Sunday 9 October 2022

The Commuting Line That Shaped Istanbul’s Urban History

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Yurdumuzu dünyanın en mamur ve en medeni memleketleri seviyesine çıkaracağız – We shall raise our country to the level of the most prosperous and civilized nations of the world. (By Mustafa Kemal Atatürk)
Istanbul's intercontinental Marmaray Line has been hailed as a modern-day Silk Road. Connecting the European and Asian sides of Istanbul via a tunnel running underneath the Bosphorus, the Marmaray is a modern engineering marvel that has drastically improved transportation in the whole of Istanbul by the number of stations it attends to and its connection with other modes of transportation including the metro, tram, and bus rapid transit. The 76.6km-long commuter line has 43 stations, fourteen of which are located in the European part of Istanbul.
Unbeknownst to many is that the Marmaray was not the first revolution in urban public transport in Istanbul. In December 1955 the Istanbul Halkalı Commuter Line opened as the first electrified railway in Türkiye. The line was one of Europe's earliest 25kV AC electrified railway lines, and the first commuter railway in Türkiye. Without getting into too much technical detail, 25kV AC electrification is ideal for high-speed rail or heavily used lines such as commuter lines. 25kV AC was not widely used up until that point, but has since gained immense popularity around the globe.
The Turkish State Railways (TCDD – Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Devlet Demiryolları) purchased 28 E8000 electric multiple units (EMUs) designed by France's Alsthom to operate on the Istanbul Halkalı Commuter Line. [1] These were manufactured by Alsthom, De Dietrich Ferroviaire and Jeumont in France. The E8000s were fairly modern for their time, incorporating a rounded front-end profile and with their electronics hidden beneath the body of the cars. Their ruggedness also allowed for the intensive use necessitated by the rapid population growth of Istanbul during the 1970s.

Starting in 1979 the E8000s began to be supplemented by E14000s designed by Alsthom and built by TÜVASAŞ, followed by the introduction of the E23000 designed and built by EUROTEM in 2010. [2] The E23000s operated on the Istanbul Halkalı Line for four more years until the line was closed in 2014 to make way for the Marmaray, which started full operations in 2019 after a four-year delay caused by archaeological finds from the Byzantine era. The Marmaray connects the Istanbul Halkalı Line with the Haydarpaşa-Gebze Line on the Asian side, which was electrified in 1969.

A coupled E8000 EMU set passing Yedikule railway station in April 1956.

Acquired along with the E8000 EMUs were three E4000 electric locomotives also designed and produced by the French Alsthom company. [3] [4] The E4000s were the first electric locomotives to enter service in Türkiye. Up until 1955, all passenger and freight trains were still hauled by polluting coal-fired steam locomotives. The E4000s were intended to take over express and freight trains at Halkalı station for the final part of the journey into Istanbul, contributing much to decrease the pollution in the neighbourhoods situated along the traintracks. [4]

The 28km-long Istanbul Halkalı Line the E4000s were to run on was flat and therefore reaching high speeds wasn't a requirement for the short journeys back and forth. The E4000's design was relatively basic as a result, featuring single phase AC motors fed directly from a transformer, a technology that soon became obsolete. [3] By 1957, manufacturing of direct AC motor locomotives had stopped and the E4000 became technically obsolete from that point on. The E4000s were designed by Paul Arzens, whose distinctive design style helped the E4000's exterior design stand the test of time.

The E8000 EMUs were composed of three cars: two motor units and an intermediate trailer. The motor units were identical except for a luggage compartment present only in the C unit. Up to three E8000s could be coupled together for a total of nine cars. At one point the E8000s were lengthened to four cars through the addition of a locally-produced intermediate car. [2] However, the additional weight curtailed the already poor acceleration of the E8000, and this configuration was swiftly abandoned. [2] Apart from seeing brief use on the Haydarpaşa-Gebze Commuter Line on the Asian side of Istanbul, the E8000s solely operated on the Istanbul Halkalı Line throughout their 56-year long career.

From the 1970s onwards, the population of Istanbul began to grow exponentially as new factories on the outskirts of the city began to attract workers from other parts of Türkiye. The sharp rise in the city's population caused an increased demand for public transportation as previously outlying districts became engulfed into metropolitan Istanbul. This, combined with the fact that the E8000s could consist of a maximum of nine cars, would sometimes lead to trains that were so overcrowded that passengers had to hang out of the sides in order to catch a ride.

By the 1970s, most of Türkiye's steam locomotives had made way for a fleet of electric and diesel locomotives. The E4000s continued operations solely on the Istanbul Halkalı Line. As their reliability continued to suffer and as more modern replacement locomotives were by now readily available, the locomotives were slated for retirement at the end of the 1990s. [3] After their retirement, the locomotives were parked on a disused part of track at Halkalı train depot and left here until the mid-2010s, when they had to make way for the construction of a new train depot for the E32000 EMUs of the Marmaray and were presumably scrapped. [3]

While the small numbers of E4000s purchased and their maintenance-sensitive AC motors rendered their continued operations impractical, the E8000s were set to operate for at least another two decades from the early 1990s onwards. The vintage white-beige and red livery was replaced by a more modern looking white and blue livery with a red stripe under the windows. Intriguingly, no other modifications or improvements were made to the interior or exterior and they continued to operate in their 1950s-era configuration right up until their well-deserved retirement in 2011. Most of the E8000s were subsequently scrapped, with just four sets surviving to this day.

The phasing out of the E8000 EMU in favour of the more modern and comfortable E32000 EMUs of the Marmaray Line was surely appreciated by those traveling the Istanbul Halkalı Commuter Line on a daily basis. It can only be hoped that the E8000s will be remembered for their novelty when they first entered service on the Istanbul-Halkalı Commuter Line. Like the Marmaray now, the Istanbul-Halkalı Line was revolutionary for its time and drastically improved public transportation in Istanbul ahead of most other cities in Europe. The Marmaray only improves on this record, and once the connection from Halkalı to the M11 Metro Line to Istanbul Airport is made in late 2022, the appeal and efficiency of Istanbul's public transport will be increased even further.