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Turkey’s ‘iron Silk Route’ stirs romantic imagination

The Dh17 billion project will help achieve the long-held dream of rail travel from London to Beijing.

The completion of any big infrastructure project is worth celebrating – especially if it has been 153 years in the making. As The National reported yesterday, the Ottoman ruler Sultan Abdulmecid first proposed building a tunnel under the Bosphorus in 1860. Yesterday, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan opened the 13.6 kilometre project that just does that.

The Dh17 billion Marmaray tunnel has been hailed as the pivotal link in an “iron Silk Route” that will help achieve the long-held dream of contiguous rail travel from London to Beijing.

In the short term, the tunnel will ease the commute between the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. By 2016, the Marmaray railway will extend 77km along the shore of the Sea of Marmara from Gebeze to Halkali, and by 2030 it will be linked in to an 880km-long metro network.

In an age of inexpensive air travel and time-poor tourists, it’s debatable whether there will be a commercial demand for passenger rail services between Britain and China, but the prospect is certainly a romantic one.

The original Orient Express terminated in western Istanbul, and it may be that the temptation of continuing to the Far East may be too great for train buffs, and Agatha Christie fans, to resist.

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