TBY talks to Süleyman Karaman, Chairman of Turkish State Railways (TCDD), on track improvements aimed at increasing passenger and freight volumes and the future of high-speed rail.

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.

To what extent will the liberalization of the railroads provide opportunities to foreign investors?

Foreign investors will be able to take part in the Turkish railway sector, provided they form a company in Turkey and satisfy the necessary qualifications. They will be able to make the investments they would like to in order to develop their business and compete on equal terms with the other operators in the sector. Once we accomplished our objective of bringing the private sector into the railway sector in 2003, the number of privately owned wagons went up from 771 in that year to 3,159 in 2012. Because of the success of our policies, we also enter into joint ventures with private companies including EUROTEM (a joint venture between Hyundai Rotem of South Korea and TÜVASAŞ) for the production of high-speed trains, for which the technology doesn't yet exist in Turkey; VADEMSAŞ (a joint venture with Austrian steel company Voestalpine and Turkish steel producer Karabük Demir Çelik) for the production of switches; and SİTAŞ (a joint venture with the Italian company Margeritelli) for the production of sleeper cars.

What is the importance of the Ankara-Istanbul high-speed train (HST) project for the Turkish economy?

The Ankara-Istanbul HST Project will be integrated with other HST projects and with the Marmaray project that connects the Asian and European continents. It is expected to carry up to 10 million-12 million passengers a year and will be as successful in reducing road traffic as the Ankara-Eskişehir HST. When the Ankara-Eskişehir HST opened in 2009, the share of total passengers traveling by bus between Ankara and Eskişehir dropped from 55% to 10%, and private vehicle passengers dropped from 37% to 18%. The percentage of passengers traveling by train, on the other hand, went from 8% to 72%. The Ankara-Istanbul HST Project will change Turkey. For example, there will be a drop in energy expenditure of up to $161.4 million, a reduction of vehicles and passengers on motorways that saves $571.1 million, and approximately 6.8 million vehicles will be withdrawn from inter-city roads. In addition, there will be an 880,000 ton reduction in CFC gas emissions, which will lead to a drop of $91.6 million in environmental expenditures. Most importantly, when the Marmaray, Ankara-Istanbul HST, Ankara-Sivas HST, and Kars-Tbilisi projects are completed, there will be an uninterrupted, fast, and economical railway connection between Europe and Asia, East and West.

What are the expansion plans for the ports of TCDD in the coming years?

Our institution, at the same time as managing its railway operations, managed the Haydarpaşa, Mersin, Izmir, Samsun, Derince, Bandırma, and Iskenderun ports. All but Haydarpaşa port have been subject to privatization as part of the Privatization Board's legislation of December 30, 2004. In line with this law, the ports in Mersin, Samsun, Bandırma, and Iskenderun have been transferred to private companies through the operation transfer model. Izmir Port has been restructured to serve as both a passenger and freight port in line with Privatization Board Law 2010/89 of October 25, 2010. Following the completion of the Izmir cruise port project, larger cruise ships will be able to dock in Izmir, bringing Izmir Port's total passenger capacity up from 500,000 to over 3 million.

Izmir Port will be the driving force of Aegean trade and industry, providing optimum service as a distribution and collection center, taking a major share of Mediterranean freight trade, with the potential to become Turkey's main port. The port will also be deepened so that the depth limitations on large Post-Panamax type ships will be eradicated, enabling these ships to be able to use the docking canal and port basin. The most important stage of our work is widening the navigation canal on the route from the Yenikale Passage entrance to Izmir Port by 250 meters and making it deeper by 14 meters. There will also be further basin deepening work so that ships can navigate and maneuver more securely, ensuring that the material extracted in the deepening project can be reutilized to create a new container storage area that will expand the port's existing capacity to accommodate 350-meter, 10,000-TEU capacity ships. It can currently only accept 200-meter, 4,000-TEU ships. As a result, the value-added of freight transport done in Turkey will increase.