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(Sleeping) Rail projects in Turkey

Foreword

Railways in Turkey are an unfinished business. Line building that peaked in the 1930 slowed down after World War 2 and ceased in the early 1970, before completion of the network envisioned by TCDD. Indeed, after the 1950, the Turkish Republic gradually shifted its resources from railway to road building. Today several obvious gaps remain in the network such as lines to Bursa and Antalya, or a direct link Istanbul Zonguldak or a short route Ankara Samsun.

In Europe and America where too many lines built in the 19th century, resulting in massive closure throughout the 20th century. In Turkey, some lines are projected since the beginning of the 20th century without getting the necessary finance to be built. And every year, The Ministry of Public Works is trying to push yet another rail infrastructure project, but without success.

The truth is that, all along the 20th century, capital finance was perhaps the scarcest resource in Turkey and most of the time, this resource was allocated to competing projects (roads, highways, dams, …). However, some of these rail projects correspond more and more to modern needs as road traffic and pollution increase in Turkey.

The first years of the 21st century are looking different with the completion of the cross Bosphorus tunnel and the Ankara Istanbul & Ankara Konya high speed line, two much awaited projects. Yet, there are still grand anouncements about new rail line which are very unlikely to be built.

Ankara Istanbul direct high speed line

This project has been around since the mid-80's, inspired by the successful TGV (high-speed train) in France. In addition, the Ankara Istanbul line has been designed at minimal cost and to avoid costly engineering works. For this reason, the present line is not the shortest route possible. It is also single track on most of the way. Hence the project for a double track that would be shorter and allowed higher speed the traditional route via Eskişehir, thus halving the journey time.

This 259 km project leaves the traditional line at Sincan, in Ankara suburbs to go to Ayaş, Beypazarı, Nallıhan, Mudurnu, Akyazi and then Arifiye, where double track is now completed to Haydarpaşa. This cut-off takes about 150 Km off the current 570 km between Istanbul and Ankara and would reduce the travel time to 2,5 / 3 hr, assuming a top speed of 250 km/h.

Some earthwork were started on about 90km in the late 1980's on the Sincan Beypazarı part of the project before being halted for lack of funding. Should the project be revived, this earthwork may not be used as the maximum speed might be increased, as permitted by today's technology.

Currently, this project is in the dark and replaced by much more realistic double tracking & realignment of the traditional line (see the Facts page

Turkey Georgia line

Georgia and Turkey are trying to reinforce their political ties and increase their reciprocal international trade. For this reason, the two countries decided to improve their cross border transport infrastructure.

The existing railway line between these two countries, from Kars to Tbilisi goes through Armenia. Diplomatic relations are at odd between Ankara and Yerevan for several reasons, not the least being Turkish support to its ally Azerbaijan in its war to Armenia.

In this context, Turkey and Georgia attempted to build a direct rail link. This project was conceived as a 287 km line starting from Kars:

Kars to Kurtkale (Georgian Border): 92 km of new line in Turkey. Kurtkale to Akhalkalaki: 35 km of new line in Georgia. Akhalkalaki to Tbilisi: 160 km upgrade of the existing single line branch. This single line joins the former route at Maneuli, a few kilometers before Tbilisi Bids for a build operate transfer project and then for a turnkey project were called in February 1998. The project was subsequently stalled when no financing could be put together, especially for the part to be built in Turkey.

Georgia's president Shevardnadze finally announced that China would finance the link (March 2001) but no further news have been published since then.

It is likely that this project is only a pawn in the diplomatic game, which is being played in the Caucasus. From a pure railway standpoint, it would be better for Turkey and Georgia to find an agreement with Armenia and use the existing line, which is as good as the proposed "direct" line.

There is no clear communication at what kind of traffic will use the line. The number of 8 millions tonnes a year has been published by newspapers. This would mean about 25 trains of 1000 t a day and is clearly absurd on the current trade between Turkey and Georgia. Beyond the link, it has to be noted also that TCDD network does not have the spare capacity to handle such a traffic: Sivas Çetinkaya Divriği is a tortuous single line already saturated by iron ore traffic.

Georgia and Turkey don't have the same track gauge. The gauge changing installations will be Akhalkalaky, in Georgia.

In February 2007, this project is back in the news with declaration that Azerbaijan will help finance the link. This project might have also positive fall outs from the successful completion of the Baku Ceyhan oil pipeline that follows a similar route through Georgia.

Going on with announcements, statements have been released in May 2008 indicating that the project will proceed forwards. In an overall optimism, traffic projection were put at 30 millions tonnes (i.e 80 trains of 1000 tonnes a day, every day! a train every 3 minutes)

In summer 2011, the Azerbaijan Transport Minister announced the line would be complete in 2013. The traffic forecast is now back to a more managable 6,5 million tonnes (but still 20 trains of 1000 tonnes per day).

