Turkish State Railways

The history of the railway in the period of Ottoman Empire had begun with the privilege of the railway line of 211 km between Cairo-Alexandria in 1851 and the history of the railways in the national borders today began with the privilege of the railway line of 130 km between İzmir-Aydın in 1856.


Ottoman Railways had been managed by the Track and Construction Department within the Ministry of Public Works for a while. Railways Administration had been established on September 24, 1872 in order to construct and operate the railways. 


The part of 4.136 km of railway line constructed in the period of Ottoman Empire was left in our national borders today. 1.377 km of those lines were operated by the State.


Following the decision of establishing Republic and nationalization of the railways, “Directorate General of Anatolia- Bagdat Railways” bound to the Ministry of Public Works had been established by the Law dated May 24, 1924 and numbered 506 for the railway industry. Also, “Directorate General of State Railways and Ports” had been established bound to the Ministry of Public Works had been established by the Law dated May 31, 1927 and numbered 1042 in order to provide the execution of the construction and operation of railways together as a first independent management unit in the field of railways. It had been bounded to the Ministry of Transport in 1939 within the name of “Directorate General of State Railways and Ports Management”. The lines which were constructed before Republic and operated by the foreign companies were bought between 1928-1948 and nationalized.


Our Enterprise had been managed as an annexed budget state administration until July 22, 1953 and by a Law dated in the same year and numbered 6186 , it was turned into a public economic enterprise under the name of “Directorate General of Turkish State Railways (TCDD)” bound to the Ministry of Transport.


Finally, TCDD, which took the identification of “ State-owned Economic Enterprise” by a Decree Law dated 08.06.1984 and numbered 233 and has 3 affiliated companies as TÜLOMSAŞ, TÜDEMSAŞ and TÜVASAŞ, still carries out its activities as a relevant administration of the Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communication.




It is useful to evaluate the period of pre-republic in order to understand better the railway policy in the first years of our Republic which were especially described as a golden era of the railways in the period of Republic. Because, today cannot be understood without knowing the past.


Thus, the railway history of our country should be examined under 3 titles as the pre-Republic, the period of Republic (the period of 1923-1950) and the period after 1950. The typical characteristic of these periods is that a big part of the railway lines were constructed by the privilege given to foreigners in the first period, it became a golden era of the railway transport in the second period and the railway transport was neglected in the third period.

A. Pre-Republic Period 

Railway history of Turkey began in 1856. The first pickaxe was hit to İzmir-Aydın line, the first railway line having 130 km length, by a privilege given to a British company in the same year. There was a reason to choose this line. The region of İzmir-Aydın was crowded in contrast to the other regions and suitable for becoming a British market where the ethnic groups were living and had a high commercial potential. Also, it was easy to access the row material which was needed by the British industry. It had a strategic importance for putting down the Indian lines by getting the Middle East under control.


British, French and German people who had railway privilege in Ottoman Empire had different influence areas. France created its influence area in the North of Greece, Western and Southern Anatolia and Syria; Britain created its influence area in Romania, Western Anatolia, Iraq and Persian Gulf; Germany created its influence areas in Thrace, Central Anatolia and Mesopotamia. Western investors constructed railway, which became a very important and strategic transport mode by the industrial revolution, in order to transport expeditiously the agricultural products and important mines, being the row material of the textile industry, to the ports and then to their countries. Moreover, they expanded the railway constructions by the privileges like profit assurance per km, working out mines located within 20 km area of the railway. Thus, the railway lines constructed on the land of Ottoman Empire were formed according to the economic and politic objects of the countries in the route of those lines.


Sultan Abdulhamid II, who was the Emperor of Ottoman Empire totally 33 years from 1876 to 1909,  had explained in his memories that “ I speeded up for the construction of Anatolian Railways by heart. The aim of this line is to connect Mesopotamia and Bagdat to Anatolia and reach up to Iranian Gulf. It is achieved by the help of Germany. Grains, which were perished on the farms in the past, finds a large market now and our mines are presented to the world market. A great future is prepared for Anatolia. The competition among the developed countries for the construction of the railways within our Empire is very weird and suspicious. Although the developed countries don’t want to confess, the importance of the railways is not only economic but also politic.”

