Istanbul-Xi’an new freight train service

On 4 December a new China-bound train set off from Istanbul carrying 42 containers with domestic appliances. The new service is estimated to kick off Turkey’s export trade towards China and provide a faster route from western Europe to the Far East.

The train will cover 8,693 kilometres and will travel through Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan before reaching China. The whole trip will last twelve days and will follow the trans-Caspian east-west middle corridor using the BKT (Baku-Tbilisi-Kars) railways infrastructure.

Strong positioning

The service will be operated by the General Directorate of Turkish State Railways’ (TCDD) official forwarder firm TCDD Taşımacılık A.Ş. and Pasifik Eurasia. Turkish Exporters Assembly (TIM) Chairperson, Ismail Gülle, stated that “the development is significant for the future of Turkey’s exports” since the country intends to expand more in the Chinese market.

On its behalf, the Turkish Foreign Ministry commented that the country “will continue taking all needed steps to enhance connectivity between East and West and to consolidate its central position in the region”. Understandably, this new endeavour constitutes a precisely calculated move that makes Turkey’s role and objectives with regards to Eurasian rail transport explicit.

Marmaray tunnel

A crucial component of the recently established service is the Marmaray underwater tunnel. Beginning its operation in October 2013, the tunnel saw the first train travelling from Turkey to China in November 2019. It is considered playing a crucial role in Eurasian freight transport, as Turkish authorities claim that it reduces travel time from Europe to China to 18 days.

It is also indicative that China’s Railway Express links Prague directly to Xi’an using the specific route and the underwater passage. Time and usage will show whether the particular link could be the shortest between Europe and the Far East. Nevertheless, it certainly provides an extra option for rail transportation and promotes the use of alternative routes and competition.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is the Chief Editor of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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