original decision on March 22, 2013, reiterating that Veolia Transport had not infringed upon international law, humanitarian law or the UN Global Compact by signing and executing the concession and operations contracts for the light rail system in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem: an expanding city in need of public services

Jerusalem covers an area of 126 square kilometres. By 2020, the population is estimated to have reached 950,000 residents (compared to 730,000 today).

There is a strong dependency on motorized transportation in Jerusalem (cars, buses and taxis) that creates daily traffic congestion. If alternative means of transportation, such as the JLRT system, are not offered, then daily traffic congestion is expected to grow substantially in future years. According to recent studies on Jerusalem by the Israeli Ministry of Transportation, about 100,000 Arab inhabitants in the area travel by bus every day.

Transport is a key issue for Jerusalem, and the JLRT system contributes or will contribute to delivering the following improvements:

  • it enables the inhabitants of East Jerusalem to access the city and its surrounding area faster and with greater ease;
  • the construction has already benefited the Arab population by rebuilding and improving their living environment;
  • the JLRT system and its depot situated in the Arab neighbourhood of Shu'afat will create new jobs for all the area's inhabitants;
  • the JLRT benefits all the inhabitants of the area served, and access is not restricted because of religious beliefs.

Technical details

Key Facts

  • JLRT network 13.8 km long, with 23 stations
  • Cumulative 1.4 million train-kilometres per year
  • Passenger forecast: 130,000 passengers per day, 31 million passengers during the first 12 months of operation from 2011 to 2012, growing to 46 million passengers annually by 2036
  • Employment of many operation and maintenance workers
  • Turnover for operation and maintenance: 80 million Shekels per year (i.e. EUR 16 million), for 27 years
  • 2 "Park and Ride" facilities among the line

The route and its construction

Veolia Transport was not consulted as to the route of the JLRT, and did not participate in the construction of the project.

As is the case with railway projects of this kind throughout the world, the future operator was not consulted about the choice of route for the JLRT. The route was optimised using the EMME2 model, developed jointly by the American consultancy company Parsons Brinckerhoff and the Jerusalem Public Transport Administration, with the support of local experts specialising in transport and town planning. The route had already been agreed and was laid down in the official tender procedure documents (invitation to tender).

The JLRT system departs from the western districts of Jerusalem and cross the city centre, passing close to the old city before heading north through areas with Arab and Israeli populations. The 23 stations are laid out regularly along the length of the line, and are spaced between 500 and 700 metres apart depending on the population density. Along the 14 kilometres of the route which serves 23 stations, 7 are situated in, or close to, Arab districts (more than 50,000 residents). The JLRT partially opened to the public on 19 August 2011. Its full commissioning will take place at the end of the final test-run period (mainly dedicated to the fine-tuning of the automatic traffic lights).

This video shows the route in detail

Veolia Transport's commitments

Throughout its worldwide operations, Veolia Environnement is committed to improving access to vital infrastructure and aiding communities with regard to their economic and social

development. The company has signed the UN Global Compact and has undertaken projects with several other UN specialized agencies (UNICEF, UNITAR, UN-Habitat, UNEP, WFP, UNESCO, and FAO).

Veolia Environnement's sustainable development approach lies at the core of its organization and strategy.

The JLRT project is designed to significantly improve the freedom and ease of movement of all populations in the area, including the Arab population which is in dire need of means of transportation.

Veolia Environnement has always made it clear that its participation in the operation of this transit system was conditional upon all parties observing a non-discriminatory policy, which for Veolia Environnement, involved:

  • compliance with French and international law. Veolia Environnement takes the view that its participation in such a project is not unlawful. The Nanterre TGI examined the merits of the case during the 2 March 2011 hearing. Among other legal grounds, it is important to consider Section 43 of the 1907 Hague Convention, applicable to occupied territories, which states that the occupying country must ensure "l'ordre et la vie publics"(public order and life) for the inhabitants of occupied territories. Buses transporting Israeli and Arab populations are being operated today on the very same route as the one that the JRLT follows. Roads on both sides of the tracks are and will remain open for private and public transport. It is very likely that the Arab neighbourhoods of Shu'afat and Beit Hanina will make the most of this new means of transportation.

    In no way will this new transportation system facilitate the transfer of population.

    Nor is it "irreversible", as one sometimes hears: if such a decision were to be taken by Palestinian authority, in due course, it would take only a few hours to "reverse" the track and turn it back into a road.

    In contrast to the separation wall, the JLRT system is a means of gathering and mixing the communities and easing "the public life" of the population of the occupied territories as required by international law.

    Veolia has always said that if a recognized international or French court held that the JLRT project or the agreement concluded by Veolia Transport was contrary to law, it would comply with any final judgement not subject to further appeal.

  • running the JLRT system in a way that precludes any discrimination. The JLRT will be run in a way that avoids any restriction of access on the basis of religious or community allegiances. If the company should find itself faced with a situation that made it impossible to implement and comply with this policy, it would immediately reconsider its commitment.

  • measuring the local community's support for the project on a regular basis, and more particularly, the support of the Arab population concerned, by carrying out independent and professional surveys.

  • in the context of its social responsibility as a company, agreeing to an open and transparent discussion with stakeholders regarding its participation in the JLRT system project. The company is convinced that the JLRT system project will promote development and economic and political stability in the region. Veolia Environnement has been committed to the United Nations Global Compact since 2003. Since 2009, the company has actively participated in the working group constituted by the Global Compact to examine the difficulties associated with economic activities in conflict zones, and their governance.

