Jean Patrick Charrey’s recent articles on liberalization of the Turkish rail network in the light of the European experience have prompted me to respond.
Firstly, there is no reason for Turkey to follow the European model of separation of accountability between train operations and infrastructure unless either it is seen as a “good thing” or Turkey is obliged to do this in order to enter the European Union. Since the latter prospect is some (indefinite) time in the future, we must assume that somebody in the Transport Ministry views the European model as being broadly successful.
The company I was then working for, Railfreight Distribution, was the very last part of British Rail to be privatized in 1997. I was then involved in timetabling freight trains through the Channel Tunnel, and as such I was the interface between two very different railway cultures. In Britain we had full-blooded privatization, whereas in France the railways were still operated on very traditional lines. Although a separate French infrastructure body – RFF – had been created, it was staffed almost entirely by SNCF employees, who still owed their allegiance to their parent company. In France, strikes were part of the culture of both the railway and the country. So it was difficult to be certain when your trains would arrive. Also the train crew depots were organized on traditional lines, so individual drivers would inter-work between local passenger, TGV and freight services, so you could never be sure there would be a driver for your train. All of this was very different from the “new” climate in Britain.<
The British experience has seen a massive growth in passenger rail usage, despite the fact that at the time of privatization it was assumed that traffic would stagnate and go into a slow decline. In the UK in 1987-88 there were 798.4m passenger journeys, and in 2014-15 there were 1653.7m passenger journeys, more than doubled in 27 years, but with very few additional lines being built in that period. The costs of running the network are also much higher than they were in the 1980s, as now every franchise owner needs to make a profit for their shareholders, so money is leaving the rail system and going into private hands. Also each franchise has its own management team, often shadowing the functions of the Infrastructure Operator (Network Rail).
How is this relevant to Turkey? The conditions of the UK and Turkey were – and remain – very different. You might compare Istanbul and London as similar-sized cosmopolitan cities. However Istanbul has just two rail termini, each served by single route, whereas London has over 10, served my multiple routes, with a mixture of fast and stopping trains on 2-track and 4-track railways. The point is there was spare capacity in the UK network into London, whereas there is little or none on TCDD into Istanbul. London cannot run without main line railways; Istanbul simply ignores them, as evidenced by the fact that the lines to Sirkeci and Haydarpasa remain closed long-term, and nobody knows when through trains will re-start.
I chose Istanbul and London as an example, but the same holds true for much of the remainder of the networks. Only remote branch lines in the UK are single track; all the main lines are 2-track or 4-track. However in Turkey nearly all the “main lines” are single track. This creates a severe limitation on the amount of capacity available.
Will Open Access work in Turkey? Despite what I have written about capacity, I believe there is still scope for open access rail operations in Turkey, provided the allocation of pathways is a fair and transparent process. TCDD is overburdened with many layers of management, and is subject to political interference at both local and national levels. An Open Access competitor, with a clear focus on the management of the trains and traffic (passenger or freight), and providing a high level of customer service would provide significant competition to both TCDD and the road and air competition. It might also improve the working and safety conditions for its staff.
The only thing you can be certain of is that any Turkish lawyers specializing in railway contracts will be very busy for the next few years!
Cover Photo: Jeff Hawken ©