One of my earliest memories is of a train trip from Los Angeles to spend the day at the San Diego Zoo. I was charmed by the all-green décor on the train, from dark green plastic upholstery to the delicate green pattern on the water cooler’s Dixie cups.
It was over ten years before I rode a train again, after making aliyah and going to school at Alonei Yitzhak, a youth village between Givat Ada and Kfar Glickson. When we students had our one-in-three-weekends home or went on vacation, many of us took the train at Binyamina for points north and south. Again, there was green upholstery, but these carriages were antiquated and spacious, a little grimy, with windows that opened less than half-way down. There were tables between each facing set of seats. The cars were usually half-full, which almost always ensured a seat by the window and the ever-changing views. These alone were well worth the trip, even when the refreshment car was a swaying five-car hike to the front.
In my case, the ride was most often to Tel Aviv North (Arlozoroff) station, to be met by heady aromas from the Elite candy shop in the terminal, my introduction to chocolate orange peels. Later trips were to Jerusalem - at that time the train was the cheapest and fastest way to get there from Binyamina. Even when flying to Eilat from Sde Dov, it was easier to take the train to TA and taxi to the airport, and vice versa.
Fast forward 45 years: I had to get from Eilat to Ben Gurion Airport to meet a friend. Touching base with the driver scheduled to pick us up, he tipped me off to go by taxi to the Tel Aviv University Train Station, then by train to Ben Gurion Airport. I looked it up on the Internet and it seemed a good idea, leaving plenty of time to counteract any “Murphies” that might crop up.
Sharing a taxi from Sde Dov to the train station cost NIS 30; the driver told me a taxi would have cost at least NIS 150. At the station, I forgot to ask for a Seniors’ discount (I’m still new at this, though I did get a Seniors’ price for the flight, which applies from age 60!), so I paid NIS 16 for the ticket.
The station was a bit bewildering at first, because of the glass barriers and machines that read and stamp the tickets. Having a suitcase, I took the elevator up to the platform. On a shady bench I ate the breakfast I’d packed in Eilat, and took stock. I liked the high canopy over the central area and appreciated the vending machines, even if they were expensive. The real surprise was the volume of traffic and the constant announcements: rush hour or not, in 20 minutes at least four trains came and went before mine arrived. The place was as busy as a… as a train station!
The carriages and passengers were another revelation. I’d never seen double-decker trains before, or so many passengers with regular and/or folding and/or powered bicycles, or wheelchairs. Once on board, it was standing room only but nice , not ‘sardines’. People stood near the doors or sat on the stairs going up and down, smiled and passed a newspaper around.
In no time I was at Ben Gurion Airport with nearly three hours to spare. Fortunately, I’d kept the ticket: it had to be read again to open the glass barriers on the way out.
So I saved over NIS 100 and now want to investigate further how to travel around the country by train for the fun of it!
NB: The Hebrew website has more travel clips with family touring suggestions.