May 20, 2016

Expansion and reform reshape Turkey’s railways

Written by 
  • Print
  • Email

The Turkish government is investing heavily in its railway as it aims to deliver a modern network by 2023. Turkish State Railways (TCDD) is inevitably playing a critical role in delivering various projects and TCDD's assistant general director Ismail Murtazaoglu met Kevin Smith in Ankara to discuss progress so far.

OVERLOOKING Ankara from the top of Ankara Castle on the edge of the old city, many of the modern city's leading attractions are in full view. The central Gençlik Park with its striking but empty turquoise pool stands out, as does the Ankara Arena and a vast new building to the southwest of the park.

Standing at 35m in height and 395m in length, Ankara's $US 235m high-speed station is a major new landmark for the Turkish capital. The building looms over the city's existing art deco station which opened in 1937 and is the current high-speed, regional and commuter railway interchange. The new station will soon be connected to the existing facility and is set to become the national hub of the country's steadily expanding high-speed network when it opens to its first passengers on July 15.

TCDD LeadDuring IRJ's visit in early April, construction was 90% complete, with 2000 workers still busy across the site. The finishing touches are being made to the roof, while work continues to fit out the 200,000m²of indoor space, including the passenger concourse, a 134-room 4-star hotel, 40,000m² of office space, and 185 shops that will form a new shopping centre. Tracklaying was also set to begin imminently. The station will have three platforms serving six through tracks and is expected to handle 50,000 passengers and 100,000 visitors a day by 2023.

While TCDD currently operates 38 high-speed train services per day, including 34 which either originate or terminate in Ankara, the railway is also overseeing construction of four new high-speed lines, with big plans for further expansion reflected in the size of the Ankara hub.

Specifically work is underway on the Ankara - Sivas (405km), Sivas - Erzincan (235km), Bilecik - Bursa (106km), and Ankara - Izmir (625km) lines (see panel p20) and according to Mr Ismail Murtazaoglu, TCDD's assistant general director, the aim is to complete the projects by 2023 at the latest to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic.

"By 2023 we will operate 300 services per day and will carry 120,000 passengers on our high-speed network," Murtazaoglu says. "The existing lines, the new lines that we have under construction, and when we complete the missing section of the Ankara - Istanbul line, which currently terminates at Pendik in Istanbul, will mean that our high-speed services will be in easy reach of 53% of the population."

Inevitably this expansion of the high-speed network will require a substantial investment in rolling stock. As a result TCDD plans to purchase 106 high-speed trains by 2023, with a tender set to be launched soon to purchase 10 sets. In addition studies are underway for the supply of 80 trains through a technology transfer agreement while 16 sets will be supplied through a National High Speed Train Project.

Funding

Funding for Turkey's high-speed and railway development programme has largely come from the central government. An estimated Lira 50bn ($US 17.56bn) has been invested since 2003, and Murtazaoglu says Turkey, like other countries, is committed to investing in rail as a sustainable, environmentally-friendly and ultimately cheap mode of transport.

Yet for certain projects other methods of finance have been used. For example European Investment Bank credit and a loan from China Exim Bank was used to partly fund the Eskisehir - Istanbul high-speed line. A European Union Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) grant of €220m, which is available for EU candidate countries such as Turkey, is also funding the upgrade of the Samsun - Sivas conventional line with TCDD contributing €39m.

The project includes easing curves on the existing 370km route to increase line speeds and cut the journey time from nine hours at present to five hours upon completion in 2018. Service frequency on the route will also be increased from 21 to 54 trains per day, boosting passenger traffic from 95 to 168 million passenger-km and freight from 657 to 857 million tonne-km per year.

The current limited services and slow journey times on the existing Samsun - Sivas route is a situation replicated across the conventional network; it currently takes 14 hours to complete the 825km journey from Ankara to Izmir, for example. The addition of high-speed has already improved rail's public transport market share: from 8% of passengers on the Ankara - Eskisehir line previously, to 72% since the high-speed link opened, and between Ankara and Konya, where there was no rail service previously, rail now accounts for 66% of all journeys.

