Passenger and Freight Transportation on Railways in Turkey-Dr.İlhami Pektaş

Passenger and Freight Transportation on Railways in Turkey

Dr. Ilhami Pektas and Yalgın Kahraman         

The transport of oversize loads on the railways was first made in 1738 at a mine in Cumberland, England. The industrial revolution, which started with the emergence of steam engines, has led to great developments in railways, and railways have been the most reliable, economical, innovative and environmentally friendly transportation system in passenger and freight transportation, which still maintains its influence until today.

The development of railways in our country started with the nationalization of 4,559 kilometers of the railway, which was taken over from the Ottoman Empire and under the privilege of foreign companies, after the War of Independence.

In the 1st Five-Year Industrialization Plan in 1932 and especially in the 2nd Five-Year Industrialization Plan prepared in 1936, Turkey followed a conscious railway policy in order to solve the passenger transportation problem and to transport the bulky and intense loads of basic industrial inputs such as iron-steel, coal and machinery with the cheapest cost by railways.

As a result of the policies followed, our railway line, which used to be 4,559 kilometers before, reached 8,637 kilometers between 1923 and 1940.


Railway Lengths in Our Country by Years

Periods Total Ways (km)
Main and secondary line taken over from the Ottoman Empire 4,559
1923-1931 6,011
1940 8,637
1950 9,204
2001 10,940
2020 (Including Station and Junction Lines) 12,803


Between 1940 and 1950, railway constructions entered a period of recession, and after the 1950s, railway construction came to a standstill.

Especially with the USA’s Marshall aids and policy recommendations, the transportation policy totally concentrated in highways and depended on imports, which does not overlap with our national interests regarding the planning of transportation systems and determining the priority preference. As a result of these developments, railways in our country have lost their value in the transportation sector over the years.


Passenger and Freight Transportation Rates by Years (%)

Freight Transportation
Years Highway Railway Seaway Airway
1950 25 68.2 6.8 0
1960 45 52.9 2 0.1
1970 75.4 24 0.2 0.1
1980 88 11.8 0.1 0.1
1990 81.2 9.8 8.9 0.1
2000 87 5.3 7.8 0.2
2008 89 5.3 5.5
2016 92.6 4.3 3.1
Passenger Transportation
Years Highway Railway Seaway Airway
1950 50.3 42.2 7.5 0
1960 72.9 24.3 2 0.8
1970 91.4 7.6 0.3 0.7
1980 94.7 4.6 0.2 0.5
1990 96.6 2.5 0.1 0.9
2000 96 2.2 0.03 1.8
2008 97.5 1.7 0.7
2016 89.3 1.0 0.4 9.4


In Turkey, importance was given to railway and seaway in passenger and freight transportation until 1950. At the end of this period, distribution of passenger transportation was 50.3% highway, 42.2% railway, 7.5% seaway and 0.4% airway; and distribution of freight transportation was 68.2% railway, 25% highway, and 6.8% seaway.

In recent years, railways have been seen as one of the most important links of sustainable development moves, and intense efforts have been made to revive the neglected railway investments from 1951 to the end of 2003.

The length of the railways, which was 10,940 km in 2001, reached 12,803 km in 2020 with an increase of 17%. As a result of giving priority to railway investments in the transportation system since 2003, 1,844 km of new railways were built in the 2003-2020 period. Our high-speed train line, which was 387 kilometers in 2009, reached 1,213 kilometers in 2019. In our country’s railway system, there are a total of 5,828 km of electrified lines, of which 4,615 km are conventional lines and 1,213 km are high-speed train lines. As of 2020, 46 % of the 12,803 km of railways  has become electrified. While 22.8% of the total lines were signaled lines in 2002, this rate increased to 53% in 2020. If the current strategies continue, it is aimed that the total railway line length will reach 17,527 kilometers in 2023, and 23,627 kilometers in 2035; and the share of railways in freight transportation will increase from 5.15 % to 10 %, and the share of railways in passenger transportation will increase from 1.3 % to 4 % in 2023.

The studies on the “Law on the Liberalization of Railway Transportation in Turkey”, published in May 2013 and as of January 01, 2017, TCDD was restructured. While the current structure took over the Railway Infrastructure Management, the newly established TCDD Tasimacilik A.S. started to serve as a Railway Train Operator. In addition, within the scope of the law, the way for the private sector to carry out freight and passenger transportation has been paved.