Those lines were constructed in the earth of Ottoman Empire between 1856-1922:


    Rumelia Railways in the length of  2383 km as a standard line
    Anatolia-Bagdat Railways  in the length of  2424 km as a standard line
    İzmir -Kasaba and its extension in the length of  695 km as a standard line
    İzmir -Aydın and its divisions in the length of  610 km as a standard line
    Sam-Hama and its extension in the length of  498 km as a narrow and standard lines
    Yafa-Kudus in the length of  86 km as a standard line
    Bursa-Mudanya in the length of  42 km as a narrow line
    Ankara-Yahşihan in the length of  80 km as a narrow line

    Totally 8.619 km 


B. The Period  After Republic

1. Railway Based Period (Period of 1923- 1950 ) :


In pre-Republic period, by the privileges given to foreign companies the railways were operated for the foreign economies and the politic interests under their control, but in the period of after Republic, the railways were restructured in line with the national interests and it was targeted to evoke the resources of the country for the railways by aiming the establishment of enough “national economy”. The typical characteristic of this period is that it was given priority for basic industries like iron-steel, coal and machine in Five-Year Industrialization Plan prepared between 1932 and 1936. It was concentrated on the railway investments in terms of transport of those kind of massive freight cheapishly. So, the railway lines were forwarded to the national resources and it became a leader for determining site selection in expanding process of the industry to country surface. In this period, despite all negative conditions, the construction and operation of the railways were achieved with national power.

İsmet İnönü had expressed the following, in his speech on August 30, 1930 in Sivas, by referring to the first program of the government gathered under the chairmanship of Mustafa Kemal ATATÜRK in 1920:

"A railway connection will be ensured from Ankara to Yahşihan announced in its first program while all the fires of the world were commencing on it, its further presence is in a plaintive suspect, the citizens were bare footedly trying to counter against the invaders with sticks, all its resources are lost and there is not even a lira in its treasury.


Atatürk had also said in the meeting of National Assembly on March 1, 1922:

"The activity and the vitality of economic life are only achieved with the situation and the level of the transport vehicles, road, railways and ports.”

Atatürk had explained in his statement made for the newspapers at the same date:

"All the city centers of the country will be connected to one another by railways in a short time. Important mine treasures will be opened. The key stones of developing broken-down view of our country from the beginning to ending will cheer up the eyes everywhere.”

In the first years of Republic, everybody had a railway love. The speech made by Diplomat Op. Dr. Mr. M.Necdet on August 30, 1930 owing to ceremony held for the reach of the railway to Sivas, conspicuously revealed the importance and the contribution of the railway:

"Congratulations! The train arrived.(.)Railway is a steel arm of the Republic. Sivas is no longer far to anywhere. Now, the journey from Ankara takes 1 day. (.) We laid these irons to the ground for derusting of the earth. We butted the yellow ear of the corns for turning them as gold. These are the rails which reduced the distance between Ankara-Sivas from 10 days to 1 day. These are the rails which brought prosperity and wealth to the arid farms and dry plains. These are the rails which will increase the price of grain from 1 lira to 5 lira. This is not only a rail line but also a golden track. Track is the vessel of the ground. If there is no pulse in the soil, it means it mortified. The body of the soil should be surrounded by the track vessels like the blood vessels in our body in order to be alive. The pulse of the soil should beat continuously like human being. A crop needs water until it grows and the way feeds it after it grew.”


Despite the shortage and the impossibility, the railway construction maintained rapidly up to 2nd World War. Due to the war, it got slower after 1940s. 3.208 km railway lines of 3.578 km built between the years 1923-1950 was completed until 1940.


The policies regarding to create a national economy and establish a young Republic reflected the transport policy like the following and it was aimed to achieve the goals below:

-It was aimed to reach the possible production centers and natural sources. For example, the railway line arriving to Ergani was named as copper, the line arriving to Ereğli coal field named as iron, the lines of Adana and Çetinkaya named as cotton and iron lines.

-It was aimed to establish communication especially between the ports and post regions with production and consumption centers. The number of the ports connecting by railway increased from 6 to 8 including Kalın-Samsun, Irmak and Zonguldak lines. The sea connection of Central and Eastern Anatolia was improved by the lines of Samsun and Zonguldak.

