TURKEY’s national railway was originally built to relatively low standards, with lines suffering from sharp curves and a general lack of signalling, resulting in very long journey times. Indeed, there was no signalling at all until 1950. There were also glaring gaps in the network and some of the country’s largest cities, such as Bursa and Antalya, are still not connected to the rail network.
As Turkey’s then-transport minister Mr Ahmet Arslan told delegates at the UIC World Congress on High-Speed Rail in Ankara in May: “the railways have been neglected for 50 years.” He explained that it was only in 2003 when it became national policy to invest in the railway.
Since then, €18.5bn has been invested and much has been achieved. The Marmaray tunnel under the Bosporus, linking the European and Asian sides of Istanbul for the first time, opened in October 2013. The 245km Ankara - Polatli - Eskisehir high-speed line was inaugurated in March 2009 followed in August 2011 by the 212km Polatli - Konya line, plugging one of the main gaps in the network. High-speed services were extended from Eskisehir to Pendik to the east of Istanbul over a mixture of new and conventional tracks in July 2014. An impressive $US 235m purpose-built high-speed station opened in Ankara in October 2016, which will become a hub for the network as it expands, and the city’s Baskentray cross-city commuter rail line has been rebuilt through track quadrupling to separate these trains from high-speed services. The $US 210m project was inaugurated in April.
Ridership on Turkish State Railways’ (TCDD) YHT high-speed trains has increased steadily and so far 40 million passengers have taken a high-speed train. Rail’s market share between Ankara and Eskisehir has soared from just 7% before the high-speed line opened to 72% , and high-speed trains now account for 66% travel between Ankara and Konya on a route where rail did not exist before the high-speed line opened. This is not altogether surprising as rail now offers very attractive journey times and a reasonable frequency at least between Ankara and Eskeshir and Konya.
On the organisational front, railway liberalisation was introduced on January 1 2017 with TCDD split into an infrastructure manager and an operating company (TCDD Transport joint stock company) under a holding company structure. In addition, Turkey’s Directorate General for Railway Regulation was established.
So far, two private freight operators have entered the market during the last year. Onsam Logistics runs iron-ore trains between Sivas and the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun, while the other transports petroleum between Kirikkale and Izmir. In addition, the 135km Izmir commuter rail network is run by an independent regional operator.
“When all the infrastructure works are complete, capacity will increase and there will be more opportunities for new operators to enter the market,” TCDD’s director general, Mr Isa Apaydin, told IRJ in Ankara. “The restructuring process is complex with advantages and risks, so we are trying to do it to benefit our customers, but we still need a good interface between wheel and rail.”
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. The project to rebuild the lines on the Asian and European side of the Bosporus in Istanbul has been heavily delayed. This involves the lines from Gebze via Pendik to Haydarpasa and Ayrilik Çesmesi to connect with the Marmaray tunnel under the Bosporus, and the line from Sirkeci and Kazliçesme (where Marmaray trains currently terminate) to Halkali on the European side. Trains have been unable to reach the centre of Istanbul for around five years as the tracks were removed in preparation for reconstruction, but the project was delayed due to a dispute with the contractors.
Work was very much in evidence when I passed through Istanbul on my way to the UIC high-speed conference in Ankara at the beginning of May. The new Marmaray platforms and tracks for commuter services were virtually complete between Pendik and Gebze along with the depot at Gebze.
The project has involved reconstructing the former double-track line to provide two tracks for Marmaray commuter trains and one track with passing loops for main line trains, which will be used by high-speed services during the day and freight at night. TCDD plans to operate high-speed trains from Ankara and Konya to both the original terminus at Haydarpasa and to Halkali.
The 13.6km Marmaray service between Ayrilik Çesmesi and Kazliçesme carried an average of 5.3 million passengers per month in 2017. The extended service to Gebze and Halkali is expected to carry 1.5 million passengers per day and increase rail’s share of urban transport from 12% to 28%.
