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ORC Ottoman Railway Company

ORC History

The ORC concession was given on September 22, 1856 to build and operate the line between İzmir and Aydın. The concession was to last for 50 years from October 1, 1860, the date originally agreed for the opening of the line. The ground breaking ceremony occurred on 22 September 1957.

However, construction time and cost were underestimated, the estimated initial capital of £1.2 million could not be raised and the opening to Aydın had to be delayed until 1866.

The first section, from İzmir to Seydiköy and Torbalı, was opened on in December 1860 and was the first railway in Anatolia and in the Ottoman Empire, the second in the Middle East after the Alexandria to Cairo line in Egypt (opened in 1856). See below regarding the opening date.

The ORC obtained additional concessions step by step and managed to extend the line as far as Eğridir in 1912. The ORC also acquired in 1912 the suburban line from Şirinyer to Buca on the outskirts of İzmir, which operated since 1870. The intent of the company was to carry mineral and agricultural goods from the rich Menderes Valleys to the port of İzmir. However, this traffic was not enough to generate big revenues and the ORC was never highly profitable. One way out would have been to extend the network to the Anatolian Plateau, but the ORC failed to secure the concession to extend to Konya or to Afyon. Indeed railways concession were highly political, the British voters were not keen for their government to help the Ottomans building railways that might compete with other British interest in India and in the Middle East. On the other hand the CFOA which had secured railway concession in Afyon and Konya lobbied the Ottomans against further extension of the ORC. Consequently, the ORC acted very much like a colonial railway: connecting a large port to the interland, facilitating export of raw material and agricultural products and imports of manufactured products. Because of poor Ottoman planning, the ORC could play no role at integrating various large city such as Izmir with Konya.

The line was placed under special military control during WWI but was handed back after the war in 1919. It was disrupted again by the war between the Turkish Nationalists and the Greeks because the line was right in the conflict area. After the victory of Atatürk, the line, badly damaged, was handed back again to the ORC on November 6, 1922.

The Turkish Republic arranged to buy the line for £1,825,840 when the ORC concession expired (law 2475 of May 30, 1935). On June 1, 1935 it became part of the TCDD.

The route controversy

The lines were built through fairly level country using a light track having a maximum axle load of only 13,5 tons, except for the Karakuyu-Eğirdir section were it was raised to 15 tons

Three sections of the line caused major difficulties to the engineers:

  • the crossing of the mountains between the Küçük Menderes and the Büyük Menderes valleys: from Selçuk the line rise steeply at a rate of 2,8% on 5,8 km to Çamlık. Then goes down quickly to Ortaklar. A summit tunnel of 1.014 km was also required
  • the climb on to the Anatolian plateau east of Sarayköy. Here again 3,0% gradient are encountered.
  • the arrival at Eğridir: the line had to go down to the lakeshore on a step gradient.

Very only on, a controversy arised about the route to cross the mountains range. Instead of heavy gradients and a long tunnel, many people advocate a detour through Kuşadası (then Scala Nova), on the sea shore. From there, the line could have entered the Büyük Menderes valley through Kirazlı and Gökçealan. The pass is a bit easier. A back of the enveloppe calculation indicates a 1,0 to 1,5% average climb, and most likely no major tunnel required. But the detour is about 20 to 30 km. The only real benefit would have been a station in Kuşadası, which is the port to Samos Island.

ORC Operations

1862 Timetable

This timetable is reproduced from an advertisement in the newspaper Smyrna Mail of 3 February 18621. This is before the official opening of route to Selçuk which was in September of the same year. It is most likely to be the 1st timetable to Selçuk.

The traffic is very light. A single train goes out in the early morning and returns early in the afternoon. The average speed overall is 24km/h. In 1862, the ORC had 2B steam locomotives built by Robert Stephenson & Co and it must have been quite difficult to maintain the timetables.

The 16:20 timing at Develiköy might be a printing error. A 16:26 timing would be more consistent with the average speed.


1875 Timetable

This timetable is reproduced from an ORC flyer date 29 August 1875. 9 years after the opening to Aydın, there is still only one train per direction per day. Two trains are required, one each way. The crossing is done at Kozpınar. The whole outbound trip is done in 5h30, implying an average speed of 24km/h, same as in 1862. The inbound trip is given 30 minutes more, with a whole trip done 6h00, average speed 22km/h. In 1875, the locomotives are still very much the Stephenson 2B from 1859, supplemented by various C tank locomotives.

Timings are neatly rounded.