-It was aimed to gain railway especially in the undeveloped regions in order to provide the expansion of economic growth in the country-level. By the establishment of the Republic, political center shifted to Central Anatolia and the accessibility was expanded from West to Central, Eastern and South-eastern Anatolia. According to this policy, in 1927 Kayseri, in 1930 Sivas, in 1931 Malatya, in 1933 Niğde, in 1934 Elazığ, in 1935 Diyarbakır and in 1939 Erzurum were connected by railway lines.

-It was aimed to bound the country by providing the national security and integrity.  

In order to achieve these goals, railway transportation policy was handled in two steps.

In the first step, despite a huge of financial difficulties, foreign railway lines were procured and nationalized and some of them were taken over with agreements.


In the second step, as the large amount of the existing railway lines were focused on West Region of the country, the connection of Central and Eastern regions by the centers and the coasts was aimed. In line with this aim, it was ensured to gain main lines by reaching directly to the production centers of railway lines. The main lines constructed in this period are:  Ankara-Kayseri-Sivas, Sivas-Erzurum (Caucasian line), Samsun-Kalın (Sivas), Irmak-Filyos (Zonguldak coal line), Adana-Fevzipasa-Diyarbakır (copper line) Sivas-Çetinkaya (iron line). 70 % of the railway lines in pre-republic period was located in the west side of Ankara-Konya, 78.6 % of lines in the priod of Republic were laid in the east of the country and 46% and 54 %  of distribution amount was obtained in the West and the east side of the country by today.  

Also, it was concentrated on the construction of branch lines which have an important place for interconnecting the main lines and expanding the railways in the country-level.


The construction of the branch lines also played an important role with regard to the national security. For instance, Atatürk, who made a speech on the opening ceremony of Afyon-Karakuyu branch line, emphasized that “The defence of the country had suffered a lot as this line didn’t exist. It is not possible to perform a work with 100.000 oxen instead of a short line for the defence of the country. It was given less importance to branch lines in the period of Empire. The reason of this issue should be sought that there was a missing perception in the mentality of the empire rather than  the financial weakness.”


The Works regarding to branch lines started between 1935-1945. The network type of the railways in the beginning of Republic had 2 loops impending Manisa-Balıkesir-Kütahya-Afyon and Eskisehir-Ankara-Kayseri-Kardeşgediği-Afyon in 1935. İzmir-Denizli-Karakuyu-Afyon-Manisa and Kayseri-Kardeşgediği-Adana-Narlı-Malatya-Çetinkaya loops were gained. The loops were ensured by the branch lines. Also, it was aimed to reduce the physical and economic distance on the construction of branch lines. For example, 208 km reduction was ensured by Çetinkaya-Malatya branch line by reducing the distance between Ankara-Diyarbakır from 1324 km to 1116 km. By means of these connections, the railways , which was known as “tree” created by semi-colony economy in 19th century, turned into as “looping network” required by the national economy.


Road system in this period was designed as a feeder of railways.


The issue of “Demiryollar” Journal dated February 1937 summarizes this period with these lines:

"Exceeding new steel bars in the amount of 2700 km within 15 years in a country in which a nation having steep and though transportation opportunities got out of endless and continual battles, tinging all isolated corners of the country by cracking the mountains, succeeding in the fortification of national ideal and unity with 3.300 km steel line procured by the companies after creating labour and life resources almost in every corners of the country are highly important and unique issues which will be written in our history.”

2. The Period Mainly Focused on Road (after 1950s): The road inherited from the Ottoman Empire involved 18.335 km road including 13.885 km narrow road having damaged surface and 4.450 km earth road and 94 bridges.


The period after 1950s known as the golden era of the road is classified as First Development Period (1950-1963), Planned Development Period (1963-1980), 1983-1993 Transportation Main Planning Period (1983-1986) and Highways Period (1986-….)


The road was seen as a system to feed and integrate the railway in the transportation policies applied until 1950. However, the road construction was launched by the assistance of Marshall by ignoring the railways anyhow the road should have been developed as an integral and supportive system for railways. Industrialization period mainly based on agricultural and consumer goods dominated the economic structure in this period in which USA was effective on Turkish economy by Marshall Assistance.