Completion of these works will finally provide a rail link between Europe and the Asian part of Turkey and beyond for long-distance passenger services and freight trains. In the meantime, freight wagons have been transported across the Sea of Marmara on two train ferries from Tekirdag on the European side to Derince to the east of Istanbul and Bandirma on the south side of the Sea of Marmara to bridge the gap in the rail network through Istanbul. Arslan told delegates in Ankara that high-speed services will finally be extended from their current terminus in the eastern suburb of Pendik to the centre of the city by the end of 2018.
However, there is still more work to do to complete the high-speed link between Eskeshir and Istanbul. At present, trains switch back and forth between the old line, where line speeds can be as low as 50km/h due to the sharp curvature, and the new 250km/h sections.
One of the projects underway to complete the high-speed line involves the construction of a 17km new line from Pamukova north to Sapanca, which is mainly in tunnel. A 10km section is virtually complete and will be put into operation this year, while the remaining 7km will open in 2020. In any event, YHT trains will use conventional tracks from Sapanca into Istanbul.
Istanbul has only ever been served by one line on each side of the Bosporus with a train ferry link for freight wagons between the two. This is clearly inadequate for Turkey’s largest city with a population of around 14 million. TCDD also has aspirations to develop international freight traffic between Europe and Asia and “become a bridge between east and west,” as Apaydin put it. While the Marmara tunnel and associated reconstruction of the lines each side of the Bosporus will finally plug the gap between Turkey’s European and Asian rail networks, the intensity of Marmaray passenger services, which operate like a metro, means there is little spare capacity for freight.
Three road bridges have already been constructed across the Bosporus in Istanbul and the city’s third airport is due to open in October. TCDD plans to build a new line from Gebze in the east of Istanbul via the existing Sabiha Gökçen International Airport, the third Bosporus bridge, the new third airport 35km northwest of Istanbul on the Black Sea coast, and Halkali to the west of Istanbul. Two railway tracks have already been laid on the Yavus Sultan Selim Bridge - the third Bosporus bridge - between the road carriageways in preparation for the arrival of the new124km line. Apaydin says the line will have a maximum speed of 200km/h for passenger trains and 120km/h for freight and will quadruple mainline rail capacity in Istanbul. “The project is ready to go out to tender,” he told IRJ.
Arslan told UIC high-speed congress delegates in Ankara that tendering should start “very soon” for a 230km high-speed line from Halkali via Edirne to the Bulgarian border.
“We plan to invest €39bn up to 2023 of which 80% is for high-speed and rapid lines,” Apaydin continued. TCDD is currently building approximately 1870km of 250km/h lines, 1294km of rapid lines with a maximum speed of 200km/h and 634km of conventional lines. In addition, 1318km of lines are at the tender phase and 646km are at the project stage. “We aim to have 25,000km of new line under construction by 2023,” Apaydin said.
“In addition, we are electrifying and signalling the conventional network. We have increased the proportion of electrified lines from 2028km to 4723km and the lines with signalling from 2505km to 5534km. Additional signalling and electrification works are underway on 3960km of lines, and we aim to complete the electrification of existing lines by 2023.” TCDD has chosen ETCS levels 1 and 2 for all of its signalling projects.
TCDD is developing a network of 21 logistics centres around the country. The first eight are already in operation, the ninth has just opened, and the remaining 12 are under construction and are due for completion in 2023. The latest logistics centre opened on June 13 in Erzurum at a cost of Lira 105m ($US 21.6m). The new facility occupies an area of 350,000m2, has 80,000m2 of container storage, and 16.5km of new track, with the capacity to handle 437,000 tonnes of freight per year.
While on the subject of freight, the much-delayed Kars - Tblisi - Baku project to build a new railway across the Turkish-Georgian border and to provide a rail connection from Turkey to the Caspian Sea port of Baku in Azerbaijan was finally completed in October 2017. The new line supplements the existing links to Armenia and Iran, but the latter suffers from the fact that trains have to use the train ferry across Lake Van in eastern Turkey.
