Turkish Railways History

Turkish Railways History :In order to comprehend the railways policies during the early years of our Republic that is described as the golden age of railways, we have to consider the period prior to the proclamation of Republic, because, we cannot understand present without knowing the facts of past.

Therefore, the railways history of our country should be considered under three headings as Pre-Republic period, Republic period (1923-1950 Period), and the period after 1950. All these three periods have their own distinctive characteristics. The first period is characterized by the construction of the railway lines in return for granting privileges to the foreigners; in the second period railway transportation experienced its golden age and in the third period, railways is neglected and ignored.

A. Pre-Republic Period

Turkish Railways History starts in 1856. The foundation of the first railways line of 130 km between Izmir and Aydin was laid by a British company in this year under the privilege granted to this company. The selection of this line was not incidental. Izmir-Aydin region was more populated than other regions, had a higher commercial potential, hosted different ethnic elements suitable for becoming a market for British products, and had an easy access to raw materials. Besides, it had a strategic position for controlling Indian routes by dominating the Middle-East. The British, French and German, the countries which were granted privileges in the field of railways by the Ottomans, had separate zones of influence in the territory of the Ottoman Empire . France created influence zones in North Greece, West and East Anatolia, and Syria ; Britain in Romania , West Anatolia, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf; Germany in the Thrace , Central Anatolia, and Mesopotamia . The reason for the western capital holders’ to construct railways was to transport agricultural products which were the raw materials of textile industry by rail which had become the most significant and strategic means of transport with the industrial revolution to seaports rapidly and to their countries therefrom. Moreover, they expanded the railways constructions by obtaining privileges such as profit guarantee per km, exploiting the mines located 20 km around the railways, etc. Consequently, the railway lines that were constructed in the territory of the Ottoman Empire and their routes were shaped according to the economic and political goals of these countries.

Sultan Abdülhamid the 2 nd , who reigned the Ottoman Empire for 33 years between 1876 and 1909, narrates these facts in his memoirs: “I accelerated the construction of Anatolian Railways with all my might. The purpose of these railways is to connect Mesopotamia and Baghdad to Anatolia and to reach the Persian Gulf . This has been achieved thanks to German aid. The grains that used to rot in the fields before can now find market and our mines are introduced to the world market for sale. A good future for Anatolia has been prepared. The competition among the big states for the construction of the railways within the territory of our Empire is so weird and suspicious. Although these big states do not want to confess, these railways are important not only for economic reasons, but also for political reasons.”

Between 1856 and 1922 following lines were constructed in the territory of Ottoman Empire:
Rumelia Railways: 2383 km standard gauge lines;
Anatolia – Baghdad Railways: 2424 km standard gauge lines;
Izmir – Kasaba and its extensions: 695 km standard gauge lines;
Izmir -Aydin and its branches: 610 km standard gauge lines;
Damascus – Hama and its extensions: 498 km narrow and standard gauge lines;
Jaffa – Jerusalem: 86 km standard gauge lines;
Bursa – Mudanya 42 km narrow lines; and
Ankara – Yahsihan 80 km narrow lines.
Total: 8.619 km

Click here for commissioning dates of the Pre-Republic and Post-Republic railway lines.

In conclusion, a part of 4.000 km of the railways constructed by different foreign companies during the Pre-Republic period remained within the national borders that were determined with the proclamation of Republic. Young Republic received a legacy from Ottoman Empire a standard gauge line of 2.282 km and narrow line of 70 km that was owned by foreign companies and a standard gauge line of 1.378 km that was under the control of the State.

B. Post-Republic Period

1. Railways Predomination Period (1923- 1950):

The railways that had been constructed under the supervision of foreign companies with the privileges granted to them in a manner to serve foreign economies and political interests during the Pre-Republic period were structured to serve national interests during the Post-Republic period and activating the national sources by means of the railways was targeted for the purpose of creating a self-sufficient “national economy”. The distinctive characteristic of this period is that the prioritization of basic industries such as iron&steel, coal, and machinery in the 1 st and 2 nd Five-Year Industrialization Plans which were prepared between 1932 and 1936. Railways investments were focused on in order to transport such gross massed cargos in the cheapest way. For this reason, the railway lines were oriented towards national resources and they became determining factors for establishing the locations during the process of national industrialization. In spite of all of the negative conditions of this period, railways construction and operation were succeeded with national strength.

