The Bosphorus Connection

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Turkey has experienced a stormy past year. Scenes from the Taksim Gezi Park are still present in everybody’s mind. However, a very dynamic country, Turkey seems to be moving on fast: last week the country resumed negotiations with the European Union to discuss entry terms. And only a couple of days ago, Turkey managed to successfully finalise a project Ottoman sultans dreamed about 150 years ago already. The opening of the Marmaray rail tunnel, the link between its European and Asian parts, is Turkey’s modern magnum opus.

Europe to Asia in four minutes

Much symbolism has been interpreted into the opening of the Bosphorus tunnel. Trading experts see in it the cherry on the globalisation cake: they know that the new connection can be integrated into an already existing trading route between Europe and China. Actually, now you could get on a train to Beijing in London – what a trip! The city of Istanbul itself seems to be saying: “I’m evidence that intercultural interaction can be driven by engineering”. On a more practical level, the 13.6 kilometre long tunnel was long overdue. A staggering two million people cross the Bosphorus every single day to go to work and back in Turkey’s financial and economic heart.[1] So far, they could only choose one of the two bridges to cross what is considered the world’s narrowest strait. The result: massive traffic congestion on a daily basis. During the morning rush hour the trip across can take hours. The Marmaray is now set to help out. The new sub-sea train will transport an estimated 1.5 million people every day (75.000 per hour!) whereby crossing the sea only takes four minutes.[2] Surely there is no faster way to get from Europe to Asia and vice versa. The train roams around 55 metres deep making it the deepest submerged railway in the world.

Turkey on the rise?

Turkey is very proud of the Marmaray and this is deserved. After all, they are celebrating the realisation of a 150-year-old dream. Construction started in 2004 but had to be interrupted multiple times due to archaeological findings including the remains of the Byzantine Harbour of Eleutherios. Prime Minister Erdogan who surely is experiencing the shakiest period of his governance, must be particularly happy at the moment. The project does divert attention away from the large-scale upheavals this spring. The project shows the potential but should not be a cover-up of the political problems in this country. Could the success of Marmaray be a stepping-stone towards a brighter future for Turkey and maybe also one towards the European Union?

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