Covid-19 has deeply affected Turkish railways as everything else.
Agenda of Turkish railways was so full with topics like high speed trains, electrification, liberalization when Covid-19 had changed everything. The plans for new train services, touristic trains, new international connections and usage of new HST sets had to be all revised.
The biggest effect was seen undoubtfully in passenger trains. All train services were suspended in early days of pandemic most of which could restart after a year. Reaching ridership of 2019 seem to take a while. Ridership of last year before pandemic and following two years are as follows:
There are 3 suburban services in Turkey, two of which, Istanbul and Ankara are operated by TCDD Tasimacilik where the other, Izmir, is operated by Izban, joint venture of TCDDT and Izmir Metropolitan Municipality. Among all, Marmaray (Istanbul) had been affected less and recovered fast. Having become the backbone of mass transport by connecting city from one end to the other with strong metro/tram/ferry connections, Marmaray had almost reached to ridership figures of 2019 even in 2021 though pandemic precautions were still in effect.
Pandemic hit railways on the days it was getting prepared for fast growth with new HST sets. The HST fleet had reached from 19 in 2019 to 26 in 2020 and 31 in 2021. Most of HST tickets were sold out in 2019, thus a big record was expected in 2020 with new sets. However, the precautions for pandemic were hard, HST services were first suspended, then started with limited number of departures keeping half of the seats empty. Though affected deeply, especially HST services from/to Istanbul seems to recover fast.
The international train services from/to Turkey were already weak, far from old days services to several destinations in Europe and Middle East. Pandemic killed them all. Sofia Express, the only international daily train service which worked during whole 2019; Optima Express, which is carrying passengers and their cars between Turkey and Austria, Van-Tabriz train and Transasia Express, which both restarted after a long time in 2019 all stopped in early 2020. Sofia and Optima Expresses have restarted in 2022 where other two trains to Iran still have not.
Cover photo: TCDD Taşımacılık ©
Tomorrow: Turkish railways during pandemic: Freight