Other miscellaneous projects

Antalya Alanya

This project called for 140 km of electrified double track through the coastal plain between Antalya and Alanya. Bids for a BOT (built operate transfer) financing were called in 1998, but without success.

This project is to be understood as a modern and efficient public transportation across a densely populated area. This line presents no major engineering difficulties. It may come trough one day as a complement to the urban rail system that is currently under study in Antalya.

Burdur Antalya

This line was part of the 1930's TCDD master plan but it was never built because it requires a very costly crossing of the Taurus Mountains. The line would leave Antalya (sea level) and climb very quickly to 900 m, the average altitude of most of the passes in this area. Then the line would go on to Burdur, altitude 950 m through another pass at 1200m. Massive tunneling would be required to mitigate the climb and obtain a line suitable for modern speed.

Since World War 2, Antalya and its coastal plain grew very much, but not to the point where such a dreadful project could be put back on the agenda.

Polatlı Afyon

In 1999, several politicians called for a Polatlı Afyon direct line. This line would cut off the existing line via Eskişehir and save time. It would serve no major cities and the current level of traffic between Afyon and Ankara hardly supports this proposal. On the plus side, this line, which is easy to build, would relieve the congestion on the Eskişehir - Polatlı trunk.

Coupled with the Burdur Antalya line, this would make a straight line from Ankara to the Mediterranean; so that one can dream of going on weekend vacations in sleeping cars rather than the current night buses.

Bursa Bözüyük

This project would revive the alignment of the ill fated Moudiana Brousse railway, which started building that line but could not complete it. This project if also very often presented as two branches: a link east to Bözüyük for direct connection to Ankara, a link north to Mekece for the connection to Istanbul. The two branch will separate some where between Turan and Inegöl. The Mekece branch makes the most sense because it will go trough flat country. The Bözüyük branch would involve a severe gradient to climb up about 600m in altitude in about 75km (an average of 0,8%).

There were rumors in the 1999 / 2000 that the Russians would provide finance and engineering to built this line. Since then, nothing happened.

Bursa is Turkey fifth largest city and the most industrial area after Istanbul. Local business are pushing for a railway. This railway to the Istanbul Ankara line would open large freight and passengers traffic opportunities.

Bursa Bandırma

This project is the cousin of the above mentioned and would reach Bursa from the west rather than the east. It would provide a connection to Izmir. This project was mentioned in the 1998 master plan of TCDD, but dropped since then. Indeed, this project brings no advantage when compared to the above-mentioned Bursa Bözüyük, even for the connection to Izmir.

Tatvan - Van

The current line to the Iran border has a gap between Tatvan and Van, which is filled by a ferry service across the Van Lake. The Tatvan -Van line is part of most of the railway master plan drawn up for Anatolia since the 1900. It is on TCDD projection maps since the 1930's but could never be done due to a poor operating ratio. It has to be noted that this 240 km line would present some major engineering difficulties since it has to go across the mountains.

Its building was rumored again when cross border service with Iran resumed in March 2000. Iran itself has a pro-rail policy and has built lately many lines, both domestic and international in order to win international traffic from central Asia. However, the Tatvan - Van is currently not financed.

Adapazarı Ereğli Zonguldak

Another scheme, which is still projected, is the long-proposed line from Adapazarı along the coast to Ereğli and Zonguldak. It would obviously be a great advantage if the Black Sea coal fields had a direct link to Istanbul and Western Turkey in place of the circuitous and mountainous route via lrmak.

Only a small part of this line was built : the Ereğli Armutçuk line. The remaining is yet to be funded.

Adapazarı Bolu Izmetpaşa

This line which is a competing project to Adapazarı Ereğli Zonguldak is mentioned here only for pleasure! This project which was projected before the war is the inland route from Istanbul to Düzce, Bolu and finally Izmetpaşa, on the Irmak Zonguldak line. But the crossing of the mountains near Bolu priced out this line for good. It is no longer on the drawing boards!

Izzetin Kalin

This is the so called Ankara Sivas cut off route. It branches off the existing line at lzzetin, east of Ankara, to Yozgat and Kalin, where the Samsun branch joins the main line just west of Sivas. This would halve the distance and reduce the cost of iron ore than come from the east. This project is surfaced from time to time but without any serious backing.

Delice Kayadüzü

This is another cut-off project, but this time to Samsum. This line would branch off the existing Ankara Sivas line near Delice and go straight to Çorum and Kayadüzü on the exiting Samsun Sivas line. This project makes good sense and would link the busy Samsun area to Ankara. It is mentioned since the 1920 and would present no greater engineering difficulties than the existing Samsum, Sivas line, perhaps even less. Indeed, I cannot understand why it was not built in the first place instead of the existing line?