In his speech that Mr. Ismet Inönü gave on August 30, 1930 emphasized the following with reference to the first program of the Government formed under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1920:

“While it was facing the biggest challenges, while its existence in the future was at risk, while its barefooted citizens were struggling against the invaders with sticks in their hands, while it was having lost all of its resources, and while it did not have even a penny in its treasure, it says in its first program that it will operate trains from Ankara to Yahsihan.”

Atatürk said in a convention of the Parliament on March 1, 1922:

“The activity and energy of economic life is measured with the situation and level of transportation means, roads, railways, and ports.”

And again in a statement given by Atatürk to the papers:

“All of the central areas of our country will be connected to each other through railways soon. Some important mine treasures will be extracted from the ground. The foundation stones of our aim for transforming the ruined scene of our country at every corner into a developed country will shine in the eyes with excitement.”

Everybody had a strong desire for railways during the early years of Republic. Here is the impressive speech delivered by Surgeon M. Necdet Bey on August 30, 1930 on the occasion of railways extension to Sivas province:

“Congratulations! Here is the train arrived. (.) Railways is the steel arm of our Republic. Sivas is not far from anywhere any more. Now, Ankara is one day distance from our province. (.) We laid these iron bars here to clean the rust of ground. We spliced them to turn yellow gleanings into gold. These iron bars decreased the travel between Ankara and Sivas from 10 days to 1 day. These iron bars bring richness and welfare to waste plateaus. A kilogram of grain that now amounts to 1 Lira will amount to 5 Liras after tomorrow. This is not iron, but gold road. (.) The road is the vein of earth. The land that does not have pulse will have gangrenous. The body of land needs road veins like the blood veins of our bodies to survive. The pulse of land must beat without stopping even for a minute just like a human being. (.) Water feeds the crop until it grows and road feeds it after it has grown.”

In those years of shortage, the construction of railways continued at a fast pace. During the Second World War, the constructions slowed down. 3.208 km of 3.578 km of the tracks that were built between 1923 and 1950, were completed before 1940.

The policies for creating a national economy and for establishing the young Republic affected the transportation policy as explained below. The railways intended to achieve following goals:

– To connect potential production centers with the natural resources. For example, the line extending to Ergani is called as copper line, the one reaching Eregli coal basin as iron line, and Adana and Çetinkaya lines were called as cotton and iron lines.

– To establish connections between production and consumption centers and especially seaports and their hinterlands. The number of seaports having rail connections was increased from 6 to 8 with Kalin-Samsun and Irmak-Zonguldak lines. Sea connection of Central and Eastern Anatolia were reinforced with Samsun and Zonguldak lines.

– To reach especially underdeveloped areas for the purpose of expansion of the economic development throughout the country. Together with the establishment of Republic, the political center moved from the West to Central Anatolia and the accessibility was expanded from the West to Central Anatolia , Eastern and South-Eastern Anatolia. According to this policy, Kayseri was connected to railway network in 1927, Sivas in 1930, Malatya in 1931, Nigde in 1933, Elazig in 1934, Diyarbakir in 1935, and Erzurum in 1939.

– To surround the country for the purpose of ensuring national security and integrity.

For achieving these aims, the railway transportation policy was handled in two phases.

In the first phase, in spite of the serious financial challenges, the railway lines owned by foreign companies were procured and expropriated and some of them were taken over by agreements.

In the second phase, since the biggest part of the existing lines was concentrated in the Western region, it was aimed to connect the Central and Eastern regions of the country to the centers and coasts. To this end, mainlines were routed by ensuring the direct connection of railway lines to the production centers. Main routes constructed at this period are: Ankara-Kayseri-Sivas, Sivas-Erzurum (Caucasus line), Samsun-Kalin ( Sivas ), Irmak-Filyos (Zonguldak coal line), Adana-Fevzipasa-Diyarbakir (Copper line), and Sivas-Çetinkaya (Iron line). In the Pre-Republic period, 70% of the railway lines were in the west of Ankara – Konya direction, after the Republic 78.6% were constructed in the east so that the current balance of 46% to 54% was reached in the East and West.

In addition, the construction of junction lines which connected mainlines with each other and had a significant role in expanding the railways throughout the country were focused on. The construction of junction lines was also very important in terms of national security. For example, Atatürk emphasized this important point in his speech at the opening ceremony of Afyon-Karakuyu junction line: “We faced serious problems in defending our country due to lack of this line. It is almost impossible to perform the service of such a short line with 100.000 oxen. During the period of the Ottoman Empire , the junction lines were attached slight importance. This was because of their lack of awareness rather than their financial weakness.”

