After 200 years, Istanbul gets a subway

Published October 3rd, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

The residents of Istanbul have been waiting a long time for a subway, their weariness intensifying as the population rose and traffic ground to a standstill. 


The subway has arrived now that the population has reached 15 million, but given the complicated story of its construction, the residents may be grateful it was completed this year rather than in another ten. 


Ottoman and Turkish Republic governments have been planning subways for Istanbul for no less than two centuries. 

All the projects languished on the dusty shelves of bureaucrats' offices until they were dragged from oblivion in recent decades. 


A subway was being discussed even when the main form of urban transportation was the horse-drawn carriage, but the realization of the project would have to wait another 125 years. 


The road from Galata and Beyoglu, which was called Pera at the time, seemed so long that a subway became necessary. Thousands of people had to climb the hill from the Galata Tower to Pera daily, and the Turkish government finally began building a subway in 1969. 

When the line was opened on 18 January 1975, it became the fastest means of transportation on this particular route. 


Former Metropolitan Mayor Professor Nurettin Sozen laid the foundation of the modern Istanbul subway in 1992. The project finally received the go-ahead but its completion took eight years. 


The main reason for Istanbul's traffic problem has been internal migration since World War II. As the number of people who came from Anatolia increased, Istanbul's traffic became unbearable. By the 1980s, Istanbul began to be associated with traffic jams and stress. 


The first solution was to build new roads and widen the existing ones and, when this was found to be inadequate, the tram, known as the "light metro," was put into service. But the traffic problem showed no sign of easing and it became increasingly clear a real subway was needed. 


The traffic problem had been resolved through a subway system in many metropolitan centers in Europe, and there was no reason for Istanbul not to take the same route. While the subway gave signs of speedy progress in the years after 1992, the pace started to fall as resources became more and more scarce during the latter years. 


Recep Tayyip Erdogan, another former metropolitan mayor, had to allocate a large part of his time to this project. 

As its completion became further delayed by financial and bureaucratic problems, it became clear that Erdogan would not be the man to finally open the subway for service. This distinction would go to Ali Mufit Gurtuna, who was elected Istanbul mayor last year. 


When Gurtuna assumed his post, most of the infrastructure had been completed. A significant part of the construction was finished as well and the clock started ticking for the much-awaited day. Gurtuna finally opened the Taksim-Levent line on September 16. 


The subway, which cost $631 million, was opened in a spectacular ceremony. People who had worked for the project in the past were not forgotten; former Mayors Dalan and Erdogan as well Parliament Speaker Yildirim Akbulut were present. 


On the same day, Istanbul residents would have the pleasure of travelling on the subway for which they had waited so long. Thousands of people took the subway on the first two days of service when it was free. Residents tried to find the ins and outs of the new service, and curious glances and questions indicated that they wanted to learn everything about this new mode of transportation. 


The eight-kilometer line can be covered in just 11 minutes. There are escalators at the Osmanbey, Sisli, Gayrettepe and Levent stops. While the floors and almost all of the walls are covered with granite, panels depicting the Ottoman period provide it with a certain charm. Each station has been painted with a different color: Taksim is red, Sisli is gray, Osmanbey is yellow, Gayrettepe is green and Levent is blue. 

Passengers use an electronic ticket called Akbil, which they put through a sensor that registers the time of the trip, which allows the municipality to compile statistics. 


A one-way trip costs TL 250,000 and the discounted price is TL 150,000. The whole system is guided automatically and the impact of any possible accidents is significantly reduced by a mechanism through which the subway cars can be separated and towed off to another place. The communication, fire alarm and ventilation systems are up to date and it is possible to monitor all passenger movement through electronic devices in the command stations. A 150-person team equipped with cameras provides security. 


The length of the Taksim-Levent line is 8,439 meters while the diameter of the tunnels is 6.5 meters. The cost breakdown is as follows: $400 million for construction, engineering and various instruments, and $231 million for electronic and mechanical devices. 


More trains are put in service during rush hours. The goal is to increase the current one-way passenger level of 22,000 per hour to 70,000. Trains travel at 80 kilometers per hour and the travel time from one station to the next is roughly two minutes. 

The metro is open between 6:00 a.m. and 12:00 midnight. 


The area between Taksim and Levent is one of the busiest districts of Istanbul, especially because a large number of computer companies as well as other large firms are located here. While it has been taking people roughly one hour to go from Taksim to Levent during rush hour on the roads, this ordeal is expected to end with the opening of the subway. 


The Istanbul subway is being expanded, with a Taksim-Yenikapi line now in the works. Tunnels are being dug at five different locations. The length of this line is expected to be 5,200 meters while the depth of the tunnels will not be more than 30 meters in order to prevent any damage to the historic peninsula. 

There will be four stations - Sishane, Unkapani, Sehzadebasi and Yenikapi - and the trains will traverse the Golden Horn via a bridge. 


While the tunnels in Galatasaray, Sishane, Suleymaniye and Yenikapi are almost complete, work at the Unkapani and Golden Bridge stations is being delayed until the Monuments General Directorate reaches certain decisions and the new earthquake regulations are ready. The line is expected to cost $500 million and construction is projected to end in 2003. 


When the subway opens, people will be able to travel the Yenikapi-Taksim route in eight minutes. 

The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality sees traffic as a major problem that cannot be tackled solely through the implementation of a subway. 


It has a project that would make transportation on the Harem-Tuzla line much faster, but since permission is required from the Highways General Directorate, the process could be rather complicated. 

The "light subway" projects on the European side of Istanbul are close to completion and are waiting for the approval of the authorities. The municipality strongly believes that the system should be centralized for greater efficiency. The municipality would like to be in charge not only of the planning and implementation stages but also of supervision. – (Albawaba-MEBG) 




© 2000 Mena Report (

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