Turkish State Railways (Turkiye Cumhuriyeti Devlet Demiryollari, TCDD; § 0216-337 8724; www.tcdd.gov.tr) runs services across the country. Lines laid out during the late Ottoman era rarely follow the shortest route, though a few newer, more direct lines have since been laid, shortening travel times on the best express trains. However, with three nasty train crashes in the space of a few weeks in 2004, including one on the newly inaugurated high-speed Istanbul-Ankara run, some contest that the network needs a complete overhaul. Certainly the government is throwing money at the system, hoping to build a fast-rail network throughout the country. Fast-rail links between Istanbul and Ankara (a new line), Ankara and Konya, Sivas and Kars, and Edirne and Kars have started or are on the drawing board.
The train network covers central and eastern Turkey fairly well, but doesn't go along the coastlines at all, apart from a short stretch between Izmir and Selijuk. For the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts you could go by train to either Izmir or Konya, and take the bus from there.
In terms of what to expect, train travel through Turkey has a growing number of fans embracing the no-rush travel experience: stunning scenery rolling by picture windows, the rhythmic clickity-clacks through a comfy slumber and the immersion with friendly locals. The occasional unannounced hold-up and public toilets gone feral by the end of the long journey are all part of the adventure. And if you're on a budget, an overnight train journey is a great way to save accommodation costs.
© Lonely Planet Publications GETTING AROUND' •• Train 685
According to an old Turkish joke, the Germans were paid by the kilometre to build most of Turkey's railways, and they never used a straight line where a dozen curves would do! You'll certainly come to believe this as your train snakes its way across Turkey, round deep valleys and arid mountains, with occasional glimpses of forts on distant hilltops. Turkish train travel is incredibly cheap, but the best trains are air-conditioned and as good as many in Western Europe. The scenery is often better! Chilling out over a meal and a beer in the restaurant car of an Istanbul-Ankara express is a great way to recover from trekking round the sights of Istanbul, and the night trains from Istanbul to Denizli (for Pamukkale) or Konya are a most romantic and time-effective way to go. Other trains are slower and older, but just put your feet up, open a bottle of wine, and let the scenery come to you!
With thanks to Mark Smith, aka the Man in Seat 61, a global rail travel authority and founder of the mighty fine website, www.seat6l.com. If you're even remotely interested in travelling by train you'll want to check it out.
The key to enjoying train travel in Turkey is to plan stops en route for long-haul trips and to know what to expect in terms of how long a journey will take. For example, the Vangolii Ekspresi from Istanbul to Lake Van (Tatvan), a 1900km trip, takes over 40 hours -and that's an express! The bus takes less than 24 hours, the plane less than two hours. Popular train trips include Istanbul to Ankara, and the overnight trains between Istanbul and Konya, Istanbul and Tehran (Iran), and Istanbul and Aleppo (Syria). Make sure you double-check all train departure times. See the table, pl57, for timetable and costs of trains to/from Istanbul.
Note that train schedules usually indicate stations rather than cities. So most schedules refer to Haydarpaja and Sirkeci rather than Istanbul. For Izmir, you will probably see Basmane and Alsancak, the names of the two main stations.
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