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:
|Plovdiv||18:07||18:23||Attached to existing train R1626 to Sofia.|
And for Sofia-Istanbul:
|Sofia||08:30||Attached to existing train R1621 to Plovdiv.|
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 ©