Binali Yıldırım is one of Turkey’s longest serving ministers in the same Ministry. During the time he served as the Minister of Transportation, Maritime and Communication, he was always referred to as one of the most successful ministers in each cabinet… He has been appreciated by people from all walks of life thanks to his services. One of the first that jumps to mind is that he ended the 40-year-long wait for the high speed train. Much-anticipated Ankara-İstanbul high speed rail line was opened during his term in office. We interviewed Binali Yıldırım, who is now absorbed in a busy schedule in the upcoming local elections for Mayor of İzmir Metropolitan Municipality, about the Ankara-İstanbul line, a few days before the opening of its part extending to İstanbul.
Ankara-İstanbul High Speed Train Line is about to be completed, test drives are under way at the moment and at the same time certification work is going on. This is one of your dream projects?
I can honestly say that the only thing I feel at the moment is the joy I feel in the name of my nation. As a matter of fact, this joy arises from the fact that when the foundation of the Speed Train Line was laid, the expectations and aspirations for the high speed train, which saw a dozen governments and two dozens of Ministers of Transportation come and go, materialized. The ones who really deserve this joy are our people, who have been waiting for their high speed train dream to come true for almost a century. I say to everyone in advance, enjoy your trip.
Ankara-Eskişehir high speed train has been operating since 2009. Has it led to a change in railways and the society?
When we took office, railways had been neglected for 60 years. We regarded railways as a top priority sector. Railways that had not been mended for a hundred years needed to be renovated. Trains were unable to move. Rail tracks were being imported, and even that was not done properly. Now, we are producing our own railroad tracks. We have renewed four-fifths of the existing tracks. In the meantime, we have created a new railway industry. Formation of the High Speed Train core network is one of the steps leading to this goal.
They require extensive investments, don’t they?
Yes, huge investments, indeed. All these things began simultaneously and are now bearing fruit. This momentum will further increase with the ongoing projects… The transformation provided by all these efforts will, in the same short term, lead to a revival of the railway industry, and Turkey becoming a hub for railway investments and industry in its region. When the high speed train core network expands, its influence will be far more different…
Well, what is this high speed train core network?
It is an Ankara-based network… Ankara-Eskişehir line was taken into service in 2009, and so was Ankara-Konya line in 2011; Eskişehir-Konya was opened in 2013. Eskişehir-İstanbul is soon to be opened… Bursa, Ankara-Afyonkarahisar-Uşak-Manisa-İzmir lines are in waiting, and under construction. Ankara-Kırıkkale-Yozgat-Sivas line is also in waiting, Sivas-Erzincan was put out to tender. The construction for Konya-Karaman was embarked on. These are all projects that we promised to implement and fulfilled one by one. When we make a promise, we implement it.
What will happen, and where will this high speed train network spread?
The closest is from Ankara to İstanbul, as far as Pendik? When you get on the train in Ankara, you will be in Pendik within three hours…
Will it not go as far as Marmaray?
We are rebuilding the lines that extend to Marmaray in subway standards. It may extend as far as Halkalı two years later.
Here, İstanbul line is the most important one, I guess?
All are important. However, İstanbul stands out with a different significance due to its being a metropolitan city, having a dense population, and prominent social and economic indicators.
Now, let’s talk a little about İzmir railway?
Of course… As you know, Ankara-İzmir project, which will reduce the distance to three hours, and İstanbul-İzmir project, which will reduce the distance again to three hours, were begun. Their construction is underway.
İzmir stands out as the city in Turkey where the first railway line was laid?
İzmir is a city of the firsts… Turkey’s first railway was built in İzmir… The first railway was put into service in 1856 with the İzmir-Aydın line in Anatolia… The first station was also built in İzmir. However, these railways and these stations had not been renovated almost since the time they were built. We have renewed İzmir railway lines as if from scratch by producing everything from rail tracks to traverses locally. We restored not only the railway but also Turkey’s architectural heritage, İzmir’s architectural heritage, and train stations, which are railways’ architectural heritage, true to the original… Not only that, we put into service locally produced Anatolian train sets first on the railway line between İzmir and Tire …
You also conducted the İZBAN, İzmir Urban Railway System Project, and you even received an award for that.
