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A Short History of Turkish Railways

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CFOA - CIOB - CO - MTA - ORC - SCP - TCDD - Transcaucasus -


TCDD was founded as a state company in 1927 by the new Turkish Republic to take over existing railways in Anatolia and to develop them in accordance with the needs of the country. Prior to the Republic, the Ottoman Empire awarded all concessions to private railways companies. These companies were financed by foreign capital except for the renowned Hedjaz Railway.

The Ottoman Government had little global network vision in their railway building and their projects can be categorized in two types:

  • Projects sponsored by the Ottoman government, usually for strategic reasons (Hedjaz Railway, Baghdad Railway, …).
  • Projects sponsored by private interests for business purpose (ORC, SCP, …), in area were the transport demand was already high. These projects were local and uncoordinated.

Although all the lines were connected at the time of TCDD creation, they did not constitute a network suitable for an efficient transportation. Large parts of Anatolia had no railways and some large cities were still not connected. A development program was prepared by the Republic government and entrusted to TCDD to carry it over. On average, TCDD doubled the size of the network (from about 4000 km in 1924 to 8500 km today)


  • Chronology of some Turkish history key historical dates from 1850 to 1950
  • The abbreviation page for details of railways and manufacturer abbreviations used.

Overview of railways in Anatolia

Before World War 1: the private companies

The table below shows all the companies in Turkey during the Ottoman time. Original names are most of the time in French, which was commonly used as international language in the Ottoman Empire in the late 19s century.

This table includes the branch line to Kars. Although not in the Empire at the time of building, this branch of the Transcaucasus railway was taken over when Kars was conquered by the Imperial armies in 1917

Short NameFull Original NameLineStart dateTaken over by
COSociété Générale pour l'Exploitation des Chemins de Fer OrientauxIstanbul to Bulgaria and Greece1874TCDD 1 January 1937
ORCOttoman Railway from Smyrna to AydinIzmir to Buca, Aydin, Sarayköy, Dinar, Egridir1866TCDD 1 June 1935
SCPSmyrna Cassaba railway, renamed Chemins de fer Smyrne Cassaba et ProlongementsIzmir to Turgutlu, Alasehir, Usak, Afyon and Izmir to Bandirma,1869TCDD 1 June 1934
CFOASociété de Chemins de Fer Ottomans d'AnatolieIstanbul, Izmit, Adapazari, Eskisehir, Ankara, Konya1873C.F. Anatolie Bahgdad 1 June 1927
CIOB - CFIO BaghdadSociété Impériale Ottomane du Chemins de Fer de Baghdad or Chemins du Fer Impérial Ottomans de BagdadKonya, Adana, Toprakkale, Iskenderun, Islahiye, Meydanekbez, Nusaybin Baghdad1904C.F. Anatolie Bahgdad 1 June 1927
MTAMersin - AdanaMersin, Tarsus, Yenice, Adana1886TCDD 1 January 1929
CFMBChemins de fer de Moudiana à BrousseMudanya Bursa1892TCDD 1 June 1931
---Transcaucasus RailwaysSarikamis, Kars to border, plus 750 mm gauge line to Erzurum1899C.F. Anatolie Bahgdad 1 June 1927

First World War and Independence War

For various reasons not discussed here, the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War on the side of Germany and of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and against France, the United-Kingdom and Russia. During the 1914-1918 period, no fighting occurred on the Anatolian soil but the "enemy railways" (the SCP, and the ORC) were placed under special military control until 1919.

In the aftermath of defeat, Anatolia was occupied by the Great Powers which in turn placed the "German railways" under special military control. However, fightings in Anatolia did start in 1920 when Greece proceeded with an attack and an occupation of Western Anatolia. The Turkish Nationalist, led by Atatürk, fought back and expelled the Greeks in 1922. These combats brought about heavy damage to the railways, especially in Eskisehir area.

During all this time, actual control and operation of the railway lines in Anatolia is quite obscure. It is likely that traffic was minimal and most of the equipment was not serviceable. Only parts of lines were operated by whoever had military control of the area.

Schematic map of Turkey showing railway development at the eve of World War One.
A large area is left without railways. Drawing JP Charrey

After the War: railway nationalized through TCDD

After the War, a Turkish State company was formed to take over the railways that were under German ownership and lying in Anatolia under Turkish control. This company took the name of Chemins de fer d'Anatolie Baghdad and formed the nucleus of TCDD. All the railways belonging to the French or the British were returned to their former owners.

Short NameFull Original NameLineStart dateTaken over by
---Chemins de fer d'Anatolie BaghdadIstanbul Izmit Adapazari, Eskisehir, Ankara, Konya, Pozanti, Adana, Mersin22 April 1924TCDD 1 June 1927

In addition, a company was created by the French, after WWI, to take over the part of the Baghdad railways that was in the area controlled by the French (Cilicia and Syria). This company was reorganized when the French withdrew from Cilicia, and again when the assets in Turkey were transferred to TCDD.

Short NameFull Original NameLineStart dateTaken over by
CNSChemins de fer de Cilicie Nord SyrieAdana, Toprakkale, Iskenderun, Islahiye, Meydanekbez, Nusaybin, Baghdad,1918BANP 1927
BANPSociété d'exploitation des Chemins de Fer Bozanti Alep Nissibine et ProlongementsAdana, Toprakkale, Iskenderun, Islahiye, Meydanekbez, Nusaybin, Baghdad,1927TCDD (partly) 1 July 1933
CDSociété Turque des Chemins de Fer du Sud de la Turquie (Cenup Demiryolari)Fevzipasa, Islahiye to Meydanekbez; Çobanbey to Nusaybin and Payas to Iskenderun1 July 1933TCDD January 1948

Second wave of line building

In addition to gradually taking over all the private railways, TCDD had a mandate for extensive line building to the point that it became the main expenditure of the government. This second wave of expansion occurred mostly in the 1930's and 1940's with the opening of important lines to places like Malatya, Ezurum, Samsun or Zonguldak

From the Second World War to present days

Turkey remained neutral during the Second World War. But after the war, with American aid through the Marshal plan, Turkey shifted its priorities from rail to road transportation. Over the years, bus and truck became the transportation of choice over the newly build roads.

The rail network expansion came slowly to a halt without being finished. In addition, under investment meant that line modernization was very slow. Steam engines were kept in service until very late in the 1980's. TCDD modernization program relies on modern automatic block signaling system and 25KV electrification of its main lines. Some double tracking and realignments have been done as well along the same main roads

Rail investment rebirth came through urban mass transportation. In the 1990's, urban networks, from light rail to heavy metro were inaugurated in most of the large Turkish cities. Transportation needs in large cities and road congestion brought about the latest shift in TCDD strategy. In the late 1990's, TCDD forgo its network expansion strategy and focused instead on the upgrade of the Istanbul Ankara mainline.

Schematic map of Turkey showing the final railway development. Drawing JP Charrey