The ridership of passenger trains are falling very fast in Turkey.
Despite the big investments on rail and high occupancy rate of high speed trains, the number of passengers using train has been falling every year.
The peak was in 2003, the annual ridership hit 27.3 million in that year. Since then it has fallan by 25%. In 2016, ridership fell to 20.8 million. And this fall took place despite 6 million passengers gained by high speed train investments.
International trains are even worse. There used to be trains to Thesselonike, Kiev and Moscow towards west and to Tehran and Tabriz towards east. Bucharest train starts running only during summer with few passengers. Belgrad train could not work properly. Only Sofia train is running all during year. And ridership is very low. One train departed with 4 passengers in previous weeks. There are many reasons for low demand: No sales via internet, one can hardly find information about train, no records of train in international train websites.
Many main line trains cancelled since 2003 like Baskent, Cumhuriyet, Fatih, Bogazici, Anadolu, Ankara, Meram, Goller, Karaelmas, Erzurum expresses. Trains towards east of Turkey now departs from Ankara, instead of Istanbul.
The share of trains from all passenger transportion in Turkey is 1%. 5 years ago it was 1.6%, 10 years ago 2%, in 2003 it was 2.7%.
This sharp decline is mainly due to disconnection of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest metropol, by rail. The delay in Marmaray project (the surface lines) for years has hit both the public transport in Istanbul and the passenger trains.
By the end of next year, Marmaray will be commissioned. High speed trains will be able to depart both from city center in Asian side (Haydarpasa) and also from European side (Halkali). Trains towards west will start departing from Sirkeci. Maybe overnight trains to Anatolia (Ankara and Kars maybe) will start as well, why not?
This year new high speed train sets start running. In 2018 Baskentray project will be commissioned and some suspended trains to Ankara and also Baku train will start again. In 2019 Marmaray will be commissioned and trains from/to Istanbul city center will restart. All may stop the decline in passenger trains.
With a well-designed train services, there seems no reason that we see again the rise of passenger trains in Turkey.
Cover Photo: Onur Uysal ©
It is stupid to believe that you can totally cancel all train-connections for years and the customers just will come back after the service is reopened. No! The travellers have been let in a cold rain by TCDD and they was forced to find other travelsolutions. And now a big part of them will keep this other solutions. In no other countries the railway-companies thread their customers such hardly then in Turkey. And even if the new high-speed-connections are very fine and they are good to win additional customers, to keep the old customers it is absolutely necessary to restore all old connections, what means not only to run YHT-trains between Istanbul and Ankara. People also want normal trains between this important cites with frequent stops and lower prices and also an overnight train with couchette and berth. 7 hours between Istanbul and Ankara is long enough to spend the night on rails and save hotelcoasts.
In my experience, people will use trains if there is a reliable, user-friendly service with easy to access information (timetables for instance), fare choices, maps of the system (as on the London Underground, most stations in Britain and websites/apps like National Rail Enquiries). Otherwise they will find some other means of transport. I would love to travel by train from Istanbul to Ankara, but not unless I can leave from Haydarpasa, All too problematic and difficult for the tourist!
Another good article. I agree with everything you’ve said. The route from West to East has been so fragmented for so long that it will take a lot of work to bring the numbers back up. I hope the investment isn’t wasted and is supported by positive marketing and increased information for all. As someone who’s twice travelled through Turkey by train I know it’s a great network – but it needs to be easier for passengers.
I could see one reason why tourists would not use the Bosphors Express and that is the time spent crossing, entering and departing borders as well as when this takes place, in the early hours of the morning. Perhaps a daylight train leaving from the old station in Istanbul would be an incentive for tourists rather than travelling 25 Km to start the journey.
There’s no rail connection yet.
Sadly it’s not surprising that the passenger numbers have fallen. The very best thing about Turkish Railways has always been the fabulous overnight sleeper services where you can cross the country for less than the price of a hotel room. I have continued to try to use the trains on my regular holidays in Turkey but it has become very difficult in recent years especially traveling from Istanbul. Whilst the YHT is fabulous you have the arduous journey out to catch it by bus and metro! ( though it’s quitebhandy for the Princes Islands!).
And whilst fast it still wastes half a day to get to Konya or Ankara, or the fuss of traveling to Eskešir to catch the sleeper to Izmir. Whereas the overnight trains saved so much time city centre to city centre as you go to bed anyway!!
I really hope that Baskentray is finished soon and that sleeper trains begin again from Hayderpasa to the big cities. When it’s finished the Marmaray will no doubt be as excellent as Izmir Izban trains and passenger numbers will rocket!