Delegates attending two seminars in December to mark the 150th anniversary of railways in Turkey were able to inspect progress on the first sections of the Ankara - Istanbul high speed line, reports Felix Schmid, Associate Professor in Railway Systems Engineering at the University of Birmingham

TURKISH STATE Railways celebrated the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the country's railway age in style. Together with Istanbul Technical University, Middle East Technical University and Süleyman Demirel University, TCDD invited the worldwide railway community to an international symposium, held in Ankara on December 13 - 14 and in Istanbul on December 15. In total around 1 600 people attended the event, although only about 200 were able to be present in both cities.

TCDD can look back on a proud history. Construction of the first railway began at Smyrna (Izmir) in 1856 the 130 km line linking Izmir and Aydin was funded with British capital. TCDD itself is the result of the nationalisation in 1927 of various railways built by the private sector. Today, the company and the Ministry of Transport are looking to the future, seeing Turkey and its railways as the shortest route from Europe to the Middle East, Pakistan and India. They want to ensure that TCDD plays a key role linking east and west.

The seminar's opening session in Ankara was addressed by Minister of Transport Binali Yildirim and TCDD Director General Süleiman Karaman. Participants in the plenary session included UIC Director Luc Aliadière, E Grillo Pasquarelli from the European Commission and Johannes Ludewig from the Community of European Railways.

The four parallel sessions attracted 1 350 participants and 90 speakers from 18 countries. Semih Kalay of TCCI summarised railway research needs and technology developments from a North American perspective, highlighting such apparently basic problems as failures of insulated rail joints. Giovanni Rocca of Trenitalia discussed the Italian approach to railway market liberalisation while Dave van der Meulen from South Africa looked at sustainability strategies (RG 9.06 p527). Two complete sessions were devoted to high speed rail, and different freight strategies featured strongly throughout the discussions.

In Istanbul, 450 participants attended a second seminar as guests of SDU, addressed again by Süleiman Karaman, as well as representatives of the City of Istanbul and the Ministry of Transport, plus Helmut Meelich from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. This time there were 22 presentations by speakers from eight countries and an open forum, followed by a gala dinner on the Bosporus.

Speakers, railway managers, government officials and delegates were transferred between Ankara and Istanbul by special trains, offering the guests an excellent opportunity to see the first Turkish high speed line taking shape between Ankara and Inönü.

High speed line takes shape

From the existing electrified single-track line, delegates on the 14.00 train from Ankara to Eskisehir and Istanbul could see for themselves the rapid progress of the new double-track alignment (Table I). TCDD's head of infrastructure, Ferhat Demirtas, gave a running commentary to the guests in the conference car.

Today, TCDD passenger services are quite slow, with maximum speeds around 140 km/h. Given the long distances, such as 570 km from Ankara to Istanbul using the existing line, rail is not competitive with road or air. But, as part of its plans to improve Turkey's transport infrastructure, the Ministry of Transport decided to develop a high speed network. Reflecting the topography and population distribution, the ministry and TCDD chose a maximum line speed of 250 km/h, offering a sensible compromise between energy consumption and journey time. With this maximum speed it will be possible to cut the end-to-end journey time between Ankara and Haydarapasa from 6 h 30 min to 3 h, including 17 min for stops.

The ministry expects that the reduced journey time, combined with greater reliability, will lead to a significant modal shift, with rail forecast to carry 78% of passenger traffic between the two cities, compared with 10% today.

Now nearing completion, Phase 1 runs for 251 km from Sincan on the outskirts of Ankara to Inönü, 30 km west of Eskisehir. Designed for operation at 250 km/h, the new line is being constructed largely alongside the existing line and the parallel motorway. Test running is due to begin in April, and revenue services will start using the new tracks in the autumn.

With the completion of this first phase of the high speed line, the fastest timings between Ankara and Eskisehir will fall from 3 h to 1 h, with journey times from Ankara to Istanbul, Izmir and Konya cut by around 90 min.

Tenders for the construction of Phase 2 are due to be opened early this year, and when completed the Ankara - Istanbul line will total 533 km, cutting 37 km off the current distance.