The goals envisaged for the railways in the planned development periods after 1960s have never been achieved. Even if it was aimed to provide coordination between the sub- systems of the transport in these plans, the coordination between the sub-systems of the transport wasn’t provided by maintaining the features of the pre-planning period and the investments for road were given priority in all planning periods. Although it was envisaged to concentrate on the investments, re-organizing and modernisation studies for railways in all plans in order to meet the increased transport demands on time, it wasn’t realized. As a result of these policies, approximately 30 km. new line was constructed per a year between 1950-1980.

In the middle of 1980s, the mobilization for a rapid road construction was launched in our country and the highways were accepted as the 3rd biggest Project of our country after GAP (South-East Anatolia Project) and Tourism. Within this scope, approximately 2 billion $ were invested for the highways until the mid-1990. After all, it is seen that any project primarily regarding to important railway infrastructure investments wasn’t realized. Most of the existing railways were stuck on the geometry built in the beginning of the century. Also, the resources allocated for the continuation investments were insufficient.

Furthermore, “1983-1993 Main Transportation Plan” which was the only national transportation plan in our country, was seen as a first step for improving our transportation system and aimed to reduce the transport share of road from 72 % to %36, was not implemented and invalidated after 1986.

When we even make a general assessment about the mentioned plan, we obtain striking results. For example, as a result of increasing only the share of freight transportation, there is a decrease in energy consumption, traffic accident, the number of injured and dead people and air pollution. In case of increasing the share of railway freight transportation to 30 %, it is calculated that approximately 1.500 people will be escaped from death and 16.00 people from getting injured in the decade.

Finally, as a result of transportation policies mainly regarding to road applied after 1950s, the length of the railway was only increased 11 % while the length of the road was increased 80 % between 1950-1997. The investment shares within the transport sectors were 50 % for road and 30 % for railways in 1960s. Hereby, the share of the railways was under 10 % since 1985.


As a natural consequence of these transportation policies, the transport system of our country is leaned on only one system. When the share of passenger transportation is analysed, the passenger transportation share in the railways is 2 % while the passenger transportation share in the road is 96 %. Owing to unimproved infrastructure and operational conditions in the railways and inability to launch new corridors, its passenger transportation share is drop off 38 % in the last 50 years.  

On the other hand, approximately 14 million tonnes freight transportation was realized in 2002.

When you look at the shares of road-railway freight transportation within the transportation system of our country, the freight transportation share in the road is 94 % and the freight transportation in railway is 4 %. Freight transportation share of the railways is drop off 60 % in the last 50 years.   

1- CAN, Bülent Bilmez, Chester Project from railways to oil (1908-1923), History Foundation Yurt Edition, İstanbul, May 2000,
2- EVREN, Güngör, Railway, Birsen Edition, İstanbul, 1999.
3- ENGİN, Vahdettin, Rumelia Railways, Eren Edition, İstanbul, 1993.
4- GÜREL, Ziya, Railway Operation in the Independence War, Turkish Historical Society Edition, Ankara, 1989.
5- ONUR, Ahmet, History of Turkish State Railways (1860-1953, T.R. The Ministry of National Defence, Land Forces Command Edition, Ankara, 1953.
6- ÖZDEMIR, Mehmet, Turkish State Railways during the first period of Armistice and Independence War – Structural Economic Problems (1918-1920), Ministry of Culture Edition, Ankara, 2001.
7- YAZICI Necdet, "Yesterday, Today and future of our railways", Kardelen Journal, January-March 1995,
8- ZEYBEK, Hülya, "Railways towards the integration with EU", Dünya Gazette, 03.05.2002
9- ----------------------, Sultan Abdülhamit, My Political Memories , Dergah Edition, İstanbul, 1999.
10- -------------------, Public Services and Railway Policies Symposium during the period of change (2003), Chamber of Mechanical Engineers Edition, Ankara, 2003.
11- ---------------------, Declarations of 1st National Railway Congress, Ankara, 1979.
12- ---------------------, Declarations of 2nd National Railway Congress, Tisamat B.S., Ankara, 1997.
13- --------------------, Modernization of Railways, a new Development Strategy, Demiryol-İş Union Edition, Ankara, 1996