TBY talks to Süleyman Karaman, Chairman of Turkish State Railways (TCDD), on cross-country rail connections and technology's role in the future of local rail transit.

Süleyman Karaman
Süleyman Karaman graduated from the Mechanical Engineering Faculty of Istanbul Technical University (İTÜ) in 1978. In 1981, he received a Master’s degree from the same institution. Following this, he carried out research concerning farming machinery and worked for an automotive company. In 1994, he was appointed Deputy Director General of the Istanbul Public Transport Authority (İETT), where he took part in a variety of projects. He has been Chairman of Turkish State Railways since January 2003.

How does Turkish State Railways (TCDD) compare to other regional rail network operators?

Based on our 2009 figures, we find that our country has the most extensive railway network in terms of main routes. In addition, Turkey has the highest number of passengers, the most rail freight and production after Iran, a ranking in the mid-level range in terms of rail per 1,000 square kilometers, a ranking in the mid-level range in terms of rail per 10,000 people and the third-highest passenger frequency after Bulgaria and Greece. With 888 kilometers of track, TCDD is currently the only high-speed train operator in the region. Turkey continues to move forward as a leader in the railway sector, and many serious investments have been made since 2003. Owing to massive amounts of both political and financial support, TCDD has received a total of TL10.8 billion in funding. While in 2003 TCDD received only TL250 million, in 2011 that figure had increased to TL3.3 billion. In 2003, a high-speed train system was implemented. Since then, we have modernized existing lines, upgraded rolling stocks, developed a high-tech railway industry, improved grade crossings, expanded inner-city rail transport, realized the Izmir Egeray, Ankara Başkentray, Istanbul Marmaray, and Gaziantep Gaziray projects, restored and renovated train stations, created logistics centers, connected industrial areas to rail, and established international rail corridors.

What's the status of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railroad?

Also termed the “Steel Silk Road," the BTK Project will be completed in 2012 and is expected to carry 1.5 million passengers and 3 million tons of freight per year in the initial period. With the implementation of the BTK, the Ankara-Istanbul high-speed line, the Marmaray, the Halkalı-Bulgaria rail project, and the ongoing Ankara-Sivas high-standard rail, a single continuous railway system will connect East and West, from Europe through Turkey and the Caucasus and on to Central Asia. Considering the $75 billion of estimated annual freight potential between Europe and Asia, the importance of international projects is very clear.

What is the importance of the Marmaray project for the Turkish railway sector?

The Marmaray project is an international project that will contribute greatly to Istanbul's inner-city transport network and unite the European and Asian continents by rail. The Marmaray project consists of four separate sub-projects: engineering and accounting services; the modernization of the Gebze-Haydarpaşa and Sirkeci-Halkalı suburban lines and electromagnetic systems; the Strait Tube Tunnel Crossing; and railway vehicle manufacturing. Once completed, a single connected railway line will run from London to Beijing. We expect the project to be completed on Republic Day, October 29, 2013. The Marmaray has a 100-year design background, and trains will run at 90-second intervals. At 55 meters below sea level, it will be the world's deepest rail and underground station. One-way capacity is 75,000 passengers an hour and 11 million tons of freight per year. In total, 140 of the 440 vehicles and 54 train sets will be built directly by Hyundai Rotem in South Korea. The remaining 300 will be built by the Hyundai Rotem-TCDD joint venture in Adapazarı at the Hyundai-EU Rotem factory. This facility is a very important step toward domestic railway technology transfer and is expected to create a domestic railway manufacturing industry. In the coming years, it will ensure that we will be less dependent on imports and can utilize our own national resources for future railway projects, as well as export this technology to the region.

What is the potential for developing Turkish ports in line with the country's desire to become an international center for sea transport?

Around 80% of world trade and 90% of Turkish imports and exports are done by sea. Being a natural geographic bridge between Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East, our country has great potential to become a transportation hub. As part of the Ninth Development Plan for the period between 2007 and 2013, the development and growth of Turkey's port infrastructure is a top priority. This means bringing our ports up to international standards, developing combined transport, facilitating privatization, defining the ports to play key roles as transit points in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, and developing new alternative ports. In short, we must undertake a concerted effort in conjunction with the private sector to ensure the development of our coastal resources for the common good, keeping in mind the importance of environmental dimensions, and establishing a modern and comprehensive transport and trade infrastructure.