“We are operating three-to-four freight trains per week on the Tbilisi - Kars line to Mersin and Bulgaria,” Apaydin revealed. “Freight forwarders negotiate their contracts once a year, but we are trying to change this.”
There is a proposal to build a line from Kars along the Armenia border to Jolfa in Iran. This would require around 100km of new construction in Turkey and 138km in Iran where 10.8km of tunnels would be required. Feasibility and economic studies have already been completed.
A number of 200km/h and 250km/h lines are under construction. A 405km 250km/h line is being built from Ankara east to Yerkoy, Yozgat and Sivas to fill another missing link. “The project is 90% complete,” Apaydin said. “We will complete all the civil works this year.” A ceremony was held in Yerkoy in March to mark the laying of the first rail. The line has 49 tunnels and 28 viaducts, and the cost of the project is around Lira 9bn. Apaydin says it will open in the second half of 2019 when Sivas will be just 2 hours from Ankara.
The first section of the 240km 200km/h Sivas - Erzincan line is under construction as far as Zara. Apaydin says the Zara - Erzincan stretch will be put out to tender by the end of the year. It is planned to extend the line another 414km east to Kars.
“We have already received bids for the construction of a 142km 250km/h line from Yerkoy to Kayseri, and we hope to start construction this year,” Apaydin said. This line will largely parallel the existing Yerkoy - Kayseri conventional line.
Further west, a major project is underway to link Ankara with Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, with a 250km/h railway. The entire 624km line, which starts at Polatli, is now under construction, and superstructure works are underway between Usak, Afyon and towards Polatli. This section will open by the end of next year, followed by the Usak - Izmir part at the end of 2020. “Ankara - Izmir will take just 3 hours compared with 12-13 hours today,” Apaydin said.
Bursa, the fourth-largest city in the country, with a population of 1.8 million, will finally be connected to the rail network when the 110km new line opens in 2020 - it will link with Eskisehir - Istanbul line. The project carries a price tag of Lira 5.6bn, due to the mountainous terrain through which the line passes necessitating the construction of numerous tunnels and viaducts. Superstructure works were due to start in June, and test running should begin before the end of 2019. The journey time from Bursa to both Istanbul and Ankara will be 2h 15min.
Several projects are underway or planned in south-central Turkey. A 102km 200km/h extension to the Ankara - Konya high-speed line to Karaman will open before the end of this year, while construction is underway on the next 135km section from there to Ulukisla, which will open in 2020. In addition, tenders are due to be invited this year to upgrade the 109km line from Ulukisla to Yenice for 160-200km/h operation.
“We want to create high capacity for freight to Mersin and Iskendurun,” Apaydin said. “There are two tracks at present between Mersin, Yenice and Adana and we are expanding this line to four tracks for the benefit of both passenger and freight traffic.”
A 200km/h line is under construction linking Adana, Osmaniye and Gaziantep, an industrial city with a population of around 1.5 million. The line will have only one tunnel although it will be an 11km-long twin bore structure. Apaydin says a line will also be constructed north to Kahramanimaras, a city of 800,000 inhabitants.
TCDD also plans to start work next year on a project to connect Antalya on the Mediterranean coast with the national network by building a 412km 200km/h line north via Afyon to Eskisehir. Furthermore, TCDD has completed the design of another 200km/h line totalling 532km from Antalya to Konya, Aksaray and Kayseri. Apaydin says this line will be built in stages.
Finally, in the far west, a ceremony was held on June 11 attended by the prime minister, Mr Binali Yildirim, to launch the Aliga - Candarli/Bergama conventional railway project. This will connect these towns to the rail network in Izmir and provide a link to the port of Candarli for the first time. Izmir commuter services will be extended north of the city to create a 186km line.
“We have a complex programme up to 2023 because this is the centenary of our republic,” Apaydin concluded, and that is putting it mildly.