How efficient is HST service in Turkey?

We had an interview with Jeff Hawken, train planner from UK. He had travelled in Turkey a lot, and is keeping a detailed timetable of all passenger trains in Turkey.

Welcome to Turkey Mr Hawken.

Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here again.

You have already experienced the high speed train services in Turkey; what is your opinion in general?

The service itself is good, providing fast and comfortable connections between some of Turkey’s major cities. However its impact is still limited, as the trains themselves only have six carriages, and the number of sets is small. So it is not (yet) possible to offer an intensive high-capacity service that would rival the speed, frequency and price of airlines or buses. However all the YHT services I have travelled on have been well-loaded, so it is obviously a popular product.

There’s a huge procurement plan of HST sets. Can “efficient usage” be considered when needs are calculated?

There are many factors which can affect the efficient utilisation of the fleet, such as “turnround time at a station”. The turnround time needs to be enough for all passengers to leave the train once it has arrived, then the train to be cleaned and watered, any refreshments stock added and for all passengers to board. Some railways choose to add some extra time to ensure that a late arriving train does not automatically result in the next departure starting late as well.

What factors can influence this?

How well the station is designed to move incoming passengers away from the train as soon as possible, and departing passengers to board, is very important. The YHT security and check-in measures currently result in a bottle-neck at stations, because the number of platforms available for the service to operate is restricted. It is difficult to abolish such stringent measures once they are put in place – we have the same problem with Eurostar services between the UK, Belgium and France.

So keep the turnround time at the terminal station short, and start the next journey as soon as possible. Is that it?

It isn’t as simple as that. If you have a particularly strong flow of passengers that requires (say) two or three trains per hour on a given route, then you can plan your timetable around achieving the most efficient working of your resources (sets and traincrew). That makes life much easier for the Operations Planner. However that is not yet the case in Turkey. You do not have enough sets to organize such an operation, so you need to target the departure times according to the commercial requirements.

Furthermore, if specific sets are diagrammed to stay on the same route all day, it becomes simpler for crew diagramming, but may result in excessive idle time between journeys for some sets. On the other hand, if sets interwork between different routes, then all sets must be capable of being used on all routes. Diagramming and operation of traincrews may also become more difficult.

The turnround time at a station may drop down to 25 minutes in some cases. How is that in other countries?

It varies considerably from country to country, according to the different circumstances. For example, in Japan the turnround time at Tokyo for a Shinkansen service can be as little as 15 minutes. This is forced upon the railway because the station site is in a heavily built-up area, so there are too few platforms at the terminal station to allow for the trains to dwell any longer. Japanese Railways compensate for this by having very lengthy turnround times at the other end of the routes.

In general it is easier for a network which operates a homogenous fleet of trains on a closed network to have higher levels of punctuality, and can thus plan for shorter turnround times with a high degree of confidence. Where you have routes which are operated by fleets of trains with different maximum speeds, and where the trains run off the high speed network onto the conventional railway, then punctuality will be lower and turnround times have to be extended. In my recent role as Operations Planning Manager for HS2 in London, we concluded that a 25-minute turnround time and 5-minute platform reoccupation time was optimal for our circumstances. That allows each platform face to be used twice in every hour.

TCDD has 10 active high speed trains for commercial traffic in fleet. Can all 10 be scheduled every day?

No. The maximum number that you would sensibly diagram from a fleet of 10 would be 8 diagrams per day. That allows for one set to be on long-term maintenance, and one set either on short-term maintenance or available to cover any contingencies. These trains accumulate high mileages quite quickly, so every few months they will need to have an examination which will take a couple of days in the workshop. After a couple of years they will need a longer period of maintenance. These sets are already five years old, so proper regular maintenance is absolutely essential.

So 40 departures on 4 routes every day with 8 diagrams. Do you think current fleet is used effectively?

Yes, very much so. What is clear to me from looking at the current YHT timetable is that it is a very good piece of work. I can see it has been written to provide the best possible level of service within the means available, whilst still providing an attractive commercial proposition. The current timetable is practically the maximum that can be achieved with the number of sets available.

What about new connections and new routes?

It’s obvious that in order to open new connections (e.g. Pendik to Konya) or to open new routes TCDD will need more high speed trains. There needs to be a strategy in place to deliver the new sets in time for the opening of each new route. Some thought needs to be given as to how the current fleet will be redeployed once higher-capacity trains capable of speeds in excess of 300 kph become available.

Turkish Airlines alone offers 32 flights per day between Ankara and Istanbul. The YHT service on this route could be deemed a success when that number drops below 16, and the YHT becomes the preferred mode of transport between these two cities.

We thank you a lot.

You are most welcome.

Interview: Onur Uysal

Written by Jeff Hawken

I am an independent railway consultant, specializing in Operations Planning. I share my time between the UK and Turkey, and travelling around Europe by rail. I am also a Tutor for the Institution of Railway Operators Degree Course, Operations Planning module.

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