The construction of junction lines was concentrated on between 1935 and 1945. Railways in the shape of a web in the early years of Republic gained two loops between Manisa-Balikesir-Kütahya-Afyon and Eskisehir-Ankara-Kayseri-Kardesgedigi-Afyon in 1935. Moreover, Izmir-Denizli-Karakuyu-Afyon-Manisa and Kayseri-Kardesgedigi-Adana-Narli-Malatya-Çetinkaya loops were also attained. These loops were created by means of junction lines. It was also aimed to decrease the physical and economic distance by constructing these junction lines. For example, the distance between Ankara-Diyarbakir was 1324 km and Çetinkaya-Malatya junction line decreased this distance to 1116 km and provided a decrease of 208 km . With these junctions, the “tree” shaped railways that had been created by the semi-colonial economy in the 19 th century were transformed into a “looping network” as needed by the national economy.

In this period, road system was designed to support the railways.

This period is summarized in the February 1937 issue of “Demiryollar” magazine with the following lines:

“A nation that left behind the interminable wars tired and without money has laid brand new steel irons of 2.700 through a very steep and wide country with very difficult transportation possibilities within fifteen years, penetrated the mountains and tinged the deserted corners of its country, created a life and business source at every corner of the country, and succeeded to strengthen the national ideal and national unity monuments with a steel network of 3.300 km purchased from companies and all these are unique and highly important subjects to be written in our history.”

2. Road Predomination Period (after 1950): The road heritage of the Ottoman Empire consisted of 18.355 km roads, 13.885 km of which were damaged surface narrow paved roads and 4.450 km were unimproved roads and of 94 bridges.

Post-1950 period which was the golden age of road has following terms: First Leap Term (1950-1963), Planned Leap Term (1963-1980), Transportation Master Plan Term (1983-1993), and Highways Term (1986-…).

Under the transportation policies that had been applied until 1950, roads were regarded as a system to support and integrate the railways. However, in the period, during which roads were required to be improved in a manner to integrate and support railways, road constructions were commenced with Marshall aid and the existence of railways were nearly ignored. During this period, in which the USA was dominant on Turkish economy with Marshall aid, an industrialization process that especially was based on agriculture and consumer goods controlled the economic structure.

During the planned development periods after 1960, the goals envisaged for railways were never achieved. Although the coordination of transportation infrastructure systems had been targeted in these plans, the characteristics of the period before planning were continued and the coordination between transportation infrastructure systems was not created and the investments on road maintained their predomination at every period. In all of the plans, it was envisaged to focus on the new arrangements, modernization works, and investments on the railways for meeting the increasing transportation needs of industry timely and appropriately, but this was never realized. As a result of these policies, only 30 km of railways were constructed annually between 1950 and 1980.

In the middle of 1980s, a rapid highway construction mobilization was initiated in our country and the highways were accepted as the 3 rd biggest project of our country after GAP (South-Eastern Anatolian Project) and Tourism. Within this framework, almost 2 billion dollars of investment was made annually for highways until the end of 1990s. But, no project was implemented especially for railways infrastructure investments. The biggest part of the existing railways was left within the geometric structure that was constructed at the beginning of the century. The resources allocated for maintenance investments were insufficient.

Moreover, the “1983-1993 Transportation Interim Planning”, the sole national transportation plan prepared in our country for the purpose of improving our transportation system and of decreasing the share of highways in transportation from 72% to 36%, was not implemented. Finally, it was abolished after the year 1986.

We can obtain remarkable results even when making a general assessment of this plan. For example, only the increase of railways’ share in freight transport results in energy saving, and the decrease of traffic accidents, number of casualties, and air pollution. It has been calculated that if the share of railways in freight transport is increased up to 30%, 1.500 people will not die and 16.000 people will not be injured within a period of ten years.
Consequently, as a result of the road predominated transportation policies that have been implemented since 1950s, the length of roads increased 80% between 1950 and 1997, but the length of railways increased by only 11%. As for the investment shares among the transportation sectors; while road got a share of 50% and railways got 30%, the share of the latter since 1985 has been below 10%.

As a result of these transportation policies, the transportation system of our country has been based on almost one system. As far as the passenger transport shares of our country are concerned, the passenger transport share of road is 96% and the passenger transport share of railways is only 2%. The passenger transport share of railways has been regressed 38% within last 50 years since the existing infrastructure and operating conditions of railways were not rehabilitated and new corridors were not opened.

On the other hand, approximately 14 million tons of freight transport was performed in 2002.

When road- railways freight transport shares of our country’s transportation system are examined, the freight transport share of road is 94% and the passenger transport share of railways is 4%. The freight transport share of railways has been regressed 60% within last 50 years.

Turkish Railways History

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