I boarded the train at 5:34 pm, having decided to ride the relatively new light rail in Jerusalem. The train cars still have a brand new look with no chewing gum on the floor, scratches, dirty seats, or graffiti.
I had purchased my single-ride ticket before boarding (no buying tickets on board) and then dipped it in a machine on the train to get a time stamp. A ticket is valid for 90 minutes so you might be able to do part of your return trip on the same ticket if you were riding for fun or a quick errand. In fact, a friend confessed riding the train is a fun excursion for his young kids. The train was most crowded from the municipality (city hall) to the central bus station.
In general, the train looks ‘modern.’ Riders with a multi-ride pass wave it by the machine. When my car was totally full, wall to wall people, some riders passed tickets to be stamped or waved. A recorded voice announces stops and a screen lists the stop. The ride was smooth. A wheelchair rider rolled on comfortably with the train and platform height well matched.
Everything is in three languages. Hebrew is first and largest on signs but everything, including stop announcements, is also in Arabic and English.
The train had a lot of workers – a driver, security personnel at each stop, and then another two who boarded my car at one point. There must be roving inspectors to check that riders have valid tickets and, on my car, two workers were counting and recording the number of riders. I did see a few Palestinians on the line – most likely residents of East Jerusalem – and that is consistent with what I was told: As the Israeli government has cut Palestinian East Jerusalem off from the West Bank, some Palestinian Jerusalemites have turned to West Jerusalem for some walking, shopping and going out. On my second train, heading back from the terminal stop at Mt. Herzl toward the city center, some Palestinians boarded the train at Yefeh Nof, a Jewish neighborhood in West Jerusalem.
In terms of larger political significance, the train runs through east and west Jerusalem, starting from an area in northern Jerusalem that was part of the West Bank under Jordan (until 1967). Some stops, including where I first boarded, are right along the seam line in Jerusalem, the line that divided Jerusalem from 1949 to 1967. Israel has actively worked to erase this line; on the train, there are no signs or indications of when one crosses back and forth. Israel has also built roads and buildings that blur (disappear?) the east-west divide.
Names matter as well. One stop is called Shim’on Ha-Tsadik, the Hebrew name of a neighborhood in East Jerusalem known as Sheikh Jarrah. Even the Arabic on the signs is just a transliteration of Shim’on Ha-Tsadik. Given ongoing disputes in the neighborhood about Jewish settler expansion, even the choice of names is not an idle decision.