It is often heard that Turkey will become a freight railway hub with a significant transit traffic. There are many difficulties to be solved before this can occur.
First, let’s look at the map. Anatolia is almost like an island, bordered by sea except on the East side. East West transit is the main opportunity. North / South transit might exist for the Caucasus countries to reach the Mediterranean Sea. But it might make more sense for these countries to use a Black Sea port like Poti. The map indicates also that Turkey is not well placed to capture very long distance traffic between Europe and Far East.
East West routes go through Istanbul which is currently more like a dead end than a hub. Until a high capacity freight railway connection is built, bridge or tunnel, across the Bosphorus, traffic has to take a train ferry. These ferry is a huge bottleneck, adding cost and delay.
Now lets looks at connection to the East. Unfortunately Syria and Iraq are shattered by war at the moment. There is no traffic to expect from the old Bagdad bahn in the near future. The border to Armenia is also closed. All eyes are now on the new route to Georgia. Georgia and Azerbaijan will surely generate some traffic but it will be most likely to and from Turkey. Lets not forget the gauge change at the border which also adds some cost and delay. Perhaps there is a niche market for oil and chemical products that are best shipped from a Mediterranean port in order to avoid transit through Istanbul.
Finally, there is Iran which is perhaps the most promising opportunity at the moment. The embargo will be lifted soon and Turkey provides the shortest route between Iran and Europe. Unfortunately, this line is also hindered by another ferry across Van Lake. New ferries are being built but the overall transit capacity will remain small until a railway line around Van lake is built. Plans for this line exists but they have yet to be funded.
My humble opinion is that transit railway traffic in Turkey will remain small. International traffic will be to and from Turkey itself, but even this traffic requires a high capacity connection between the two sides of Istanbul.
Cover Photo: Onur Uysal ©