ORC lines opening dates

ORC Network

Description of the line Izmir to Denizli

fromtoOriginal companyOpening yearOpening datekmmiles
İzmir Alsancak StGaziemirORC1858Dec 186014,59
GaziemirSeydiköyORC1858Dec 18601,40,9
GaziemirTorbalıORC1860Dec 186034.621.5
TorbalıKozpınarORC186114 Nov 186117.711.0
KozpınarSelçukORC1862Sep 186210.86.7
SelçukAydınORC18661 Jul 186652.932.9
ŞirinyerBucaORC186027 Jul 18602,51,6
AydınKuyucakORC1881 5735,4
KuyucakSarayköyORC18821 Jul 188243,927,3
TorbalıTireORC18831 Sep 188347,929,8
ÖdemişÇatalORC1884 24,915,5
SarayköyDinarORC188913 Oct 1889144,890
GoncalıDenizliORC188913 Oct 18899,35,8
CivrilSütlaçORC188929 Dec 188931,119,3
OrtaklarSökeORC18901 Dec 18902213,7
DinarEğridirORC19121 Nov 191294,358,6

First train in Turkey

There is a confusion regarding the ORC opening date and, hence, the first train in Turkey. All sources agrees on the concession date: 23 September 1856. Sources diverge about the opening date. Unfortunately, I did not had access to primary sources and had to work with secondary sources, themselves not always citing primary sources.

30 Oct 1858 as openning date is consistent with:

  • Steam in Turkey, Talbot E., Continental Railway Circle, 1981, page 6
  • Yatakli Wagon, Turkish Steam Travel, Behrend, George; Kelly, Vincent; Jersey Artists, 1969.
  • Population and Accessibility: An Analysis of Turkish Railroads, Kolars, John; Malin, Henry J.; New York; American Geographical Society, Reprint from the Geographical Review, Volume LX, No. 2, 1970, Pages 229-246.

All three indicates data from Great Britain Naval Intelligence Division is used. This must be the primary source.

However, dates given by TCDD (i.e. 1860 as first date) are consistent with:

  • Railway development in the Ottoman Empire, 1856-1914, Karkar, Yaqub N.; Vantage Press, Ann Arbor, 1972; page 66
  • Türkiye Demiryollarında Tarihi Olaylar, Işıksaçan Mustafa, Demiryol Dergisi Yayınlarından, Ankara, 1963, page 13.

Regarding the Seydiköy branch, the later contradict itself by indicating 1866 on top of page 13 and 1886 in the middle of same page.

A quite newly published book provide an interesting insight. This is in "Smyrne et l'Occident, de l'Antiquité au XXIème siècle", Léon Kontente, Yvelines Edition, 2006. page 506-510. In summary, the first track was laid between September 1857 to November 1858 however, due to poor engineering and lack of cash, works had to stop. The company reorganized itself, resume works in 1859 and a formal inauguration was done on 24 December 1860 , from Alsancak to Torbalı (43 km)

Another recent book, "İzmir Demiryolları" by Nedim Atilla, 2002 indicates page 63 that the line between Alsancak and Torbalı was inaugurated on 28 December 1860.

A work train did ran in 1858 on a temporary track to assit in the earthwork carried out to built the line plateform. Earth excavated from the cutting just before Şirinyer was hauled back to back fill swamps in Alsancak area, about 6km. On 23 March 1858, the delivery of the first construction loco gave rise to a local ceremony. According to an article published in The Times, 6 April 1858, Officials were taken from Alsancak to Kemer (then Caravan Bridge) on an inspection tour. It was then the first steam train in Anatolia. Given the state of the ORC in 1858 & 1859, it seems impossible that a revenue service was established during thoses years. In particular, the company did not have any rolling stock & motive power before sometine in 1860.

Again according to The Times, 9 September 1861, the first revenue trains occurred in February 1861 between Izmir and Torbalı, and then reached Kozpınar, a few kilometres before Selçuk, on 14 November 1861. An inauguration was organized on that date with various officials taken by special train from Izmir to Kozpınar. It seems that Selçuk was reached in September 1862.

Whether a revenue service was done to Gaziemir and Seydiköy before December 1860 or not is not known.

In any case, this matter deserves to be research thoroughly. We could not celebrate the 150th anniversary for lack of a suitable date, lets hope the issue is solved for the 175th anniversary.

Schematic map

See here for a more detailled description of the network.

Schematic map of ORC lines in 1912.
Drawing JP Charrey.
Izmir area, final railway development, excluding LRT lines.
Drawing JP Charrey.


See the ORC Personnel listing on www.levantineheritage.com


1 see The Construction of the Smyrna-Aidin Railway in Southwestern Anatolia by FJ Valenzuela, 1975

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