Our Jerusalem host’s eyebrows almost met his yarmulke on the back of his head when we told him we were going to catch a train to Akko. “Well if you must I suppose you can” he grumbled while rolling his eyes at our insanity.
The alternatives were to catch a bus – which we rejected on the basis of complexity and travel-sickness – or to drive. When we ran the idea of hiring a car past our Israeli friend Marta, her emailed response was “I do not think it is a good idea to drive in Israel. I think they drive according to the rules. Each driver and his own rules.” That left the train, which is always our preferred mode of transport anyway.
First impression on the train: Our host is clearly not alone in his opinion of Israeli rail as the entire long train from Jeruslaem to Tel Aviv seemed to have about six people on it. The Jerusalem to Tel Aviv train runs once every two hours down a single track. It’s not a bad train, although a bit closer to a suburban model than a European inter-city job. The seats are good and set out conveniently in groups of four around a table. And it’s not overcrowded. So it’s not comfort that’s the problem.
Upon consideration we thought it was possible that security concerns are part of the reason the locals don’t use the train, and certainly we had to get through some intrusive security to enter the train station. That might explain people opting for their own cars in preference to trains. But the main form of public transport in Israel is the bus system which presumably has security concerns of its own.
Perhaps it’s speed. The Jerusalem train doesn’t exactly zip along – and Israeli drivers do. I have to say that there are many spots where the train feels like it is moving at, maybe, a horse-like speed. But other than that it moves along in a stately fashion. Certainly from a tourist point of view it wasn’t a bad way to see some of the countryside. We ended the first leg of our trip a bit mystified about the lack of interest in train travel.
In Jerusalem we had to change trains to get to Akko. In spite of warnings that the connections rarely work, we had no problems with our nine-minute conection. The train from Tel Aviv to Akko is an express and a much bigger operation – and it was crowded. Speed was up, seating and riding comfort were unchanged – but there was one big difference: the people. I’ve written before about Israeli manners and said we’d not come across any outright rudeness – well now we have. Four heavily laden people wearing backpacks, two of them young kids and do you think the locals would give an inch in crowding through the trains. Nope. They just push. This is the first place we’ve ever been that people will push between us and the kids, leaving them separated. And when sitting I lost count of the number of times I was hit on the head by bags and guns carried by passing people.
Maybe it was this that was causing our Jeruslaem host to raise his eyebrows at our train plans – the thought of being in a crowd with his countrymen.