Passenger

Train or bus?


After successive rises in fares, are trains still competitive in Turkey?

Train fares have been increased for the second time in April, third time in 2021. Fares rised by min 70% compared to 1st of January. Fares of couchettes are doubled. Trains are known are quite slow except HSTs, but still prefered due to lower prices. Are train fares now still attractive? Here are the comparison on main train routes*:

Fast and cheap trains are all full

In some routes, trains are giving service with similar speed and much better prices compared to buses. These trains are unrivalled and always full.

RouteFare (bus)Fare (train)Duration (bus)Duration (train)
İstanbul-Çerkezköy100 TL23 TL2h1h30m
İstanbul-Ankara260 TL168 TL6h5h30m
Adana-Mersin50 TL21 TL1h1h
Adapazarı-Gebze70 TL36 TL1h15m1h20m
Eskişehir-Kütaıhya59 TL23 TL1h1h10m
İzmir-Ödemiş50 TL28 TL2h2h20m
Diyarbakır-Batman50 TL14 TL2h2h25m

Trains could easily be the main transport modal on these routes if only they run more frequently.

Attractive services despite low speed

Some train services are quite slower. However, this longer travel time of 1-2 hours can be compansated since stations are close to city center where bus terminals are not. And the significantly lower fares help ignoring the difference in duration. Bus fares are at least two times more, even four times in some routes.

RouteFare (bus)Fare (train)Duration (bus)Duration (train)
Adana-Konya200 TL51 TL5h6h30m
Adana-Elazığ250 TL74 TL7h30m10h30m
Ankara-Kayseri150 TL51 TL5h7h
Kayseri-Konya180 TL46 TL4h15m6h
İzmir-Isparta200 TL100 TL6h8h30m
Adana-Kayseri180 TL46 TL4h6h
Eskişehir-Afyon100 TL42 TL2h3h
İzmir-Bandırma150 TL59 TL4h6h

In all of these routes, trains only run once a day. Departing very frequently all day long is the biggest advantage of buses.

Trains to be more attractive with Sivas HST

The travel time between Ankara and eastern cities are far longer by trains, at least 50% more. Trains complete Ankara-Kars route 10 hours longer than buses. But train fares are very attractive. Bus fares are at least 2.5 times more. On Ankara-Sivas route, it’s 5 times more.

RouteFare (bus)Fare (train)Duration (bus)Duration (train)
Ankara-Malatya200 TL79 TL10h15h
Ankara-Diyarbakır350 TL100 TL14h22h30m
Ankara-Kars350 TL117 TL16h26h
Ankara-Sivas300 TL62 TL6h30m11h30m

However, this travel time advantage of buses are about to end. When Ankara-Sivas HST service starts, the Ankara-Sivas stretch, which is being covered by all trains to eastern cities, will drop from 11:30 hours to 3:00 hours (even 2 hours when whole project completed). Most probably, some overnight trains will start to depart from Sivas instead of Ankara by then. With HST connection, all train travels from Ankara to eastern cities will last similar to buses.

In Ankara-Sivas route, similar to what had happened in Ankara-Konya and Ankara-Eskisehir routes, buses will not be able to compete with train and most of them will stop service .

Izmir awaits high speed train

Izmir, being the richest city in terms of train connections. In some routes, trains are the main modal. As distances get longer, trains become slower compared to buses, leaving fares as the main advantage.

RouteFare (bus)Fare (train)Duration (bus)Duration (train)
İzmir-Konya280 TL107 TL8h12h30m
İzmir-Denizli99 TL58 TL3h5h
İzmir-Uşak90 TL51 TL3h5h50m

When Izmir HST service starts, trains will be far better than buses by all means on Izmir-Usak and Izmir-Konya routes.

On the other hand, as Aydin-Denizli highway under construction is completed, cars and buses are expected to increase their shares in Izmir-Denizli route.

Trains needs more frequency

Trains can attract most of the passengers in some routes, if only the services are more frequent. Similar to what Turkish Airlines did on Istanbul-Adana route, which used to suffer from low usage and then started flying with higher occupancy when number of flights increased, trains need to increase frequency as well. In many routes, the only advantage that a bus can offer is availibility and providing departures several times in a day.

On the other hand, it’s currently not easy to increase the frequency. Main problem is that fares do not cover the expenses. All train services can only survive with subsidies. More trains means more support, thus need approval of Ministry. Solution lies on creating additional services with higher prices closer to buses, thus do not need subsidies, powered by additional features like express service, online ticket, reserved seat etc.

Another obstacle is that TCDD Tasimacilik is already using its fleet fully. More services will need more train sets. But it’s not attrative enough to invest in an area which can stand only by support. This also enpowers the idea of creating new services which can stand without support.

* In this comparison, bus fares were taken from obilet.com, where in each route, most common fare or average of first two were used.

