Already linked by bridges, the European and Asian sides of Istanbul are now joined by an undersea train link, as the long-awaited Marmaray finally opens on Republic Day.
The Marmaray, the underwater rail tunnel linking the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, took its maiden journey on Oct. 29 following a grand ceremony celebrating the realization of the government’s first of many mega projects. The ceremony, which coincided with the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic, was attended by Turkish President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, Somali President Hasan Sheikh Mahmud and a number of foreign civil servants. Speaking at the ceremony, President Abdullah Gül said the government’s vision and stability had made the realization of the Marmaray possible.
“An environment of stability and trust established in recent year paved the way for the realization of large projects. In the upcoming period, definitely larger ones will come online,” he said. Erdoğan also said the project was just the first of other giant transportation projects slated for Istanbul and Turkey. Erdoğan began his speech by commemorating Mehmed the Conqueror, who conquered Istanbul in 1453, attributing his government’s strong emphasis on ostensibly “serving the public” to the sultan’s method of ruling.After apologizing to residents in Üsküdar for the disturbance created during the construction work, Erdoğan said; “Every holy birth is painful. We have suffered, but now we will experience this happiness together. You will also thank God,” he said.
The railway system project that will measure approximately 76 kilometers in total is expected to transport around 1 million people per day by connecting the continents in four minutes. The ceremony held on Republic Day only marked the opening of only a small part of the project that will be supported by 63 kilometers of suburban lines. Erdoğan also noted the date of the inauguration ceremony was deliberately picked as the 90th anniversary of Republic. “We have never forgotten the road to the proclamation of the republic,” he said.
The prime minister also boasted about the accomplishments his Justice and Development Party (AKP) has achieved during its 11 years in power.“We have added 17,000 kilometers of roads in 11 years, while there had been [just] 6,100 kilometers of roads constructed throughout the republic’s history. We have multiplied the investments made. There were 26 airports when we came to duty. Today we have surpassed 50,” he said.
However, transportation projects are not the AKP government’s only achievements, he added. “We have given the republic a much stronger structure by decorating [Turkey] with brotherhood, unity, solidarity, justice, equality and democracy networks,” he said. Erdoğan also said the Marmaray was not only connecting two continents but also realizing a century-old dream. The idea of the tunnel was first floated by Ottoman sultan Abdülmecid in 1860, but technical equipment at the time was not good enough to take the project further. “This project that was dreamed of 153 years ago, has been happily realized by our government,” President Abdullah Gül also said.
Tokyo-Istanbul-London line vision
Speaking before Erdoğan, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had called on everybody to dream of a high-speed train beginning in Tokyo and passing through Istanbul on the way to London, drawing praise from the audience and Erdoğan. “Tokyo, Beijing, London, Üsküdar: Can it be? It can. The Marmaray is the project of all our brothers in Beijing, London and Tokyo,” Erdoğan said, responding Abe’s call. Abe also repeated his amicable messages that stressed the warm relations between Turkey and Japan, while speaking at the ceremony.
“Turkish people have been progressing by preserving their history and traditions carefully. As the ones coming from the east of the Asia, we know very well about the problems you experience in the west of Asia,” he said. Along with Parliamanetary Speaker Cemil Çiçek, Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Kadir Topbaş, Gov. Hüseyin Avni Mutlu and Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım at the ceremony, the Romanian prime minister also hit the stage. Noting that the project would again connect Europe and Asia, this time through railways as a new Silk Road, Ponta described the Marmaray as a great achievement, “which could only succeed with great people and great leadership.”