High-speed train breaks down hours after Turkish PM Erdoğan slams 'political saboteurs'

High-speed train breaks down hours after Turkish PM Erdoğan slams 'political saboteurs'

Serkan Demirtaş ESKİŞEHİR
High-speed train breaks down hours after Turkish PM Erdoğan slams political saboteurs

The high-speed railway line that will connect Ankara and Istanbul is inaugurated today, after several setbacks. AA Photo

Turkey’s long-awaited high-speed railway line between the capital Ankara and the financial capital Istanbul was finally inaugurated on July 25, only to break down several hours later.

The journey was marred by a technical problem in İzmit when one of the contact wires malfunctioned. After the dislocated wire cracked the windshield, the train stopped and technical teams fixed the problem in 30 minutes.

Earlier, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had denounced “saboteurs” for delaying the opening of the project.

Transportation Minister Lutfi Elvan said there was no sign of sabotage in the latest incident, but they had question marks about the techical problem. "Another train passing only fifteen minutes before ours had no problem here. When we detected the problem we have decided to cut the electricity and to stop the train due to safety concerns," he said.

The inauguration offered presidential hopeful Erdoğan a unique opportunity to express his proud of a number of ambitious projects embarked upon by his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

“We are now a nation who is admired and not a nation that looks at European cities and admires those places, seeing high-speed trains there,” said Erdoğan, as he delivered a speech in the central Anatolian province of Eskişehir, the first stop of the first journey before Bilecik and Pendik, Istanbul.

The high-speed train set off from Ankara in the morning on a journey of 533-kilometers, having Erdoğan and his spouse, Emine, on board among its first passengers.

Elvan and his predecessor, Erdoğan’s long-time political comrade, Binali Yıldırım, accompanied the prime minister, while senor bureaucrats and journalists were also on board to witness this long-anticipated experience. High-security measures were taken along the journey, including surveillance by two Cobra attack helicopters.

Turkey is a country that dreams and turns its dreams into reality, Erdoğan said, listing the defense industry, education system, health system, judiciary, police, energy, environment and housing, in addition to transportation, as fields where Turkey has set a model through its success.

“You should have no doubt. Aren’t we now producing our own helicopters? We are. Are we starting to produce our own local tanks? Are we producing our own national weaponry and our own national ship? Are we also producing our own unmanned aerial vehicle? Those are not enough either. We will move further. Inshallah, we will be producing longer-range missiles,” said a passionate Erdoğan.

“We will become a deterrent country. Each goal that we have reached is a new beginning for us,” he added.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the ceremony, Elvan said the line would undertake 12 journeys, six in each direction, every day. The high speed line will cut the journey time between Turkey’s two largest metropolises to around three and a half hours.

All trains will stop at Eskişehir, with four serving İzmit as well. Services will later be extended to Söğütlüçeşme in Haydarpasa on the Asian side of Istanbul. High-speed trains will start running through the Bosporus tunnel to the European side of Istanbul next year, by which time the Ankara-Istanbul travel time will be reduced to three hours.

The exact price of tickets has still not been announced, but they are expected to come to around 75 Turkish Liras.

The train is capable of reaching speeds of up to 250-kilometers an hour. There are 10 stops on the line, Ankara, Polatlı, Eskişehir, Bozüyük, Bilecik, Pamukova, Sapanca, İzmit, Gebze and Pendik.

The $4 billion project has been completed in phases. The Ankara-Polatlı-Eskişehir section opened in March 2009, followed by Polatlı-Konya in August 2011. A through-service from Konya to Eskişehir was introduced in 2013.

The European Union has also made a significant contribution to the project in the full-membership candidate country, with 136 million euros of grant funding from the European Commission, in addition to 1,45 billion euros in European Investment Bank (EIB) loans.

‘Democracy highway’

“Whatever is present in developed countries, and even more, we will have it. Turkey will, Inshallah, continue being the shining star of its region and the world. Are we now inside G-20? We are. The target is Inshallah to enter the first 10 [largest economies of the world] by 2023,” Erdoğan said.

As the inauguration was held around 20 days before the upcoming presidential elections, Erdoğan recalled and expressed honor that the first-ever direct presidential elections next month would be possible due to a constitutional amendment initiated by his government.

“While building double-highways, high-speed rail lines, schools, universities, hospitals and dams, Turkey is at the same time carrying out ‘firsts’ in the field of democracy and freedom. Just like we are building highways for vehicles, we are also striving for bringing the world’s most developed standards to the ‘democracy highway,’” he said.