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ITE Transport and Logistics

On track: A look at railway development in Turkey

Turkey holds an important functions in regional and global transport corridors. Its strategic location essentially makes Turkey a regional crossroads, connecting Europe, Asia and beyond.

Despite its crucial geographic placement, Turkey’s railways remained underdeveloped until very recently. Now, however, the story is much different. A collection of high-speed passenger and freight lines are in the in the works, which could make Turkey the region’s primary rail hub – especially as $40 billion worth of investment has been earmarked for rail development up until at least 2023.

Liberalisation hits Turkish railways

A breaking up of Turkish State Railways’ (TCDD) rail monopoly is underway. It has been a long time coming, but since at least 2015 TCDD has been ploughing ahead with a splitting of its infrastructure and transportation operations.

TCDD will be the body in charge of maintaining Turkey’s rail lines, including maintenance and time-tabling. It is also responsible, as of January 2017, for the issuing of network access licenses and identifying regulatory compliant private firms. The newly formed TCDD Transport Joint Stock Company handles passenger and transport activities, and is likely responsible for the procurement of new rolling stock. 

According to Veysi Kurt, Chairman of the freshly minted TCDD Transport Joint Stock Company, Turkey had already liberalised its rail freight sector, unofficially, prior to 2016. Statistics from TCDD reveal that 35% of freight wagons were run by private operators across that year – double 2011’s figure of 17%. Now, its fresh set of regulations seem to be simply codifying liberalisation measures.
6% of all of Turkey’s freight is carried by rail, equating to around 26 million tons. While this is a 60% increase over 2003’s levels, exhibiting impressive growth, the 2023 goal is for rail to account 15% of total traffic – up to 94 million tons. Just over 6 million passengers travel by train annually, according to data from Turkstat. 300 high-speed services, carrying 120,000 passengers per day, are planned for 2023.

TCDD hopes opening up its railway networks will significantly boost both cargo and passenger volumes.

High-speed line construction dominates Turkish rail construction

Significant investment in fresh rail links is planned throughout next seven years. The Turkish government is aiming to more than double its existing 12,000 kilometres of track, boosting its length to a total of 26,000 km. Up to 10,000 km of new lines are to be high-speed passenger routes.

The drive to increase the quality and quantity of Turkey’s high-speed links has led to a number of partnerships with major international rail solutions providers. Canada’s Bombadier has inked a deal with domestic fabricator Bozankaya to provide new carriages, for example. Elsewhere Spanish firm Talgo has partnered with Turkey’s Tümosan.

Siemens has provided electrification and modernisation technologies and services on several Turkish rail lines. Additionally, the German company is also supplying hi-tech Velaro-D trains for a number of networks, including the Ankara-Konya route.

The high-speed lines are designed to connect Turkey’s urban centres. Over three quarters of Turkey’s 75 million population live in cities, thus connecting the nation’s metropolises is a high priority. There 20 lines either completed or under construction, which would increase Turkey’s high-speed standings. At present, the nation ranks 7th in terms of high-speed track length (above the UK, but below Sweden).

BTK-Line planned for 2017 opening

Turkey’s rail upgrading activity does not apply to just domestic efforts. It is also taking part in several transport corridor initiatives which it hopes will boost the freight prestige of Turkish railways.

Take the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) project. This 838.6 kilometre line connects the capitals of Azerbaijan and Georgia via Kars in North-East Turkey. The BTK line, once opened, is expected to carry 1 million passengers and 6 million tons of cargo initially. Long term, these totals are expected to reach 3 million passengers and 17 million tons of freight by 2034. Construction is slated to be completed midway through 2017.

Additionally, the line will also be able to connect Turkey to the North-South Transport Corridor and Southern Corridor via Iran. Ahmet Arslan, Turkish Minister of Transport, Maritime and Communication, has stated the BTK line will form part of China’s neo-Silk Road initiative. In doing so, Turkish railways could carry an estimated additional 24 million tons of cargo annually.

Turkey’s rail sector on track for a stronger future

Despite its ambitious nature, Turkey’s rail ambitions appear to be travelling in the right direction. There is still work to go, but through collaboration with international technology and rolling-stock providers, Turkey is establishing itself as world-leader in rail transport.

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