Turkey’s new high-speed rail: victory for Erdogan – and China
On Friday, Turkey inaugurated its long-awaited high-speed rail link between Istanbul and Ankara, cutting the 533km journey between the two cities from a typical seven hours to three and a half.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured) was on board for the maiden voyage and hailed the 250km/h link, which cost $4.1bn, as vindication of his infrastructure policies as he campaigns for re-election ahead of polls next month, on 10 August.
“Despite all the attempts of sabotage, blockade, and slowdown, we completed the line and opened it for service today,” Mr Erdogan said at a campaign stop in the town of Eskisehir. The inauguration of the train link has been beset by hitches and delays, most recently when a train crashed into a maintenance vehicle.
But also claiming victory was China, which is keen to export its high-speed rail know-how – and its project cash – all over the world.
The Ankara-Istanbul link was built by a Chinese-Turkish consortium, which won the bid in 2005. China Railway Construction Corporation, China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation joined with Turkish firms Cengiz Construction and Ibrahim Cecen Ictas Construction.
China also lent Turkey $750m to part-finance the new link, say reports.
The completion of the link gives Chinese firms a more solid footing in Turkey, which has big plans for high-speed rail, a Turkish analyst told Xinhua. “It paves the way for the Chinese companies to enter into other big infrastructure projects in Turkey,” said Idris Gursoy.
Turkish State Railways (TCDD) has said that $45bn would be allocated for rail in the 14 years to 2023. It hopes to build 10,000km of new high-speed line and 4,000km of new conventional line by then. In January TCDD announced that it would invest almost half of its 2014 budget – $860m – in high-speed rail projects.
Clearly, China is well positioned to participate in Turkey’s national rail programme.
The two countries have increased trade since both sides entered a strategic partnership in 2010.
According to the Turkish Statistics Institute, reports state-run news agency Xinhua, trade volume between Turkey and China has increased 45% since 2010, to $28.3bn in 2013. Both governments have declared an ambitious target of an annual trade volume of $50bn by 2015 and $100bn by 2020, Xinhua says.
But there is an even bigger context, which is China’s ambition to develop a rail transport corridor from its western border through Central Asia and Turkey, all the way to Europe.
If this grand vision were ever to be realised, the Ankara-Istanbul line could be a tiny link in the 6,000km Silk Road Economic Belt.