Opinion polls on the JLRT system project

The main focus of Veolia has been to directly sound out the opinion of the population concerned. Veolia Transport commissioned 2 independent opinion polls in June 2007 and May 2009, in order to assess the opinions and potential concerns of the Arab populations of the area concerned. The surveys were conducted by TNS Teleseker, the leading Israeli market survey and opinion poll company, which is a subsidiary of the international company TNS Global, the world's leading market survey company.

In 2007, the sample consisted of 502 Arab inhabitants of Shu'afat and Beit Hanina, and in 2009 of 639 Arab inhabitants of Shu'afat, Beit Hanina and Sheikh Jarrah (Arab neighbourhoods located closed to the JLRT line). The results of the surveys both show favourable anticipation and support for the project.

The results clearly show that the criticisms levelled at the JLRT system project do not reflect the opinion of the local populations, which are largely in favour of this new transport system. The people questioned expressed their interest and said that they wanted to make regular use of the JLRT system, because they think that it will shorten their travel time and simplify their daily lives and encourage the towns that they inhabit to open up and develop economically.

The results of the 2009 survey were as follows:

  • 62% support the operation of the JLRT
  • 62% are in favour of JLRT stops being located in Shu'afat and Beit Hanina
  • 69% said that they wanted to use the JLRT system
  • 47% will change their current mode of transport
  • 62% will recommend it to members of their family
  • 75% think that the JLRT will reduce journey times, and that it will prevent them being caught up in traffic jams
  • 60% think that the JLRT will reduce traffic on the road leading to Jerusalem
  • 60% think that the JLRT will bring progress and modernisation to Shu'afat and Beit Hanina
  • 66% think that the JLRT will encourage economic development and appeal to the Arab population
  • 60% think that the JLRT will improve the quality of life in Shu'afat and Beit Hanina

These results are all the more significant as the 2009 survey took place in a tense political context, following the events in Gaza.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why did Veolia Environnement decide to get involved in such a controversial project?

Veolia Environnement, which operates in more than 70 countries, is a leading player in the environmental services sector. Veolia Transport's business is to meet people's urban transportation needs, whichever method is used.

Veolia Transport joined the project following the Oslo Accords, when there was a prospect of a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The project will significantly improve journey times between the centre of Jerusalem and the Arab areas north of Jerusalem. The JLRT network will benefit all residents in the area. Veolia Transport was one of several European and American companies which answered the international tender launched in 2000 for the project.

Is the JLRT project contrary to international law?

Veolia Environnement is aware of the international laws that apply to such issues and particularly of UN Resolutions dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the status of the occupied territories in East Jerusalem. Veolia has always said that if a recognized international or French court held that the JLRT project or the agreement concluded by Veolia Transport was contrary to law, the company would comply with any final judgement not subject to further appeal.

In the context of the proceeding opposing Veolia Transport and Alstom on one hand and the AFPS on the other hand, the Tribunal the grande instance de Nanterre (first instance) stated that no breach of international law can be ascribed to Veolia Transport based on its involvement in the JLRT project and that the signature and fulfilment by the company of (i) the concession agreement and (ii) of the O&M contract do not constitute any breach of French law.

Our goal is to meet people's needs regarding urban movements - not to get involved in religious or political controversies.

What do Arab populations think about the Jerusalem LRT project?

The JLRT system is an important instrument designed to improve the mobility of the Arab population, and thus improve their economic development. They are the most dependent on public services, particularly in terms of transport.

Veolia Transport commissioned 2 professional polls in 2007 and 2009 to check the opinion of Arab populations along the route. The results showed a real enthusiasm for the project. A large majority was favourable to the proposed stations in the neighbourhoods of Shu'afat and Beit Hanina and expressed an interest in using the new means of transportation. The JRLT was also seen by these populations as something that would benefit the economic development of the areas in which they live.

Is Veolia Environnement supporting Israel's settlement policy?

No. This project offers a new, effective means of transportation serving everyone. It is intended to act as an instrument for the development of the local economy, which will particularly benefit the Arab populations.

Buses are being operated today on the same route as the one that the JLRT follows, with no restrictions on access. Tomorrow, the JLRT will be operated on that route.

The train depot is located in an Arab neighbourhood. By enabling improved economic and social conditions for the Arab areas and populations, the JLRT will perpetuate their presence in the territories and foster their development.

Of course this is conditional upon there being non-discriminatory access to the JLRT. We have no information to lead us to believe there will be discrimination in the operation of the JLRT. We will not operate the JLRT if in the future we are confronted with discriminatory practices restricting the access of certain categories of the population.

Does the Arab population have unrestricted access to the tramway? Are there any stops outside of the "occupied territories"?

We have no information concerning any kind of restriction of access for any population or passengers. The route of the JLRT was designed to ensure unrestricted access to everybody both in and outside the "occupied territories". Along the 14 kilometres of the route which serves 23 stations, 7 are situated in or close by Arab neighbourhoods (more than 50,000 residents).

Just as the local population has free access to the existing bus service, they will be able to use any of the JLRT stations. This is simply an alteration of the mode of transport on a route already used for public transport.

Is the recruitment process of the staff in charge of the O&M discriminatory?

No. All the job opportunities, notably the controllers and drivers' positions, are widely open to everyone; no religious, ethnic or sex-based criteria are taken into account in this recruitment process.

Due to the very specific nature of the offered positions, this recruitment process focuses on very serious and responsible profiles. Thereby, all candidates must have completed their military or civil service obligations. The option of civil service is most often taken up by the Arab population as well as Orthodox Jews.

In addition, all candidates must comply with public transportation recruitment process regulations, and in particular being over 21 years old and holding a driving licence for at least 2 years.