Cover photo: Steve Hobson ©

6 replies »

  1. Having recently done a two week TCDD bash in Turkey the following were noted, a total lack of passenger seating on nearly all long distance services, for instance say we are talking about the
    1120 Ankara – Kurtalan service, firstly you have a baggage car next to the generator car, what a waste of time its hardly used these days, most punters still like to block the isles with junk, secondly its all very well having a restaurant car, trouble is you can only get cuy, coffee, soft drinks and junk food like biscuits and crisps, why bother, you could have a coach of compartments with the Buffet staff working from a compartment, hence more seating and get rid of the restaurant car that does not provide meals.
    so basically you only have four pullman coaches with seating, thats shocking.
    The Denizli – Eskisehir is another example, two or three pullman coaches, result is most seats are sold
    The point i am trying to raise is Turkey runs very few services, and the ones they run have a total lack of passenger space, hence pre-booked services, yet you pass Ankara Rail Hub and its full of rolling stock lying idle, if you also go back 10 years you will clearly find TCDD ran a service much better than today, a laughable fact is you travel from Istanbul you can only go direct to Eskisehir or Ankara, unlike 10 years ago when you had through services to Kars and Kurtalan, result now is the first YHT from Istanbul is nearly always full, mind you it does not help when new modern longer YHT cant work the line west of Eskisehir because of TCDD botch ups. Whats happening with Samsun to Sivas again laughable, spend millions of YTL on upgrades, still not open to passenger traffic, As for poor old Mardin will TCDD ever return to running a railway service to this city, i still cant travel Adana to Ankara direct either, either change at Konya or Kayseri and hope seats are available.
    To sum Turkish Railways up these days, you need to book up services beforehand, or risk being turned away and travelling by the coach.
    Not one project has been finished on TCDD metals since the new upgrades started what 10 years ago
    For a country of its size and population Turkish Railways are truly still in the dark ages.

    • Great notes. Sad, but true. I’d like to write a post quoting parts of this comment, if it’s ok with you.

    • Onur, feel free to use any quoted TCDD notes what so ever, at the end of the day its all about trying to get people in power at TCDD to provide a service to passengers, not turn them away.

  2. Having just had twelve days travelling around Turkey by train (my sixteenth trip),I can concur with all your article content on full and crowded trains.Post pandemic there has been an explosion in travel numbers,and as the coach fares have been increased much greater than rail,there is a huge rail travel demand that is not being met by TCDD.
    As young people usually book online, we see the sights of many,many older people being turned away at ticket offices,unable to travel because of fully booked trains.I was quoted a two day wait from Istanbul Gebze to get a train seat to Eskisehir!
    TCDD have given theirselves a whole bunch of problems that need to be solved.They need much more capacity on the Istanbul-Eskisehir-Ankara-Sivas axis. This is difficult as many of the new Siemens YHT sets I believe cannot be used from Istanbul to Eskisehir yet because the YHT line has not been fully completed since 2014,and still runs down an old section of bendy track from Arifiye to Bozuyuk.They will have the same problem if they part open the Ankara-Sivas YHT line as again only the old CAF YHT sets can use the part of classic bendy track from Ankara to Kirrikale.Clearly the short term solution from Istanbul is only run CAF YHTs Istanbul to Eskisehir for a train change to Siemens sets,to utilise many of the new Siemens sets lying idle unused.As they also have vast amounts of unused V2000 pullman coach sets,a daily Sogutlucesme-Ankara hauled service would help (not an Arifiye start,which is middle of nowhere). For the Ankara-Kayseri-Sivas axis,it would relieve capacity west of Kayseri if the overnight Ankara-Adana overnight service was finally reinstated.Add to that,replacing the unused baggage vans with an extra seated coach would help
    .In addition the overnight Ankara-Izmir service is always full well in advance. An extra sleeper coach and a couchette coach could easily be added and still be well within traction capacity of the E68 electric loco.
    I really hope that the passenger traffic management team could start to sort their current problems.
    Thank you Onur for an excellent and informative website.

  3. Removing the virtually unused Baggage van and replacing with a seated coach on the Ankara-Kars and Ankara-Diyarbakhir/Tatvan services should be a complete no brainer and done tommorrow by the TCDD Passenger management,Adding another seated coach would allow many of the current intended passngers that are being denied travel by full trains,to travel.Marginal extra cost would be zero,and marginal new revenue,with say 80% seat occupancy,and an average of YTL70 seat revenue per day over four services,would give just on YTL 5 million per annum to come straight off the train subsidy!

  4. The EYBIS TCDD online ticket booking system needs to be upgraded/fixed as well,as it will only allow single one train journey bookings only.So,for example,I cannot even enter a journey from Ankara to Afyon (two of the largest Turkish cities),or it will tell me that no such journey is possible,just because the journey involves changing trains. So,there are multiple journey options via both Eskisehir and Konya but cannot be booked. How many millions of passenger revenue does TCDD lose a year,when uninformed people give up and go by coach instead.

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