Carmelit – The World’s Shortest Subway

As a port city and industrial hub in northern Israel, Haifa may give off an impression to tourists and outsiders as a “working” city.

But dig deeper into Haifa and you will find its more fun side. While its coolness factor is nowhere near as Tel Aviv’s, Haifa is a cool place to visit, nevertheless. Venture into Haifa’s Masada Street, and you will find some really wicked (in a good way, of course) graffiti. It will somewhat remind you of Florentin, Tel Aviv’s neighborhood known for its vibrant art scene.

And speaking of Masada Street, a unique subway runs beneath Masada, called the Carmelit (HaCarmelit). The Carmelit is interesting – and even bizarre – for a few reasons:

  • Currently, it is Israel’s only subway until the expected opening of the Tel Aviv Light Rail in 2023.
  • It is the world’s shortest metro, at 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) long.
  • It is one of the shortest subway systems in the world.
  • It is one of the world’s few underground funiculars (as funicular railways are traditionally overground).

Carmelit is named after Mount Carmel, which overlooks the city. Carmelit’s slanting design and construction make sense as much of Haifa cling to the slopes of Mount Carmel. The railway was conceived to connect important business and residential areas (which are situated on the higher part of the mountain). The train circulates up and down Mount Carmel.

black and white photo of passengers waiting at Carmelit’s Gan Haem station, 1962

A short history about the world’s shortest metro

When Israel was then British Mandatory Palestine, authorities envisioned a railway that would link Haifa with Mount Carmel. But the project and construction actually started in the 1950s under the administration of Haifa’s then-mayor Abba Hushi (1898-1969). By that time, Israel had already been declared as an independent state.

The Carmelit was formally inaugurated on October 6, 1959. The opening was attended by then-Prime Minister David Ben Gurion along with other important figures.

Since it started its operation, the Carmelit has been shut down for repairs in a few occasions. In 1992, it reopened to the public after extensive renovations, including adding new rail cars. It was closed again in 2015 due to cable issues but reopened in the same year. In 2017, a fire accident at its Paris Square Station – now Downtown Station – caused the line to shut down once again. It reopened in 2018 after undergoing a major renovation, which included upgrading its trainsets and refurbishing the line’s systems and infrastructure.

The subway also provides temporary shelter in the event of any disaster, such as bombing.

Carmelit today

The Carmelit serves six stations:

  • Downtown (formerly Paris Square)
  • Hadar-City Hall (formerly Solel Boneh)
  • Manevi’im (HaNevi’im)
  • Masada
  • Golomb (formerly Bney-Zion)
  • Carmel Center (Gan Ha’Em)

The small number of stations means that the Carmelit only serves a small portion of Haifa, which used to be an important business center when the line opened to the public. But now, the Carmelit is starting to outlive its purpose, as people have moved to the other parts of the city and elsewhere. Only a few numbers of passengers use the line and its six stations.

Does the local government in Haifa have plans of extending the line in the future? Unfortunately, it’s not foreseeable at the moment mainly due to financial reasons.

A look at the Carmelit

The Masada station. Entrances to the Carmelit look like any other regular subway entrances.

The Carmelit’s continuous stair platform is not exactly disabled-friendly, while parents pushing baby strollers should think twice. The stations also have escalators.

Even the narrow aisles inside the trains consist of stairs.

The Carmelit aims to somehow mitigate commuting stress with its colorful and cheerful artworks on the walls at every stop.

While the Carmelit is not as busy as it was before, it continues to serve passengers up to this day. Besides, it provides a short but enjoyable ride. If you’re visiting Haifa right now, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to experience a truly cool and unique train ride on the Carmelit.