Palu Genc Mus 3 - OzaltinRailway Infrastructure

The Elaziğ – Tatvan railway

The Elaziğ – Tatvan railway is one of the most recently-constructed classic railway lines in Turkey, having been built in the 1950s and 1960s.

The line was first conceived in the 1930s as a way of linking Turkey with Iran, primarily for freight traffic. The original plan was for the line to run via Diyarbakir and Kurtalan direct to Van, thence to the Iranian border. However, it was found that the terrain beyond Kurtalan was practically impassable for a railway. So, the plan was changed to create a railway from a junction at Yolcati – 24 km west of Elaziğ – to Tatvan, linking there into a train ferry to Van.

The topography on this route was scarcely any more favourable, requiring significant gradients, numerous tunnels, and a curving route through the hilly sections. The 364km route reached Muş in 1955, and was completed to Tatvan in 1964. It is single tracked throughout, with passing places at most intermediate stations. The central section follows the valley of the River Murat (Eastern Euphrates)

Freight traffic has always been the lifeblood of this route, but there is a path for a daily passenger service in each direction. Three days per week, this is a “karma” (mixed passenger + freight) service, known locally as the “Posta” between Elaziğ and Tatvan. Twice per week the Van Gölü (Lake Van) Express runs to / from Ankara. The remaining two days are taken by the weekly Transasia Express linking Ankara and Tehran, and the (now suspended) Damascus – Tehran express. Timekeeping can be erratic, especially on the “karma” or during severe weather conditions.

In recent decades the move towards renewable power sources and industrial growth in Turkey has resulted in plans for 4 Hydro Electric Power Plants (HEPP) on the Murat river: from upstream to downstream, these are the Upper Kaleköy Dam, the Lower Kaleköy Dam, Beyhan I Dam, and Beyhan II Dam. They are owned by the Kalehan Energy Group. For more details see their website:

Diagram: Kalehan ©

The result of all this activity is that the railway has had to be totally rebuilt and diverted to higher ground over the section Palu (km 93.9) to Genc (km 156.6) and Muş (km 265.0). So, after a life of a little over 60 years, the original line, together with its station buildings, is now underwater. 

The reconstructed railway is 114 km long in total. There are 68 bored tunnels (totalling 23.6 km), 111 cut-and-covered tunnels (13 km), and 58 bridges and viaducts. 28 million cubic metres of earth was moved on this project. Much of the railway civil engineering has been carried out by Ozaltin, whose website includes a gallery of some of the works:

Foto: Özaltın ©

In this example, taken before the water level rose significantly, the old alignment is still visible near the water’s edge, leading into a tunnel, whilst the new line is seen disappearing into further tunnels in the distance.

Further details are still awaited, namely:

  • Location and km distances of intermediate stations and passing points;
  • Overall km distance alteration;
  • Changes to timetable and operating practices (if any).

At the time of writing, all passenger services are suspended because of the Covid19 epidemic. The running of the “Posta” mixed trains has been missing from the TCDD website for some time, but that may not be significant, as that is not the first time they have been omitted. It was reported that these services now ran as passenger only (i.e. not as a mixed train), but this is not confirmed. The TransAsia express may well return soon, but there is little prospect of the Damascus service being revived any time soon.

Cover photo: Özaltın ©
Sources: Wikipedia and websites as linked in text above

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