As a result of the construction of new railways and junction lines, the renewal of existing railways, and especially the transition to block train operation in 2004, freight transport and customer satisfaction have also increased significantly. While 15.9 million tons of freight was transported in 2003, 29.9 million tons of freight was transported in 2020.

With the liberalization law, the participation of the private sector in the railway sector wagons used/operated in transportation increased to 3,740 and the total number of TCDD freight wagons is 16,951 in 2020.

Information on railway line length, freight and passenger transport in our country between 1977 and 2019 is given below. As seen, rail freight transportation, which was 15.9 million tons in 2003, increased by 17.6 million tons in 2019 and reached 33.5 million tons. Compared to 16 years ago, 110 percent increase was achieved in the amount of freight transport.


Passenger and Freight Transportation Rates by Years

Years Line height Number of Passengers Load Amount (Tons) (x1000)
1977 8 139 112 607 13 938
1987 8 439 129 909 13 838
1997 8 607 107 053 17 390
2002 8 671 73 088 14 616
2007 8 697 81 260 21 404
2012 9 642 120 646 25 666
2017 10 207 182 790 28 469
2018 10 315 185 010 31 673
2019 10 378 246 013 33 536


It is seen that freight transportation reached its target of 30 million tons in 2018. Despite the effects of the pandemic, the 21 million tons of freight carried in August 2020 data were completed above the planned target with 29.9 million tons of freight at the end of the year.

2003-2019 Railway Freight Transportation (Million Tons)

Another importance of railways and major projects implemented in recent years has been well understood in this period of Covid-19, when trade has entered a stagnant process. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, a significant amount of freight was transported on the railways, which Turkey actively uses to maintain regional trade without human contact by taking all precautions.

With the completion of the projects and the commissioning of 11 of the planned 25 logistics centers, Block Train operation was started in international freight transportation. In order to enhance the foreign trade volume and increase the railway transportation rate in transportation sector, international block freight train operations started to Europe, Middle Asian Turkic Republics and the Middle East within the scope of the agreements between countries.










Countries with Block Train Operations


Block freight trains are operated to Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Slovakia, Czechia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Germany in direction of Europe; Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan through Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) Line; and Russia and China through Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Line, as well. In addition, block freight trains are operated to Iran and beyond Iran through our Van/Kapikoy border station, and projects continue to operate the trains to Pakistan and Afghanistan.


International Railway Corridors Passing Through Our Country

One Belt One Road Project (Belt and Road Initiative)
ECO Corridors (ATI, ITI Container Trains)
TER (Trans Europe Railway) Project
TAR (Trans Asian Railway- UNESCAP) Project
TEN-T (Trans Europe Network-Transportation)
PAN-European Transport Network
TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia)
Lapis Lazuli Transit Transport Corridor


During the Covid-19 pandemic period, the restrictions on the highways brought forward especially the transport of trailers by railways. The number of existing train services with trailers between our country and Europe has been increased and new train services have been put into service. Trailer trains operated from Cerkezkoy and Catalca every day, started to be operated from Kosekoy/Izmit through the Marmaray Tube Tunnel Crossing in 2021.

Freight Transportation on Railways in the Last 5 Years in Our Country (Tons) (x1000)

Years Domestic International Total
2015  22 322 1 964 24 286
2016 22 716 1 831 24 547
2017 26 473 1 815 28 288
2018 29 353 2 070 31 423
2019 30 738 2 548 33 286
   2020   26.275        3.442  29.895

With the projects completed during the last 5 years, freight transportation in railways has increased and the results of the investments have started to be received one by one. Of the 33 million tons of freight carried in 2019, 10 million tons were transported by private-owned wagons. With the liberalization law, it is seen that private sector wagons contribute 34% to railway transportation.

In 2019, 2,5 million tons of international freight was transported, resulting in a 350% increase in international freight transportation compared to 2002. Considering the container transportation, which is among the other transportation modes, the transportation by railways, which was 658 thousand tons/year in 2003, increased by approximately 22.6 times and reached 14.9 million tons/year in 2019.

With the implementation of the projects initiated in the infrastructure and superstructure of the railways, it is aimed to increase the share of total freight transport to 10% in 2023 and to 20% in 2035.

It is expected that freight transportation and international block train operations in railways, which are planned to be in greater demand over the years due to its economic and environmental friendliness, will further develop the foreign trade volume of our country and provide significant economic gain.



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