Murtazaoglu says there is a prevailing ambition to transfer this success to conventional services. As a result a similar programme of rapid improvements for key corridors is underway. Murtazaoglu says TCDD aims to complete a north-south axis by 2023 that will connect Samsun on the Black Sea coast with Mersin on the southern Mediterranean coast, and the Mediterranean tourist resort of Antalya with Istanbul. Both lines will accommodate mixed passenger and freight traffic with a maximum speed of 200km/h, with trains from Antalya to Istanbul utilising the high-speed alignment beyond Eskisehir.

In addition this work is combined with an extensive programme of electrification and signalling improvements.

"On our conventional lines we currently have approximately 2800km of modern signalling and 2200km of lines which are electrified," Murtazaoglu says. "By the end of 2023 we plan to increase electrification by three times, and 70% of our lines will have modern signalling. This will allow us to double our capacity and reduce emissions, while improving journey times and comfort. When we connect all of this we will increase freight from 26 million to 96 million tonnes per year, and passenger numbers from 180 million to 945 million per year."

Marmaray

TCDD is also currently engaged in significant work in Istanbul to complete the Marmaray line. The 63km project will extend the existing cross-Bosphorous rail link at both ends, from the line's current eastern terminus at Ayrilik Cesmesi via Pendik (the current limit of rail services from the east) to Gebze, and from the western terminus at Kazlicesme to Halkali. This will add 32 new stations to the five currently operational on the 13.6km central section, which opened in October 2013.

The project includes the addition of a third track along much of the route, which will increase capacity to 75,000 passengers per hour per direction, with the CBTC train control system allowing headways of 2 minutes on the two tracks dedicated to Marmaray commuter trains.

Since opening the first phase, which links the European and Asian sides of Istanbul via a new tunnel under the Bosphorous, Murtazaoglu says 130 million passengers have used the line, which has helped to remove 23,000 cars from Istanbul's congested road network every day.

"This was like a dream for us to cross under the Bosphorous by train," Murtazaoglu says. "We have a good operational case and people in Istanbul are very interested in using the Marmaray. It is convenient and people want to use it. It takes only five minutes to cross and it is available whenever you want."

While the Bosphorous tunnel is currently only used by commuter trains, long-distance inter-city trains will also eventually use the link, utilising ETCS over CBTC. This is one of the first such projects in the world and Murtazaoglu admits it is a challenging undertaking. However, he is confident that it has been well-run and will deliver the desired outcome.

"Certainly there will be some problems, as there are with any project, but these will not be major," Murtazaoglu says. "Marmaray is a good operational system."

Work is also well underway on another cross-Bosphorous link, the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, a Lira 4.5bn project, which at 2164m will be the longest joint road and rail suspension bridge in the world when it opens later this year.

According to Murtazaoglu, the bridge and the existing tunnel are both critical to filling the missing links to establish a viable transit corridor between Asia and Europe, and studies are underway to connect the bridge to the existing network at Köseköy on the Asian side and Halkalion on the European side. Another key gap in this proposed connection is the much-delayed Kars - Tblisi - Baku project, which has been conducted in partnership with Georgia and Azerbaijan.

The project consists of 76km of new 1435mm-gauge infrastructure in Turkey from Kars to Kartasakhi on the Georgian border, and 29km in Georgia from Kartasakhi to Akhalkalaki, where trains will transfer to 1520mm-gauge for operation in Georgia and to Baku. Work began on the line in 2008, but has been continually delayed, particularly due to difficulties with completion of a new tunnel between Turkey and Georgia, which has led to speculation that the cost of the project has increased by $US 100-150m above its initial $US 775m estimate.

Despite successful testing of the Georgian section in 2015, Murtazaoglu says that Turkey is now on course to complete its section of the project by the end of this year and that the railway will open to traffic in early 2017.