Yes, it did. It is a source of pride for us and for Turkey. In 2011, in collaboration with the local administration, we put into service the world’s most authentic urban railway system projects, the 80-km-long EGERAY, İZBAN in your terminology, 70% of the cost of which was met by the Turkish Republic State Railways… Aliağa-Cumaovası, 80 kilometers…
Now, you are extending it…
Considering that Aliağa-Cumaovası is not enough, and this line needs to be extended, we have built Cumaovası –Torbalı line, which will take into service this summer, God willing. The tender process for the 26-kilometer Torbalı-Selçuk stage was completed, and soon construction will begin. The project for the 50-kilometer-long Alioğa-Bergama stage was completed. The project work is under way for the 35-kilometer Menemen-Manisa stage. Thus, by extending İZBAN to 191 km from south to north, we are putting into service the world’s longest urban railway system.
Recently, Kemalpaşa-Turgutlu stage has also been opened. What does this line mean?
It is a freight line… It is 27 kilometers long but its impact is not limited to its length only. It is a very important line for the Aegean industry and the logistics and railway transportation… Kemalpaşa has been linked to both the national railway network and international corridors by railway. By the way, we are turning the existing electric lines notably Menemen-Manisa-Balıkesir-Bandırma line into an electric signaled line.
İzmir, will be connected with Asia via the Marine Silk Road
İzmir will become the center of European-Asian trade. When the North Aegean Çandarlı Port, which will serve as the world’s new “Marine Silk Road”, it will be the world’s 10th and Europe’s 3 biggest container port. These are not just dreams; all will come true. With harbor, railway and highway connections, İzmir will be an important gateway of the Aegean Region and Turkey opening to the global world markets. It will alone raise the container loading capacity of the ports in Turkey by 75 %. When the port begins to operate in full capacity, its annual container handling capacity will be 12 million. When the port is fully completed, 4 million ships will be able to access to it annually.
İzmir-Ankara will only take 3,5 hours
When the 624-km İzmir-Ankara High Speed Train line is completed, Ankara and İzmir will get closer to one another. When the travel time project is completed, the distance between İzmir and Ankara will drop from 13 hours to 3,5 hours, İzmir-Konya from 12 hours to 4 hours, and İzmir-Eskişehir from 10 hours to 4.
Airport connected İzban
Turkey’s largest airport-connected urban railway public transport system, i.e. İZBAN extends from Selçuk to Bergama. Aliağa/Menderes Suburban System, which came into being in cooperation with İzmir Metropolitan Municipality and TCDD, has been operating since 6 March 2011. The existing 80-km rail line length of İZBAN will rise to 112 km with this project. 500 thousand commuters will be carried daily. Established jointly by İzmir Metropolitan Municipality and TCDD, İZBAN has been chosen the best project by International Public Transporters Union.
LÜTFÜ ELVAN: WE WILL TAKE HIGH SPEED TRAINS TO OUR SOUTHERN PROVINCES TOO
The new Minister of Transportation, Maritime and Communication Lütfi Elvan have been working at high speed since his takeover of the post. Known for his hard work during his period as President of Turkish Grand National Assembly Plan and Budget Commission, Elvan is implementing projects one after the another on the one hand and generating new projects on the other hand. Our Minister spared time for us despite his time constraint and answered our questions.
Sir, you have recently embarked on the construction of Karaman-Konya high speed train. Good luck with it.
Thank you. The fact that this project will be implemented in Karaman, my hometown, makes it especially relevant for me.
It has been mentioned in the press that this project is the first step in the Southern Speed Train Railway.
