TURKEY TODAY INAUGURATES the first high-speed train link between its main cities of Ankara and Istanbul, connecting Europe and Asia with a tunnel deep underground beneath the waters of the Bosphorus.
After years of constant delays that has seen the project become a standing joke among Turks, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to glide into Istanbul aboard the first train this evening.
As part of the route, a 13.6 km long tunnel linking Istanbul’s European and Asian sides was built which includes an immersed tube tunnel that officials say is the world’s deepest at 60m below the seabed.
The idea was first floated by Ottoman sultan Abdoul Medjid in 1860 but technical equipment at the time was not good enough to take the project further.
However the desire to build an undersea tunnel grew stronger in the 1980s and studies also showed that such a tunnel would be feasible and cost-effective.
Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, revived the plan in 2004 as one of his mega projects for the bustling city of 16 million people — which also include a third airport, a third bridge across the Bosphorus and a canal parallel to the international waterway to ease traffic.
The line will not terminate in the centre of Istanbul, but on the Asian side of the Bosphorus in the suburb of Pendik, some two hours from the centre in the city’s often heavy traffic.
The new high-speed line has cut the travel time between the two cities to 3.5 hours.
Eventually the Turkish government also wants the terminus to be on the European side of Istanbul, with trains travelling through the Marmaray tunnel.
Trains are to run at 250 km/h along the 511 km line.
But the project has been hit by repeated postponements of the opening date and mishaps — including when one of the new trains crashed into a maintenance vehicle this month.
There are safety concerns too: train accidents are frequent on Turkey’s network and in 2004 dozens of people were killed when a newly-inaugurated high-speed train derailed in the northwest.
Yet, with an intense if belated advertising campaign — TV adverts show smiling children waving at the train as it surges through the fields — the government is now pulling out all the stops to make it a success.
The opening comes ahead of presidential elections on 10 August that are expected to see Erdogan sweep to victory as head of state, after a campaign in which he has constantly boasted of his efforts to improve transportation in Turkey.Source: AFP/YouTube
© – AFP 2014 with additional reporting from Rónán Duffy