"After completion of the line we hope that within a short period of time there will be 6 million tonnes of freight and 1 million passengers using the line every year," he says. "By 2030 we hope there will be 17 million tonnes of freight and 3 million passengers using the line annually. This line has a huge amount of capacity for all countries on the corridor."

While the line will facilitate increased trade between Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, Murtazaoglu is keen to push the vision of the corridor ultimately carrying traffic between London and Beijing. Indeed, boosting international railfreight is another major objective for TCDD over the next few years and a series of projects are underway to increase its domestic railfreight capacity to facilitate both export, import and internal delivery.

Currently rail accounts for 6% of all freight traffic in Turkey, or 26 million tonnes. Murtazaoglu says that this has increased by 60% since 2003. However, the goal is to increase this to 94 million tonnes, or 15% of total traffic, by the end of 2023.

Connecting new logistics facilities and major factories to the main line network will play a critical role in meeting this objective. Work is taking place at 13 locations across the country, with seven sites already in operation. In addition projects are underway to connect ports to the main line network, and to expand the train ferry services between Samsun and the Russian Black Sea port of Kavkaz, and across Lake Van in eastern Turkey by up to seven times compared with current levels. In the long-term there is a plan to build a new line to circumvent the northern shore of the lake.

Liberalisation

Private players are set to play a key role in the expansion of Turkey's ralfreight sector. Already 4100 privately-owned wagons are in use and according to Murtazaoglu 33% of loads are now carried using private rolling stock.

The impending liberalisation of the Turkish railway sector will open this up further. Under the plans, which Murtazaoglu says will be implemented in the second half of the year, TCDD will become solely an infrastructure manager with TCDD Transport Joint Stock Company founded to run passenger and freight operations on the network. The Director General for Railway Regulation (DDGM), a division of the Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communication, acting under Law 6461 of the railway sector, will oversee the liberalisation process and issue network access licences to private operators viewed as meeting the necessary regulations.

"The private operators will pay to use our lines and all maintenance will be carried out by TCDD, the infrastructure manager," Murtazaoglu says. "They will pay and they will use the network. They can have their own trains, or they can lease them. Whatever they want, it will be a liberal system."
Murtazaoglu says that initially liberalisation will focus on freight operations, with a view to assessing the case for opening up the passenger market in the future. He says that TCDD Transport, while being funded by the Turkish treasury, will be run as a private company.

"There will be no difference between TCDD and any company offering a service. They will obey all the same rules," Murtazaoglu says, adding that the DDGM will work to ensure the infrastructure manager's independence, which is critical to the success of the liberalisation programme. "Anyone who thinks that TCDD is not independent will be able complain to the DDGM," he says.

Liberalisation is perhaps an inevitable outcome of the huge sums pumped into the railway sector in Turkey since 2003. It will certainly provide more opportunities for the new infrastructure to deliver on its potential in the run-up to the politically-important deadline of 2023. This expansion of service and capability is also transforming the finances of TCDD. From a heavy loss-making operation, passenger numbers are now rising steadily as the service frequency increases, and the company could soon report an operating profit.

"Previously our network was not sufficient to warrant high demand from passenger or freight services," Murtazaoglu says. "However, we believe that if we construct the necessary infrastructure and complete the current investment that we have planned up to 2023, considering expected passenger and freight demand, we will become a profitable enterprise."

Whether all of the proposed investments are completed by 2023 remains to be seen. Resourcing such an array of projects which are all taking place at the same time is a significant challenge. However, Murtazaoglu says the hope, "insallah," is that with the government continuing to provide the financial support, the vast majority of the schemes will be delivered as planned. And given how far TCDD has come, and with seven years still to go, there is still a chance that he might be right.

"All infrastructure works have their own difficulties," he says. "Certainly it is not so easy, things might not go as you thought. But we have enough technical services and technical capacity and we can get additional services as we need them. We have the capacity to complete by the end of 2023."

Get the latest rail news

IRJ Rail Brief newsletter covers global railway news