ISTANBUL - Commuting in Istanbul can be a treacherous and tedious task but the Metropolitan Municipality is taking steps to make rush hour less stressful. This weekend several much anticipated metro stops opened across the city but not all went smoothly for commuters yesterday.
Significant headway has been made in the building of the mass transportation system in Istanbul, and the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality opened major metro line extensions over the weekend, but this has not been achieved without causing some confusion.
The opening of the new and much anticipated extension of four additional stops to the Taksim-4. Levent metro line brought thousands of commuters to metro stations Monday. Most commuters who ventured to the freshly built stations were en route to work, but trains came to a halt at the 4. Levent station and did not continue to the next stop, the brand-new Sanayi Mahallesi station.
As confusion spread, rumors that commuters needed to change cars or that trains had a longer than normal stop at the 4. Levent station circulated and passengers got off trains and waited on the platform. They finally received word from a metro official that trains would be running from 4. Levent to the new stops, Sanayi Mahallesi, ITU Ayazaga and Atatürk Oto Sanayi, only from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Passengers then streamed out of the station and headed to their normal transportation option above ground to finish their journey in crowded and unreliable minibuses that were stuck in traffic. For now, this new metro line is only serving midday commuters, but is scheduled to open rush hour passengers who want to travel from Taksim to Maslak.
The other new openings over the weekend included an additional station on the north-south line with a stop at Şişhane, which connects Tunel at the end of Istiklal to Taksim Square. Four new stations will now mean commute time, from Sishane to Maslak, is roughly 25 minutes. With its additional tracks, the line now spans 15 kilometers. The line’s extension cost the city 525 million Turkish liras to construct and 127 million liras for the 92 additional wagons needed for the line. Each new wagon has a passenger capacity of 56 seated and 185 standing passengers and can safely reach 80 kilometers per hour.
The line is expected to be extended even further, adding a section that will run from 4. Levent to Seyrantepe with three stops in between. The branch is still under construction as are three other metro lines. The municipality has reportedly secured 1,571 billion euros for the ongoing projects that will extend the metro lines in Istanbul by 27.4 kilometers. Crude construction on the Edirnekapı-Topkapı line has been completed and trial runs of the metro line will begin in a few days. By the end of 2009, the municipality expects to open a 5.6 kilometer metro line from Otogar to Bağcılar and a 15.9 kilometer metro line connecting Bağcılar to Olimpiyat Koyu.
The plans for the metro lines in 2010 are to add an additional 13.5 kilometers for the Marmaray, a 4-kilometer addition to the suburban rail system, and 54.5 kilometers of new underground metro rail. It is anticipated that once completed there will be a total of 217 kilometers of rail system in Istanbul.
With the local elections ahead, many notable figures from the Justice and Development party, or AKP, were in attendance at openings over the weekend, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The man who was front and center, though, was Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş who had harsh words for his opponents. "It is not easy to build new metro lines in Istanbul. It is not easy to put this system in place. Planning routes requires serious time and study," he said. Topbaş added they had a three-year plan for four additional lines, Üsküdar-Ümraniye, Bakırköy-Beylikdüzü, Kabataş-Beşiktaş-Çağlayan-Alibeyköy-Tekstilkent, Bakırköy İDO-Bağcılar Kirazlı, which would total over 80 kilometers.
More rail commuters
Topbaş also said rail system use had increased from 402,000 commuters a day to 1.09 million and that with the openings over the weekend, the number was expected to increase to 1.5 million. Expected daily passenger numbers would reach 7 million per day by 2012, said Topbaş. He said his hope was that over time the rail system would account for 28 percent of all public transportation. By 2023 Topbaş said he hoped to see Istanbul’s rail system extended by 618 kilometers.
Topbaş also spoke about the controversial but much needed "7 hills, 7 tunnels" project, an ambitious road system to connect a number of hills through a network of tunnels. The project is aimed at reducing neighborhood traffic. The project has received criticism from some neighborhood activists for displacing mainly poor peope but is a welcome move for vehicular commuters who hope to avoid traffic delays. Topbaş said that within the 7 hills, 7 tunnels project, 142.4 kilometers of tunnel roads had been constructed across 33 different sites.