Historic railway light comes to light

Historic railway light comes to light
Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Kâğıthane-Kemerburgaz-Ağaçlı-Çiftalan railway line, begun in 1914, has been uncovered. Only two of these invaluable wagons remain in the world. One of them was found abandoned in the Amasya Çeltek Coal Mines.

ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

 A secret in the archives of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid in Yıldız Palace has been revealed. Kağıthane Municipality press advisor Hüseyin Irmak started researching the district's history in 1999. Thanks to random maps and pictures he found in the archives, Irmak uncovered the history of the Kâğıthane-Kemerburgaz-Ağaçlı-Çiftalan railway line. The construction of the railway line began on Feb. 1, 1915, with a decision of the military government, and finished on June 30, 1916. Irmak decided to investigate further and uncovered a high-quality master copy of the historical map. Starting his research in Kağıthane, Irmak followed the railway route, which is estimated to be around 62 kilometers, and turned to local residents to gather information. The railway starts in Kağıthane, goes through the Maslak district and Belgrade forest, ending in the village of Çiftalan on the Black Sea coast. Irmak also gained access to 20 photos in the archives of Professor Emre Dölen, construction supervisor of the Fatih Sultan Mehmed Bridge over the Bosporus.

 Irmak's research revealed that the part of the line within the Kağıthane and Şişli district borders is occupied by highways, and the part within the Belgrade forests was destroyed by the villagers. Over time, villagers had used most of the wooden railway ties as fuel for heating, and the Roma around the district secretly sold the iron parts. Another four-kilometer-long section within the Belgrade forest lay hidden under earth and leaves. With careful research and the help of local residents, Irmak found the section in good shape last year.

 There were 30 wagons on the railway line, produced by the Germans as a special series in 1910. The wagons were first transported to Gallipoli and used in mines. Later, they simply disappeared. Recently only two of these rare wagons remained the world, one in Latin America and the other in Turkey, Irmak told the Turkish Daily News in an exclusive interview.

 The wagon in Latin America is lost and the Germans want the one in Turkey, Irmak said. He contacted Alain Prior, a specialist in repair and maintenance of old English locomotives, and with his help located the historic wagon. He found it abandoned in the coalmines in Çeltek, in the Turkish province of Amasya. The historic railway was included in Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality's zoning plan but was never protected, said Irmak. The line will be used for tourism in the future.


Railway line a foreign policy issue

 According to Irmak, the first railway line in the Ottoman Empire was funded by the English and constructed from İzmit to Aydın between 1856 and 1866. The railway system measured 8,344 kilometers between 1856 and 1922. The railways caused large foreign policy problems between England, Germany, France and Russia during this period, Irmak said, relying on historical research. Foreigners, including non-Muslim Armenians and Greeks, ran the railway system within the borders of the Ottoman Empire, and official documents were written in English, French and German.

 There were serious problems using the railway line during the Balkan War, although it lay within the empire's borders, so the army decided to build a new train line. Military and civil engineers built the “Hejaz Railway” with local facilities and financial resources. The “Hejaz Railway,” 1,303 kilometers long, was started in Damascus in 1900 and ended in Medina in 1908. With the outbreak of World War I, the Black Sea passage was controlled by the Russians, who sank English ships carrying coal to Istanbul to meet the capital's energy demand, thereby causing an energy shortage. At this point, the military, which ruled the Ottoman Empire, turned to resources on the borders of the empire to solve energy problems, said Irmak. They decided to use the coalmines in the Ağaçdibi Çiftalan basin in the Black Sea region that had been known but unused since Byzantine times. After investigating the region, the military concluded that power production in the Ağaçdibi Çiftalan basin would prove efficient and there was no more need for English coal, said Irmak, relying on his research.

 The idea of a railway line was then added to the agenda. The line was built in a year, from Kağıthane through Maslak and the Belgrade forest to Çiftalan on the Black Sea.


Villagers burnt the wooden parts of the railway and Roma sold the iron

 Irmak found a detailed, well-worn map of the railway line from the beginning of the 20th century. He decided to turn to experts and obtained a color copy of the map, thus clarifying the railway's route. Thanks to the archives of Professor Dölen, Irmak had access to photographs in the archives of Dölen's grandfather Mukadder Dölen, who had taken part in the line's construction when he was a military officer. Thanks to his friend Mert Sandalcı, Irmak took part in auctions. He learned at a pharmaceutical seminar that a retired general knew about the railway line in the southern province of Antalya. Tracing all of these connections, Irmak traced the railway line according to the data on the map.

 Irmak was still hungry for more information on the line, so he turned to the inhabitants of villages near the railway line. With the information from the villagers, Irmak uncovered the part of the railway in the Belgrade forest. Although villagers had taken much of the wood to use as fuel and Roma had taken iron to sell, a five-kilometer part of the line lying under tons of fallen leaves was still in very good shape. Doing his research among tons of leaves, Irmak brought the remaining parts and mile stones of the line to light. He passed his research on to the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, which included the railway line in the zoning plan but never provided protection for it.


Kağıthane destroyed systematically

 From 1934 to 1943 Kağıthane's history was systematically destroyed by the government, said Irmak, adding that state officials removed parts of the palaces to use in their villas. Irmak unexpectedly found photos of the railway line while researching in the archives of the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid in Yıldız Palace. Kağıthane today is a slum area, but it had been the flower of the Empire, with a history dating back to the sixth century B.C., and had a long, rich culture.


Germans after the invaluable wagon in Turkey

 There is no evidence of what happened to the railway wagons produced in Germany in 1910, according to Irmak, who added that the wagons are treasures and 29 are lost. Energy policies shifted toward oil in 1952, and coalmines lost their popularity. The wagons were first transported to Gallipoli, but nothing else was heard of them. With engineer Prior's help, Irmak learned about the location and technical features of the wagon in Turkey in great detail. The wagon was in the Çeltek coalmines' management building in the Amasya province, said Irmak, explaining that the line there passes over aqueducts built by the chief Ottoman architect Sinan. The historical line should be used as a tourist attraction and the wagon should be brought to Istanbul, which could attract at least 500,000 tourists a year from Germany alone, Irmak said.

 The length of the Kâğıthane-Kemerburgaz-Ağaçlı-Çiftalan railway line as shown on the map

 Silahdarağa to Birgos (Kemerburgaz): 19.5 kilometers

 Birgos to Çiftalan: 14 kilometers

 Birgos to Ağaçlı: 23.5 kilometers

 Ağaçlı to Çiftalan: 5 kilometers

 Total length: 62 kilometers  




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