Beyond that, the Turkish high speed network is expected to grow rapidly. Detailed planning is already underway for a line from Polatli to Konya, which will reduce distance from the capital to this city of 1 million inhabitants to 300 km. Journey time will be slashed from 3 h to 1 h 15 min.

Even though one major viaduct is still under construction it seems likely that the project, which only started in 2003, will be completed on time. Both electrification equipment and the ETCS Level 1 compatible signalling supplied by Alcatel are in evidence along much of the route. The speed of construction is remarkable, comparable to that seen on Spain's high speed lines. The countryside west of Ankara is very reminiscent of the Spanish plateau and Spanish company OHL is a major partner in the construction of the line.

Construction logistics are complex because of the limited capacity of the existing line which supplies the works on the new line from two depots (left). Emphasising this point, one of the special trains had to stop briefly to allow a construction train to vacate the existing track. Once the new line is completed, the existing route will be used for freight trains and for local passenger services around the major cities.

To work the new line, TCDD has ordered 10 six-car high speed trainsets from CAF, each accommodating 420 passengers. Enhanced on-board facilities will include satellite-based wi-fi internet access for first class passengers. TCDD expects this enhanced quality of service will help to boost its market share, and it expects a further increase in traffic will come with the opening of the tunnel under the Bosporus.

Urban approachesOn the approaches to Ankara and Istanbul, the high speed trains will share the existing rail corridors to minimise the environmental impact on the rapidly-growing cities. Extra capacity is also needed at both ends to allow enhanced suburban services, because Ankara's population is approaching six million, and Istanbul's is nearing 12 million. Private car and lorry traffic is becoming a major problem, and chronic congestion is apparent on both cities' arterial roads during extended peak periods.

Between Ankara and Sincan, six tracks will be provided for local services, freight and the high speed trains. Between Köseköy, Gebze and Haydarpasa, the existing double-track route will be expanded to three tracks. Completion of the Marmaray cross-Bosporus tunnel and its approach tracks will eventually remove much of the long-distance passenger and freight traffic from the Gebze - Haydarpasa section.

After some 30 years of discussion and planning, the Bosporus tunnel is now under construction. Diverging from the existing line east of Haydarpasa, the new route goes underground at Sögütlüçesme, with suburban trains calling at an underground station at Üsküdar before passing under the Istanbul Strait. The next stops will be the underground stations at Sirkeci and Yenikap?, before the line emerges at Yedikule on the European side.

One of the world's major transport infrastructure projects at present, the Marmaray link will be approximately 76 km long, combining new and upgraded railways. Excavation of the recess in the seabed for the immersed tunnel is close to completion, and the tunnel segments are being produced on the Asian shore. An important consideration has been the fact that this is the most seismically-active area of Turkey. Earthquake protection and and the heavy shipping traffic through the Bosporus have had a strong influence on the design of both the immersed tube and bored tunnel sections.

Restructuring debateDiscussions in the conference coach revolved not only around the speed of progress on the new lines, but also around the options available for TCDD to move towards an EU-compatible structure. Both the Ministry of Transport and the railway's management are keen to develop arrangements that will result in increased passenger and freight market share, through the introduction of on-rail competition.

Delegates were keen to learn about the British and Scandinavian experience, but also listened carefully to participants from Iran who could point to substantial successes with the privatisation of train operations and infrastructure maintenance and renewals on their network.

  • CAPTION: Spanish firm OHL has been heavily involved in building the first phase of the high speed line. The similarity between Turkish and Spanish topography may partly explain the rapid rate of construction
  • CAPTION: Construction work is progressing rapidly on the high speed route between Ankara and Inönü. TCDD hopes to commence passenger services along the line in autumn 2007, and ten electric units capable of 250 km/h have been ordered from CAF. The opening of the line should cut 90 min from Ankara - Istanbul journey times
  • CAPTION: Visitors to the symposium were transferred between Istanbul and Ankara on special trains. Passengers could view the progress of the high speed line first-hand as TCDD gave an on-board project update