1st Turkey to China freight train departs on 12-day journey from Istanbul

Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu delivers a speech during a sendoff ceremony for the first train, which will carry goods from Turkey to China, at the Kazlıçeşme station on the European side of Istanbul, Turkey, Dec. 4, 2020. (AA Photo)

In a major milestone, the first train carrying goods from Turkey to China departed from Istanbul Friday.

“The first whistle from Çerkezköy, from where the train departed, is a harbinger of a new era for our country,” Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu said during the sendoff ceremony at the Kazlıçeşme station on Istanbul’s European side.

Covering 8,693 kilometers (5,402 miles) and passing through two continents, two seas and five countries, the train will forward its freight to China in 12 days, Karaismailoğlu said.

Passing below the Bosporus via Istanbul’s Marmaray tunnel, the train will follow the Trans Caspian East-West Middle Corridor via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway. It will pass Istanbul, northwestern Kocaeli province, the capital Ankara, central Sivas province and eastern Kars province and will make a stop at the Akhalkalaki Station in Georgia.

It will then travel across Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan before entering China’s Xi’an province.

Operated in collaboration with the General Directorate of Turkish State Railways’ (TCDD) official forwarder firm TCDD Taşımacılık A.Ş. and Pasifik Eurasia, the train carries major appliances in 42 containers, Karaismailoğlu said.

“Today, for the first time, our train full of export products is heading to China,” said Turkish Exporters’ Assembly (TIM) Chairperson Ismail Gülle.

“This process is very important for the future vision of Turkey’s exports,” Gülle said in his speech at the ceremony.

The 8,693-kilometer path includes 2,323 kilometers in Turkey, 220 in Georgia, 430 in Azerbaijan, 420 in the Caspian Sea, 3,200 kilometers in Kazakhstan and 2,100 kilometers in China.

“Turkey, the global actor in the center of Europe and the Middle East with its modern transportation system, economy and cultural continuity, is taking firm steps toward becoming a logistics superpower,” Karaismailoğlu said.

He stressed the country has been taking firm steps forward with major projects, reforms and transport infrastructure that has been developed over the last 18 years.

New era in freight transport

In November 2019, Turkey and the world witnessed a historic moment after Ankara welcomed and sent off the first train that departed for China and Europe passing under the Bosporus via the Marmaray tunnel, marking the realization of the “Silk Railway” dream.

It made the journey on the Turkey-pioneered Trans Caspian East-West Middle Corridor and the Marmaray rail line.

The real Silk Road was an active trade route used between the second century B.C. and the 18th century A.C. that connected China and Europe through Anatolia and the Mediterranean region.

China’s Railway Express directly connects the Czech Republic’s Prague to Xi’an, the capital city of Shaanxi province in central China, via Turkey.

In a statement on Friday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said 10 carriages have successfully operated on the China-Turkey-Europe line so far.

“Turkey will continue taking the necessary steps to further enhance connectivity between the East and the West and to consolidate its central position in its region,” the ministry said.

Within the scope of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to connect Asia, Africa and Europe via roads and sea lanes, the railway is reducing the freight transportation time between China and Turkey from one month to 12 days thanks to the BTK railway line, while the whole route between the Far East and Western Europe takes 18 days with the integration of the Marmaray tunnel.

Stressing the importance of the BRI, Karaismailoğlu noted that that the BTK railway line kickstarted a new era in the field of rail freight transport between Asia and Europe.

The line has become the most important connecting point of the Middle Corridor stretching from Beijing to London and the Iron Silk Road that extends from Kazakhstan to Turkey, the minister said.

On the basis of cooperation between Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia within the scope of the BRI, the BTK railway line established a freight and passenger link between Europe and China and was launched in October 2017.

Providing the shortest rail link between Europe and Asia, the BTK plays an important role in the implementation of the initiative.