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Turkey: Transportation and Communications
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Services > Transportation and Communications


Under the Ottomans, foreign companies constructed the portion of the Berlin-to-Baghdad railroad that crossed Turkey, as well as a few other lines used mostly for mining development and the export of agricultural products. Atatürk and the nationalists took an active interest in the development of the railroad system for strategic reasons, setting up the Turkish Republic State Railways (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Devlet Demiryollari Isletmesi Genel Müdürlügü -- TCDD) in 1920. The nationalists set two priorities for railroad development: extending lines to major areas, such as eastern Anatolia and the new capital at Ankara, and buying out foreign railroad interests. The TCDD invested large sums during its first two decades, bringing all railroads under state control by 1948 and increasing track lengths from 4,018 kilometers in 1923 to 7,324 kilometers in 1950. By 1950 the rail system linked the major areas and accounted for about three-quarters of surface freight traffic.

After 1950 the railroads received only small investments and insufficient maintenance because of increasing emphasis on road transport. By the 1970s, the tracks and rolling stock were in poor condition and the TCDD was running chronic deficits, partly because of its low rate structure. In the 1970s, as mining expanded to support the metalworking and fuel industries, the railroads received additional funds to expand and upgrade service.

Between 1985 and 1992, the rail network grew modestly, from 8,193 kilometers of track to 8,430 kilometers. Almost all rail was single-tracked and nonelectrified. Although rail lines linked most important cities, there were few cross connections between lines, and routes were often circuitous. Passengers preferred other means of transport because the railroads were slow and unsafe; in 1982 there were 210 train collisions and 737 derailments. As a result of increased use of trucks, the railroads carried only one-quarter of surface freight, mostly long-haul bulk commodities.

After World War II, transportation development concentrated on the road system. As a result, by early 1995 Turkey had nearly 59,770 kilometers of all-weather highways, of which about 27,000 kilometers were paved. There were also some 308,000 kilometers of gravel and earth roads in rural areas. The government planned to build 3,000 additional kilometers by the year 2000 and to upgrade existing roads.

The Özal administration in the early 1980s began a major project that was expected to result in highways that would traverse the country, making it possible for Turkey to handle increased levels of freight between Europe and the Middle East. This project, along with the second bridge across the Bosporus, would form a 3,600-kilometer link in a 10,000-kilometer trans-European highway going from Gdansk on the Baltic Sea to cities on the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf.

Several road and highway improvements were underway in the mid-1990s. The four-lane highway linking Ankara, Istanbul, and Edirne is complete except for a thirty-kilometer stretch under construction west of Bolu. Another four-lane highway in the southeast, designed to link Gaziantep with Mersin via Adana, lacks about eighty kilometers west of Gaziantep. Another offshoot of this highway that would connect with Iskenderun via Dörtyol is under construction. Other highways in the planning stage include improved links between Iskenderun and Antalya, Ankara and Adana, and Istanbul and Izmir. Additional highways are needed because traffic is extremely dense around major cities in western Anatolia, creating frequent traffic jams and contributing to a high accident rate.

Truck transport of surface freight increased from about 25 percent of the total of such freight in 1950 to more than 75 percent by the mid-1980s. According to one source, in 1984 trucks carried about 40 percent of exports by tonnage. As the oil boom hit the Persian Gulf states and imports clogged their ports during the mid-1970s, heavy truck traffic passed through Turkey. By 1985, however, transit traffic had fallen off somewhat as a result of the fall in demand from oil-exporting countries and a cutback on purchases by Iran and Iraq. The end of the Iran-Iraq War modestly helped revive transit traffic, which was disrupted again by the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the resulting UN embargo. In the mid-1990s, goods moved by truck accounted for 27 percent of total export tonnage.

Shipping is much less important than land transport, but capacity expanded rapidly in the early 1990s. The Özal administration encouraged the growth of Turkey's merchant marine by granting tax rebates to companies registering their ships under the Turkish flag. As a result, the fleet grew from about 1.7 million gross registered tons (GRT) in 1975 to about 2.5 million GRT in 1983. In 1990 the merchant marine's 2,996 cargo ships had a combined capacity of about 3.8 million GRT. A large number of these ships were owned by the Maritime Bank (Denizcilik Bankasi) and Deniz Nakliyati, a large private company. In the 1980s and early 1990s, private cargo lines expanded rapidly. Aside from the ferry across Lake Van, internal shipping is insignificant because few of Turkey's rivers are navigable.

Five ports handle the bulk of the country's sea freight. Istanbul is the most important port, followed by Mersin, Izmir, Iskenderun, and Kocaeli. There are also many small ports along the country's extensive coastline; coastal shipping is substantial, particularly of such bulk commodities as coal and iron ore. Cargo handling is slow and storage limited, however. The main oil terminals near Iskenderun handle both domestic and Iraqi crude. In 1992 ships brought 60 million tons of cargo to Turkey; 26 million tons were exported by sea.

Turkey has 105 usable airports, sixty-nine of which have paved runways. Turkish Airlines (Türk Hava Yollari -- THY), plagued by a poor safety record in the 1970s, fought its way back to profitability during the 1980s, although heavy capital expenditures in the 1990s put it back in the red. By 1995 it was a prime candidate for partial privatization, which was expected to net the government US$300 million. By 1985 Turkish Airlines was serving thirty-six international and sixteen domestic destinations with a fleet that had been recently augmented by the purchase of several Airbus Industrie A-310 passenger aircraft. Much of the company's international business involves serving the many Turks who work in Europe and the Middle East. Domestic flights are popular because surface travel between major cities is time consuming; THY's domestic services probably will be further upgraded. In 1992 the total number of passengers carried to, from, or within Turkey on all airlines landing in Turkey reached about 13.8 million (about 2.8 million domestic and 11 million international); the domestic carrier transported about 2.4 million passengers within Turkey and about 1.7 million international passengers. Private airlines entered the market in the 1980s; Istanbul Airlines and Green Air handle both domestic and foreign routes.

Turkey's archaic telecommunications system, which had long been overloaded, received expanded domestic and international lines in the 1980s and early 1990s. Until the 1980s, more than half of Turkey's villages lacked telephone connections, and customers had to wait years to get telephones installed. In the early 1980s, authorities designed a program to eliminate the waiting list for telephones; make service available to all of the country's settlements; and install countrywide automatic dialing, a new telex system, and a connection with the European telecommunications satellite. The number of telephones increased from about 351,000 in 1966 to an estimated 7.96 million by the end of 1991.

The Turkish Radio-Television Corporation (Türkiye Radyo-Televizyon Kurumu -- TRT) has flagship radio stations in Ankara and Istanbul, with subsidiary networks in fifteen other urban centers. Frequency modulation (FM) transmitters are located in ten cities, including Ankara and Istanbul. In addition to Turkish, broadcasts are made in Albanian, Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Chinese, English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Persian, Romanian, Serbo-Croatian, and Urdu. Turkish television has two main channels that reach more than forty population centers. The Istanbul area has three additional channels. In early 1995, the Turkish population had some 8.8 million radios and some 10.53 million television sets.

Data as of January 1995

Last Updated: January 1995

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Turkey was first published in 1995. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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