Goodbye caravans and hello rail service. Rich in cultural heritage, the Silk Road is one of the oldest trade routes with woven cultures from Central Asia and China. While locals praise the long history that includes journeys of caravans trading gold, exotic critters and ivory, the past has left the path dusty due to harsh climate, desert disturbances and frail pathways. Currently, a $4 billion rail system project, which opened Tuesday, October 29, 2013, will link Asia and Europe, revising tourism for the old Silk Road.
The new 8.3 mile tunnel, christened Marmaray, takes its title from the Sea of Marmara (located at the southern end of Bosporus and “ray” stemming from a Turkish word meaning rail). Construction began over 9 years ago. The tunnel extends beneath Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait, one of the busiest shipping arteries of the world, which will carry passengers from Asia to Europe in 4 minutes. The world’s narrowest strait connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara.
The new tunnel is expected to attract over 1.5 million tourists per day from two sides of Istanbul. The “Iron Silk Road” hopefully will trigger a trade boom, transferring European goods and petroleum products to vast regions throughout Turkey and beyond. Trains should travel all the way to London from traffic laden Istanbul, eventually carrying commuters from Beijing, China. Istanbul’s population is 15 million with over 3 million automobiles. Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim, claims it will be a continuation of the old Silk Road. “Turkey has always been the center of the Silk Road”, states Yildirim. The Transport Minister claims this will streamline the economy to shift focus from west to east. A grand ceremony took place October 29, 2013, coinciding with Turkey’s 90th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.
While the original plan was probably planted in the 1960’s, the progress for a new railway has been slow. There have been several obstacles and challenges while future glitches are definitely to be expected. Marmaray also sits on a seabed that could make it a risk for earthquakes. The project was envisioned by Sultan Abdumecid back in the days of the Ottoman Empire over 150 years ago when French engineers drew up a plan for a submerged tunnel. Today, the rail system is being built by a Japanese-Turkish enterprise.
“Turkey opens its iron “Silk Road”; thenational.ae
“Sultan’s vision realized: New Iron Silk Road’ links Europe, Asia; Salt Lake Tribune