Monday, September 19, 2011

The End Game: Jerusalem Light Rail

The Jerusalem Light Rail is once again in the news: The drivers all had temporary licenses - all of them expired 3 days ago. Only 12 of them have been renewed. Somebody forgot to take care of renewing all of them...


So now we have the train running once every 30 minutes; even at once every 4 minutes it was crowded...


The Jerusalem Light Rail project is a fascinating one to study; it was running way behind schedule and budget until the current mayor Nir Barkat took charge.


His first question :Where's the schedule and the Project Manager? Yes, he comes from the world of software. :-)


The answer? Well, hum, there were a lot of people in charge; one for the infrastructure, one for the electricity, one for the actually trains, one for the software, one for the traffic lights and the list goes on. But there was nobody in charge of everything.


Result: Everybody could blame everybody else for delaying the project. (The initial launch date was January 2009!)


Nir changed that, and the project started moving. When the August 19, 2011 deadline loomed large, those involved started their old story about not being ready. Nir wanted to know what wasn't ready.


The billing system? Too bad. The train will have to be gratis until you get that one right.  Apparently the system crashed when it was tested in real time; lots of people buying tickets all over the city at the same time. Would make an interesting study in design and testing.


The obvious advantage is that the trains are free, meanwhile. The disadvantage is that they are full to capacity, as every loafer in town - and all bored kids - spend their time on the air conditioned trains.


The traffic lights are not synchronized yet with the train? Too bad. They will have to stop at the red ones. (It's really pathetic; at the main bus station there's a traffic light for pedestrians to cross the rails. It's not synchronized (or needn't be) with any other traffic light. Yet the train often has to stop, since it's green for the pedestrians - all of 10 feet from the train station!) 


Supposedly they are working on this project; hopefully not the same people in charge of the licenses.


How they plan on synchronizing the traffic lights for the train without grid-locking vehicular traffic is  not clear to me. I'd like to believe that there are experts on this subject who know better than me.


The trains sometimes run off the rails? This was discovered in high-speed testing. Solution: Drive slowly until we figure this out. Makes one wonder why the rails are needed...


The advantage is this even if you can see the trains approaching, you will often manage to get to station before the train, since it also drives slowly and also gets stuck at all the traffic lights.


Lessons for Project Managers:

  • Without a single Project Manager in charge of everything there's going to be chaos. Each major element can have its own Project Manager, but they all have to report to a single person.
  • Ship as soon as something is ready; early users are as good as beta testers.
  • Ship often, with minor improvements.
  • Not every "bug" or "issue" is a showstopper and a reason not to ship.
  • Think of creative solutions. Sometimes the experts know too much, and need to be overridden. 

There's probably more obvious lessons; feel free to add them in the comments.


In a future post we'll discuss how Egged rolled out the CityPass; enabling single payment for both trains and buses.

- Danny Schoemann

1 comment:

  1. Nice analysis. I suspect for many years to come management textbooks will be presenting the Jerusalem Light Rail project as an example of colossal failure.

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