The lost railroad

The mystery of the vanished Haliç-Karadeniz Field Railway, built to transport coal and troops, has finally been solved.

At a conference he attended in 1999, researcher and collector Mert Sandalcı happened to overhear a conversation between Professor Emre Dölen and the person sitting next to him. They were speaking of a railroad between Kağıthane and Kemerburgaz during the First World War. The reference rang a bell with Sandalcı, who made a connection between twelve black-and-white postcards titled, 'A railroad in Europe', he had purchased earlier at an auction and photographs taken by Prof. Dölen's father, Mukadder Dölen, during the construction of the railroad in 1916. Taking the photographs in hand and setting out to investigate, the grandson, Prof. Dr. Emre Dölen, followed in his grandfather's footsteps 83 years on. Now asking old people, now losing his way in deserted forests, Dölen followed the trail of the rail line, uncovering its track from beginning to end. Also found in the ensuing study were kilometer stones, railroad workers' housing, and the ruins of wooden bridges. The Kağıthane Municipality embarked on efforts to arouse interest in the historic rail line as well, and a book, 'The Kağıthane-Kemerburgaz-Ağaçlı-Çiftalan Railroad: 1914-1916', was published at the initiative of then-mayor Arif Calban. This was followed by a documentary film, 'Dream Stations', produced by the Ministry of Culture.

Although coal was not widely used as a universal fuel prior to the First World War, passenger and cargo vessels and the warships attached to the Ottoman Fleet, as well as steam-powered military and civilian factories, railroads and the Silahtarağa Power Plant which went into service in Istanbul in 1914, all consumed it in significant amounts. At the outbreak of the First World War, the Dardanelles straits were closed to traffic, disrupting coal supplies via the Mediterranean. Since the rail link with Germany was interrupted as well, it was difficult to secure coal from this source, leaving Zonguldak as the sole remaining supply. But the ships allocated to transport Zonguldak coal by sea were sunk by Russian warships and submarines from time to time, a situation that impacted adversely on rail transport through the Dardanelles especially. At the same time the City Ferry Lines had cut back their number of personnel and ferry runs. When these problems surfaced in Istanbul's inner-city maritime transport, the City Lines engaged in efforts to bring new sources of coal into play, experimenting for this purpose with bringing to Istanbul the lignite found in the area known as Ağaçlı west of Kilyos on the Black Sea coast, which gave good results when mixed in a ratio of one to three with the coal coming from Zonguldak. The lignite beds at Ağaçlı begin at Kilyos north of the Bosporus and cover a 25 sq km area extending as far as Lake Terkos.

Following the City Lines' initiative, the coal mines at Ağaçlı were appropriated by the military government, after which the mines at Çiftalan were also enlisted into service, thereby opening up both Ağaçlı and Çiftalan to processing in 1915. To transport this coal to Istanbul, it was decided to build a 45-km long narrow gauge railroad between Kağıthane and Ağaçlı. Following studies to determine the route,  construction of the railroad commenced on 1 February 1915, and at the beginning of July the Kağıthane-Ağaçlı line opened for service.  In its wake the Kemerburgaz-Çiftalan line was also completed on 30 June 1916.

The railroad had four major stations: Kağıthane (Enverpaşa opposite the Atıye Sultan Palace), Pirgos (Kemerburgaz), Ağaçlı (İsmail Hakkı Paşa) and Çiftalan.

Having been secured from Germany and stored at the Ayastefanos (Yeşilköy) Chemin de Fer depot, the locomotive, the prefabricated railroad itself and other equipment were brought to the Golden Horn by barge and raft. The daily capacity of the line, operated by the Yeşilköy Chemin de Fer, was twenty-four double-trains of eight cars each, with an average of 960 tons of coal transported over the line per day.

In addition to transporting coal, the narrow gauge line that operated between the Terkos Pumping Station and Karaburun also carried railroad employees and their families back and forth to the seaside during the summer months and was consequently dubbed 'the suburban train'.

At the end of the 1920's, the narrow gauge began to run first from Kemerburgaz to Ağaçlı and Çiftalan. But after operating briefly between Kağıthane and Kemerburgaz for the Armed Forces, the locomotive and rail cars were scrapped at the beginning of the 1950s and the life of the railroad came to an end.

The rails and ties of the narrow gauge railroad, no trace of which remains today, were carted off with impunity by scrap dealers and nomads. Later the section of the track through the forest was also dismantled, and the wooden bridges were burned as heating fuel by the forestry workers. Today not a trace remains of the track between Kağıthane and Kemerburgaz, and the Kemerburgaz-Ağaçlı highway has obliterated all traces of it in this area as well. Although the wooden bridges too have all vanished without a trace, evidence of the rails of the Kemerburgaz-Çiftalan track can be found in the Belgrade Forest.

Originally built to transport coal and troops, the vanished Golden Horn - Black Sea Field Railway has become a new favorite with tourists to Istanbul, a large number of whom now tour the lost line in the company of guides. As a result of this interest, in the very near future perhaps the foundations are going to be laid for a new/old railroad starting from the Sad-abad Picnic Ground and running to the Black Sea. This nostalgic railroad will enable people to establish a bridge from past to future. Says Hüseyin Irmak, press consultant to the Kağıtghane Municipality for thirteen years and father of the idea for the historic Kağıthane Train: “We located one of the German-made locomotives, only two of which are left in the world, at Amasya. The Germans are after it since they can't get their hands on the other one, which is inaccessible somewhere in Latin America.” The mayor of the Kağıthane Municipality, Fazlı Kılıç, gives this information about the project: “The reconstruction of the narrow gauge line starting from Silahtarağa and running through Kağıthane to the Black Sea is an Istanbul project. Its every car a different color, a train is going to start from the Golden Horn, run all the way through Sad-abad and emerge from the forests of Kemerburgaz to the Black Sea thereby linking it to the Golden Horn.”