Asia and Europe to get Bosphorus rail link as Marmaray opens

Asia and Europe to get Bosphorus rail link as Marmaray opens

Asia and Europe to get Bosphorus rail link as Marmaray opens

The much-anticipated Marmaray will cost a total of around 9.3 billion Turkish Liras. Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Transportation

The European and Asian sides of Istanbul are to be connected for the first time with a railway tunnel constructed under the Bosphorus, officially opened on Oct. 29, the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic.

A Turkish-Japanese consortium has realized the project, called the Marmaray, fulfilling a 150-year-old dream.

Before a press tour between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul prior to its official opening, Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım said it was first suggested by Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecid and that projects were submitted by French, British and American architects under Abdülhamid II in 1891. But first technological, then financial difficulties prevented the project from coming to fruition until the late 1990s, when the first feasibility studies were started. The work actually started under Erdoğan’s government in 2005.

The Marmaray will provide a non-stop railway route connecting China to Western European markets and vice versa as a modern day Silk Road. As an indication of hopes about the increasing regional trade, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta and a number of transportation and trade ministers are expected to attend the opening ceremony, to which all top Turkish officials from President Abdullah Gül to Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek will be present as it is planned to be the event of this year’s Republic Day.

The construction of the world’s deepest submerged underwater railway tunnel (62 meters at its deepest point) was supposed to be completed in 2009. But as engineers started to dig, incredible archaeological findings started to surface, which proved that Istanbul’s history dated back 8,500 years, instead of 6,000 as it was used to be known before the Marmaray. That delayed the project for nearly four years.

Answering criticism about whether or not it was risky to construct such a crossing in a major earthquake zone, Yıldırım said the design would be resistant to more than a 9.0-magnitude quake and would be “the safest place in Istanbul.”

Yıldırım said that with its maximum capacity of 1.5 million passengers a day, the Marmaray was expected to alleviate 20 percent of the 14 million-person city’s traffic burden.

He said another underwater crossing construction, only for cars, was under construction, to be in service by 2015. That is the year when the construction of the third suspension bridge over the Bosphorus is also expected to be completed, to increase the total number of connections between the European and Asian sides of the city to five.

In addition to Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta are expected to attend the opening ceremony that will also celebrate the foundation of the Turkish Republic 90 years ago.

A number of transportation civil servants coming from several European and Caucasian countries will also be present at the ceremony, in order to witness the opening of the first of Turkey’s several planned mega projects.

The railway system project, which is currently acknowledged among the major transportation projects of the world, will measure approximately 76 kilometers in total.

It is expected to transport around one million people per day by connecting the continents in four minutes.

Much-anticipated mega project that is expected to cost around 9.3 billion Turkish Liras ($4.5 billion) after completion of all stages has been promoted to be an effective remedy to Istanbul’s chronic traffic congestion problem at Bosporus.

The 13.6-kilometer tunnel, including a 1.4-kilometer immersed tube tunnel, is the deepest of its kind in the world at 60 meters.

At the first stage, only tunnel’s only one section, the one between Kazlıçeşme station on the European side and the Ayrılıkçeşme station on the Asian side, will begin to operate.

Trains are scheduled to leave from Kazlıçeşme to reach Söğütlüçeşme on the Anatolian side after hauling out of the sea at Ayrılıkçeşme station, covering almost 13.5 kilometers.

Two different lines of speed trains will soon be joined into the Marmaray route, rounding up to a massive 63-kilometer transportation network through the city. Over 13,000 meters of tunnels are included in the project.

The project, which will increase the share of railways within Istanbul’s intra-city transportation, will also have a connection with the Istanbul-Ankara speed rail route.

The main structures and systems include the immersed tube tunnel, bored tunnels, cut-and-cover tunnels, at-grade structures, three new underground stations, 37 surface stations (renovation and upgrading), operations control center, yards, workshops, maintenance facilities, upgrades of existing tracks including a new third track, new electrical and mechanical systems and modern railway vehicles.

Reliefs inspired by the pieces belonging to the Neolithic, Byzantine and Ottoman periods will cover the stations’ entrances and interiors. Besides, the remains of a shipwreck dating to the 4th to 5th centuries, catalogued by archaeologists as “Lagan number 12,” will also be exhibited in the art board at Yenikapi Station.

The biggest obstacle to the project’s completion has been the discovery of 40,000 artifacts at Yenikapı. These artifacts were removed with the assistance of the Transportation Ministry and other state authorities, but were then controversially stored in depots due to budget constraints.

These pieces will be exhibited in the museum to be established in the Yenikapi Hundred Islands area named Arkeopark.

The questions over safety of the tunnel has been also raised but the Transportation Minister slammed these voices and said the tunnel ran parallel to the seismic fault line in the Marmara Sea, which reduces risks.