I did it! I rode the Marmaray. I crossed in a tunnel under the Bosporus in under 5 minutes and avoided certain death. Seriously, at the other end I was expecting to get an “I Survived the Marmaray!” t-shirt. At the very least they could’ve given me a cookie.
What is the Marmaray, you ask? It’s one of the biggest and most controversial infrastructure projects ever undertaken – a commuter rail line under the Bosporus, connecting Europe with Asia in Istanbul. There are already two bridges crossing the Bosporus, but with ridiculous traffic clogging both of them and ferry traffic already at a maximum, a new solution was needed for this ever-growing city.
The Marmary is the world’s deepest tube tunnel at over 60m (198ft) deep. Construction started on May 9, 2004, and the tunnel finally opened October 29, 2013 – over three years late. When completely finished, it will connect the city with a rail line over 76km (43 miles). The project so far has cost over US$2.5 billion.
Why the delays? In 2005, workers unearthed the Harbor of Eleutherios, a 4th century Byzantine harbor at Yenikapı that silted up and was filled in during Ottoman times. Archaeologists slowed the project to a near-halt after finding traces of the walls of Roman emperor Constantine the Great and the only early Medieval galley ever discovered, along with about 35 Byzantine ships, pottery fragments, weights, bones, and other artifacts. There were several other pieces found in the dig between this point and the Bosporus.
Why controversial? The cost. The delays. The government. And, oh yes, the earthquakes. The tunnel sits near one of the most active faults in the world. Basically, it’s a death trap. And yes, I was a little nervous that “The Big One” would hit just as I was passing through. Still, engineers say that they have solved the problem by making the tunnel flexible and adding floodgates and re-enforcements to the seabed. However, on the first day of operation, there were technical problems causing the train to stop. Passengers had to walk through the tunnel! The government blamed “curious passengers” for hitting the emergency stop button. Nice try.