Focus: Transport

Building Bridges

Building Bridges

Sep. 8, 2013

However, Turkey's prime potential in maritime transportation has not gone unnoticed. Surrounded by seas on three sides, Turkey's access to the Mediterranean, the Aegean, and the Black Sea give it the ultimate competitive advantage. Cargo and passengers are also transported via the straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus. In total, the coastal borders of the country stretch for 8,333 kilometers.

As such, maritime transportation is the most preferred method for the transportation of exports and imports passing through, originating, and arriving in Turkey. In 2012, 50.7% of exports and 53.2% imports were carried by sea.

In terms of rail, Turkey boasts an ever-growing number of railways. As of 2012, there were 10,984 kilometers of track, all of which was operated by Turkish State Railways (TCDD). To upgrade aging infrastructure and trains that have been used for decades, the TCDD laid out a budget of close to $30 billion to develop the railway network, add high-speed lines, and improve inter-city transit up until 2023. To accelerate this process, the government announced the passage of new legislation allowing more private sector participation and the welcoming of FDI as the authorities work to complete the renovation goals. As a result, TCDD's quality of service is expected to improve, and high-speed passenger train transport will reach new parts of the country. In an interview with TBY, Süleyman Karaman, Chairman of TCDD, explained, “From 2003 to 2012, a total of TL25.5 billion was invested in the railways of Turkey, with the aim to reduce costs in the transportation sector. This is one of the driving sectors of the economy, and we are working to reduce the negative impact on the environment. Therefore, rail is becoming increasingly important in Turkey."

In air transportation, huge additions planned before 2023 are set to attract more foreign interest and greater domestic activity. Of the country's 45 airports, 13 serve international flights. Meanwhile, the national carrier, Turkish Airlines, is considered to be one of the fastest-growing airlines in Europe. In recognition of its success, it won the prize for “Best Airline in Europe" at the Skytrax World Airline Awards in 2013 for the third year in a row. On an annual basis, air travel is selected by more than 100 million airline passengers in Turkey.

With a roughly 5% to 6% share of overall transportation in Turkey, air travel has demonstrated dramatic growth over the past decade. In 2002, there were 8.7 million Turkish passengers traveling by air; in 2012, that number had reached almost 60 million. “Within 10 years, the number has jumped seven times, and we are only talking about 6% of the overall transportation mix," Sami Alan, Chairman of Atlasjet said, highlighting the potential of an industry with plenty of room for growth.


With Vision 2023 firmly in place, the Turkish authorities have spearheaded several plans to both promote Turkey as a transportation hub as well as accommodate new waves of tourism and visitors attending major international events. With Istanbul as the epicenter, mitigating heavy traffic and shortening travel times is the main focus of the country's major transportation initiatives.

Representing the largest tender in Turkey's history, the proposed third airport will generate €22.2 billion of initial revenue for the local government, as part of a build-operate-transfer (BOT) agreement lasting 25 years. Through a five-company consortium, Limak, Kolin, Cengiz, Mapa, and Kalyon are working together to complete the project by 2018. Serving the European side of Istanbul, the airport is being built near the Black Sea coast between the villages of Yeniköy and Akpınar. According to Minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs, and Communications, Binali Yıldırım, up to TL90 billion will be invested in the infrastructure and surrounding area connecting to the facility. Once completed, the airport will have the capacity to accommodate 150 million passengers per year and receive aircraft on six separate runways, becoming one of the world's largest airports. Speaking on the significance of the project, Minister Yıldırım said, “The new airport will increase Istanbul's competitiveness in the global arena and will also be of great benefit to the Turkish economy."

With 20,000 cars added to Istanbul's streets every month and a total of 2.5 million on the road already, the government has initiated a plan to ease the stress on Istanbul's existing two bridges. The third bridge is being built on the northern section of the Bosphorus, stretching across the mouth of the Black Sea and connecting the villages of Garipçe on the European side and Poyrazköy in Asia. Once complete, it will become the widest suspension bridge in the world at 59 meters, supporting eight traffic lanes and two railway lines. Dubbed the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge, its 1,408 meters will allow it to become the world's longest bridge with a railway. Each suspension tower will reach higher than 320 meters, making it taller than any other bridge worldwide. Construction of the bridge began on May 29, 2013, and the project is expected to completed by 2015, with approximately $2.5 billion of investment.

The Istanbul-Izmir Highway will feature the country's longest tunnel at 7,020 meters long and the world's second-largest suspension bridge at 1,700 meters. Stretching from Yalova to Bursa, the tunnel is expected to help cut travel time between Istanbul and Izmir to about three-and-a-half hours. Along the same transportation corridor, Japanese company IHI—the builder responsible for Istanbul's second connection across the Bosphorus, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge—has been tasked with the construction of a bridge from Gebze to Yalova. Construction on that project began in February 2012. As the largest transportation project in Turkey, the Istanbul-Izmir Highway is projected to cost approximately $6.3 billion, according to General Director of Highways and Bursa Regional Manager Ismail Kartal. This investment alone surpasses the annual budget of 50 countries around the world. Although the project is set for completion in 2015, 50% of the highway's 421 kilometers are already complete.

Of the many railway projects ongoing, the Ankara-Istanbul High-Speed Train Project is expected to have the greatest impact on travel within Turkey. Integrated with a handful of other high-speed train projects, such as the Marmaray tunnel that connects Asia and Europe, it is expected to transport up to 12 million passengers per year. After the Ankara-Eskişehir segment of the line was opened in 2009, the share of total passengers traveling by bus between Ankara and Eskişehir dropped from 55% to 10%. Meanwhile, the train has also been instrumental in reducing private vehicle passengers from 37% to 18%. At the same time, the percentage of passengers traveling by train went from 8% to 72%. Once the railway reaches Istanbul, and when the Marmaray, Ankara- Ankara-Sivas high-speed train, and Baku-Kars-Tbilisi projects are completed, there will be an uninterrupted, rapid, and competitive railway connection stretching from Europe to Asia and establishing an East-West passenger corridor once again. “By 2023, we expect that up to 17.7 million people will use the Ankara-Istanbul high-speed train annually, or 20.6 million passengers per kilometer," Minister Yıldırım explained to TBY. “With these new high-speed train investments, we expect the total number of road vehicles to decrease by 1.7 million."