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. The idea is not bad, even could be very good, but we should not forget the link to Bucharest. Is there an existing train from Bulgaria to Bucharest to which the thru-cars from Istanbul could be added? In any case the full trip to Bucharest will be long.

    • It would not be possible to serve Bucharest as well by day train. The journey would be too long to accomplish in one day. If you have to serve Bucharest, then you are back into sleeping cars, couchette cars, etc.

  2. Yes, but linking Bucharest can be easy, adding some couchette, WL, and also normal cars (why not) to run the wonderful transbalcanic route Dimitrovgrad-Dabovo-Veliko Tarnovo-Ruse/Gıurgu-Bucharest.
    Exciting could also be if they put direct cars with Ukraine as well.

    • Yes Luca71, that is a good suggestion. My idea was to try to run a simple daytime service to / from Sofia, to minimize costs (and therefore make it more attractive to the railways to operate it). The more complicated you make it, the less likely it is to happen.
      We can hope …

  3. The problem on the moment is that BDZ and TCDD have not enough couchette and sleepingcars available for reactivating the train. The Bucharest-section was allways served by a car from the CFR. So it is the decision of CFR to restore this connection with their cars.
    And why not making the Istanbul-Sofia-section as daytrain and adding the sleepingcars to Bucharest on a new overnightservice from Sofia to Bucharest. Of course, the car Istanbul-Bucharest should not come to Sofia, it should be send by an intermediate route through middle-Bulgaria and meet the train Sofia-Bucharest in the north of Bulgaria.

  4. Infact, TCDD, BDZ should sit at a table, tasting some good turkish, bulgarian, romanian wines paired with meze
    ( 🙂 ), and talk together to restore an important historical link between Costantinopole and Bucharest.
    Yes andreaslotter, like I wrote above: the cars to Bucharest can be separeted at Dimitrovgrad, to run through the transbalcanic bulgarian itinerary.
    Let’s do it! is so exciting!

  5. 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

  6. 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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