Yes, this project will continue. After Karaman, the Ulukışla-Mersin-Adana-Osmaniye-Gaziantep-Mardin-Habur route will be completed step by step…In this way, our southern provinces will also be linked to the core high speed network …
Eskişehir-İstanbul has been completed. Tests are underway. When will you open it?
Test and certification efforts are in progress. These efforts are as important as construction of roads. When all is finished, we will open it at an appropriate time.
Will the high speed train be a rival to the aircraft?
We attach more importance to diversifying transportation modes and increasing speedy travel alternatives than rivalry. Our people may choose to travel by the aircraft or by the train … We offer our services and preference lies with our people.
There will be a competition but …
Competition aside, there is something else. When a mode of transportation is complementary to another rather than a rival, then it can fulfill its true function. The process we call journey begins as soon as you decide on a journey. In practice, after you leave our home or office, you seek ways to reach your destination at the shortest, speediest and most comfortable way. Here, you make an evaluation of all the transportation alternatives depending on where you are, and then make a decision. In this way, we are trying to serve our nation by increasing these alternatives rather than competition.
Do you mean that motorways and railways, and airways, and maritime lines are not rivals?
Our Ministry has completed the planning of this as have all the countries in the world. The advantages of going to different destinations by road, by high speed trains and by plane have been determined as a result of scientific data, and years of experience … It would not be economically viable if you wanted to reach each district of a province by high speed trains; on the contrary it would be wastefulness … If high speed train goes as far as Ankara, then you can cover the rest of the distance to Haymana or Kızılcahamam by road. For example, the plane is the most efficient alternative for a distance of 2 thousand kilometers. Therefore, developing alternative modes of transportation increase the coefficient of journeys rather than creating competition …
How does that increase it?
Like this: As the coefficient of transportability increases, so does the coefficient of journeys. Say, you have built a high speed railway to a city, then journeys to the districts and provinces close it naturally increase. This affects, triggers and expands other modes of transportation.
Almost 80 % of the journeys between Ankara and Eskişehir are by high speed trains. Hasn’t this reduced the share of the motorways?
In all cities where YHT (High Speed Train) operates, as in the world, the shares are more or less the same … About 70-80 % of journeys are by high speed trains. However, as I have just mentioned, this is reflected as an increase in trips within the city, trips to suburbs and even provinces and districts nearby. Motorways can abundantly compensate for their losses caused by YHT through gains in this way. Moreover, YHT serves to increase passengers. For example, a mother used to visit her son or daughter in Ankara once a year; now, she visits him or her almost every week. Why? It is because YHT; it reaches right into the city center is faster then a the bus; it is possible to have breakfast in one city and then return home by evening train … This being so, each high speed train line means a complete change in our people’s travel habits and travel culture.
It is said to prevent internal migration, too.
It is not just said, it is true … People would like to return home in the evening. They would not like to move to another city for a short period, be it for education or work. It certainly has this effect, too …
Now, it seems all cities want high speed trains. There is a serious demand in this regard. What do you think of this?
Who would not want the high speed train … High speed train lines completed and under construction at the moment connect 16 provinces with one another. The total population of these provinces is almost equal to half the population of Turkey … Thus, one out of two people in our country will have direct access to high speed trains … The economy, social life, image of that city gets totally transformed through high speed trains … This is an indication of development, of being a prioritized and respectable city… Therefore, it is natural for almost all of our cities to ask for high speed trains … The duty of the state is evaluate these demands and then form the core network and main corridors. One would naturally like to take high speed trains to all cities … Because wherever they live, our people regard high speed trains as a source of pride for their country. And, again a large majority of people want the state to bring high speed trains to their city no matter how much it costs. We have made short and long term plans for this at transportation conferences with our shareholders. Our goals for the year 2023 and our projections for 2035 are ready. Within the next 9 years, we have planned to build 3.500 kilometers of high speed train lines, 8.500 kilometers of speed train lines and 1000 kilometers of conventional train lines …
So, you are doubling the existing railway line networks …
Yes, and at the same time at high speed and fully safe…