881 - İstanbul Sofya TreniPassenger

How can Sofia train attract travelers?

The Sofia Express which started departing from Halkali directly last year, could not catch the ridership of past years.

Train, which ended bus connections and started directly departing from Halkali had carried 12 886 passengers in 2017. This is far behind the average volumes before 2011, which was around 25-28k.
In fact, Sofia expess has a very good timetable for travellers (departure from one city at night, arrival to other in the morning), has very good prices competitive with bus and is very comfortable far better than all others. In the same route, min 5 buses run every day. On the other hand, train carries 18 passengers in average every day.

Here are some suggestions to increase the ridership:

Online ticket

Do not waste time on internet if you want to buy tickets for Sofia train. Call center cannot help either. The only way is visiting Sirkeci or Halkali stations. If you are in your lucky day, you can reach to right person. Since there’s no online ticketing, train is not listed in the popular ticketing websites in Europe, thus many of the travellers are even not aware of the train. Most probably it’s because TCDD website is not adapted to foreign currencies. If done, ridership will increase very fast.

Departure from city center

Due to Marmaray works, train is currently departing from Halkali, where nobody is familiar and not easy to reach. There’s a bus connection from Sirkeci, but is not same as getting on train directly at city center. Fortunately, this problem will be solved by the end of this year. As Marmaray works completed, train will depart from Sirkeci.


Turkish food is worldwide famous. THY uses this issue quite effectively. It’s sad that TCDD could not. In Sofia Express, there’s no food, not even any snack in the train.

Standard seats, domestic service

You might think “who’ll prefer seat in such a long travel”, but hundreds of people travel on buses where comfort is not better, not shorter. Seats of train may even be sold cheaper, will attract passengers of bus. Furthermore, it may be an alternative service for Cerkezkoy-Edirne passengers.

Border crossing

Passport check at Kapikule, Unfortunately, is not done at train, but at terminal building. In the middle of the night, you get out of train, wait the queue. This is surely not a good welcome especially for the first time visitors. We should do it at train, similar to how Bulgarians do.

Cover Photo: Onur U. ©

13 replies »

  1. Not only is the passport control done in the middle of the night in a shack its also conducted in a slow and very rude manner, the search for alcohol too is utterly shameful. I prefer to always travel by train but the last trip was simply horrible. The Bulgarian stretch was a formality and passports checked politely on the train. Once a the Turkish point things changed, all those with non Turkish passports (and possibly Bulgarians) were first subjected to ridiculous questioning in a separate room-granted this profiling may be subject to the past state of emergency but the same behavior is not happening at the airport, questions such as who do you know in Turkey, how do you know them? Show me their telephone number etc is a humiliating process especially in the middle of the night, the police have little English skills and many of the travelers are not native English speakers themselves so the confusion is frustrating, the officers get angry and very rude. Customs search for alcohol is little different, sure I understand this route can be subject to smuggling but to treat passengers in such a way is shameful. The guard shouted at me several times just the word alcohol as he searched in rough manner the small bag which could not carry more than a bottle so hardly suspicious.If this had happened to me just the one time I would not mention it but its happened more than once. Living in Sofia and traveling often to Istanbul I would love to take the train but you know these days word of mouth via the internet means the Sofia-Istanbul train has a bad reputation, Facebook groups for foreigners living in both cities talk about this subject often and everybody says take the bus, I am not sure if the bus is much cheaper but honestly if TCCD offers a good reliable service with a reasonably smooth border crossing things will improve. Turkish food is not really that famous but Turkish hospitality is and thats what it needs. Sorry if this sounds like a bit of a rant 🙂

    • Same horrible experience at Turkish border control happened to me. Extremely rude attitude from the Turkish police, what a shameful welcoming for foreign travelers.

  2. I think a lot has to do with the connection further then Sofia. Trains in Serbistan are a mess (and english words are not strong enough, ‘de la merde’ as we say in french). You always have to count a day in Sofia because you cannot rely on having the connection for the train to Beograd. In Beograd you can’t even count on having the train to Budapest (and now you even have to change stations there because the backward Beograd city counsil wanted to close down Beograd main station so the Sofia train stops in Topčider while all trains north leave from Prokop! Not Beograd itself!) . I had a four hour delay aswel. Both the Sofia – Beograd and Beograd – Budapest trains are shit: very dirty cars, no airconditioning, rediculously slow (30km/h for Pirot – Nis, hardly better elswhere). No sleeping car but a very very very rundown couchette car on Beograd – Budapest…

    Bükres is hardly better, with more then an hour waiting in Gorna Orjahovitsa and just as much in Rousse and Girugiu and no electricity past Rousse…

    If I were the TCDD, I would run my own train Halkali – Budapest or Virnna via Veliko Turnovo, Ruse, Craiova and Timisoara… Work together with OeBB nightjet and the train would be full enough, also with hungarians, romanians and bulgarians.

  3. Onur, you make an important statement in a throw-away comment: that trains to Sofia will again depart from Sirkeci, hopefully this winter. But this implies a decision to re-instate Sirkeci as a mainline terminus, with everything that goes with that. Is that indeed confirmed? It would be worth a full article by your good self to explain TCDD’s plans. – GS

  4. Hello onur i have. Question about. Florya metro when the line will be open any specific date ?
    Best regards

  5. Hi i will be traveling around 13th of Aug. Istanbul to Sofia. My wife and 3 children, i bet we need to book 2 sleep rooms. Will post my report after the trip. Keep up I hope they improved. After all the coments below.

  6. It’s a big shame that Turkey years ago stopped doing on board customs and passport control. As most here know, it is universal in Europe, and has been for decades, including during the Cold War at the Iron Curtain, Eurostar is the only present day exception that comes to mind.

    Although I have never entered Turkey by train, I have left Turkey by train four times over many years: 1973 from Istanbul Haydarpasa to Tehran, 1973 again from Istanbul Sirkeci to Zagreb, 1983 from Sirkeci again to Sofia, and 2008 from Sirkeci to Thessaloniki. Although in 2008 I expected to have to get off the train at Uzunköprü to go through outbound Turkish controls, we were able remain on board. Likewise in those years, we were able to remain on board at Kapıkule for Zagreb/Sofia, and Kapıköy for Tehran.

    All of those crossings were late at night. With modern data bases, internet, software, machine-readable and RFID passports, WiFi, and passport readers, it would not only be feasible for Turkey to reinstate on board checks, but friendly too. I say this as a retired USA border officer — if while conducting customs and passport checks the Turkish officers encounter someone possibly ineligible to enter, they could escort him/her off the train for a more thorough inspection, away from the sleeping passengers. Doing it this way would only enhance international train ridership and goodwill toward Turkey.

  7. Well, yeah, the border immigration guys and the customs officers are not exactly charming, but let’s acknowledge that the border-crossing takes places in the middle of the night. They surely want to be back home in their beds, just like everyone else. Also, remember that this is an EU border. The Europeans intimidate everyone who wants to enter, and diplomacy being a game of reciprocity, the Turks intimidate back. At least they are not hostile and nasty like, say, UK immigration.

  8. Por favor indicar si es posible viajar desde Sofía a bodrum . Tienen primera clase?


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