627 - İstanbul Sofya Treni - OnurPassenger

Istanbul to Sofia: Overnight train or?


For many years the only international services to / from Europe have been provided by the Bosphorus Express, which conveyed sleeping and couchette cars from Istanbul to Sofia and Bucharest each night.

However, it had to rate as one of the worst sleeper journeys in Europe, as you had to get out of your sleeper in the small hours of the morning to present you passport and visa to the officials at Kapikule. (At many other borders, such checks take place within the train itself, but at Kapikule they insisted you get out of the train).

For the past couple of years, the service within Turkey has been provided by a bus between Istanbul and Kapikule. This is due to the ongoing modernisation of the route. With the recent reinstatement of passenger services as far as Halkali, there have been discussions about reinstating the Bosphorus Express as a through service once more.

I think it would be a much more sensible – and less costly – venture to introduce a daytime service linking Istanbul (Halkali) with Sofia. That way, you could use normal coaches from TCDD or BDZ. I envisage timings something like this:

Arrival Departure
Halkali 09:00
Kapikule 13:30 14:30
Dimitrovgrad 16:45 17:05
Plovdiv 18:07 18:23 Attached to existing train R1626 to Sofia.
Sofia 21:26

And for Sofia-Istanbul:

Arrival Departure
Sofia 08:30 Attached to existing train R1621 to Plovdiv.
Plovdiv 11:20 11:40
Dimitrovgrad 13:10 13:20
Kapikule 15:35 16:35
Halkali 21:00

In such a way, it would be possible to provide a reasonable alternative to flying or coach travel between Istanbul and some of the principal cities of eastern Bulgaria without all the additional expense of sleeping cars or couchettes. In both Turkey and Bulgaria the train could provide a local service as well, rather than being limited to international travellers. If the time taken to check passports and visas at Kapikule could be reduced – perhaps by boarding passport staff either side of the border – then that would speed things up too. In any case, the practice of forcing everybody to get off the train should be ended.

Cover Photo: Onur Uysal ©

9 replies »

  1. Actually it’s only at the Turkish side that you have to get off the train. On the Bulgarian side border guards board the train and collect the passports/ID Cards for scanning and (where applicable) stamping

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  2. However, due to massive road congestion, it would be a hard deal to access the station by using public transport. Average commute in Istanbul takes 2 hours. Train should depart from Haydarpaşa and then cross Marmaray tunnel otherwise Anatolian half of Istanbul will not be able to utilise this train.

    Haydarpaşa D: 8:00
    Sirkeci (Commuter) A: 8:28 D: 8:30
    Halkalı A: 09:15 D: 9:40
    Kapıkule A: 13:30 D: 14:30
    do not forget to set clocks
    Dimitrovgrad A: 16:45 D: 17:05
    Plovdiv A: 18:07 D: 18:23 Attached to existing train R1626 to Sofia.
    Sofia A: 21:26

    And for Sofia-Istanbul:
    Sofia D: 08:30
    Plovdiv A: 11:20 D: 11:40 Detached from existing train R1621 to Plovdiv.
    Dimitrovgrad A: 13:10 D: 13:20
    Kapıkule A: 15:35 D: 16:35
    Halkalı A: 20:00 D: 20:15
    Sirkeci (Commuter) A: 20:50 D:20:52
    Haydarpaşa A: 21:20

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