The Turkish government has announced plans to spend TRY50 billion ($32.5 billion) on the country's railway network of 2023, adding 10,000km of new rail tracks, almost doubling the existing 11,000km, and making other improvements. While the move will initially target passenger traffic into the major cities, it could make the movement of parts and finished vehicles more efficient and may also lead to an increase in the number of logistics companies offering multi-modal services.
As Dr Ercan Tezer, general secretary of Turkey’s Automotive Manufacturers Association told Automotive Logistics News, “the new railway project, as a part of balanced transport modes, is highly appreciated and supported by our industry; a developed, effective logistic system always pays back to the industrial operations.” 
But before such a change can happen, industry players say that rail freight needs to be taken more seriously in the country, having been neglected for the last 30-40 years, according to Tezer, due to the relatively cheaper investment cost in road construction. Since 2003 the government has been paying more attention to the establishment of a more balanced mode of transport in the country but this remains something of a challenge considering that threats to the manufacture and import of commercial vehicles are also a factor.
For inbound, the Turkish automotive sector is dependent on a supply chain that stretches a considerable distance into Europe and the time taken to cross national borders by rail is lengthy. Ford Otosan, to take one example, relies on an inbound rail service operated by joint venture Omfesa Logistics that links its Kocaeli plant in Turkey with parts coming from Ford’s Cologne plant in Germany, as well as services from Spain and the UK. But once in Turkey there are infrastructure problems with rail that cause further delays and have kept it behind road as the principal method of transport in the country.
“The automotive sector is not always that keen on rail freight for inbound so I think the main attraction would be finished vehicles,” said Transport Intelligence analyst Thomas Cullen.
But while two-thirds of the vehicles manufactured in Turkey are exported, the industry has largely neglected the opportunity that rail offers to move cars from the country’s automotive facilities.
Large parts of Turkey's rail network date from the days of the Ottoman Empire and the evidence of finished vehicle movements by rail does not seem to have changed much since then.
Ford Otosan’s executive vice president of purchasing, Cengiz Kabatepe, makes clear in the most recent edition of Automotive Logistics magazine that while improvements are planned to overcome these obstacles, “these have some way to go” (read more here).
The recent investment plans announced by Turkey’s transport minister, Binali Yildirim, also have some way to go if the automotive industry is to make greater use of rail. According to Baris Dogan, manager of Supply Chain at Avon Automotive, this will also depend on further investment in cross docks and the ability to win over those providers who have invested in the preferred method of truck transport.
Dogan believes that the railway investment will lead to an increased number of logistics companies offering multimodal services instead of simply truck transport.
“Services to cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Bursa, Ýzmir and Ankara necessitates concurrent investment for cross docks to utilise railway transport,” said Dogan. Otherwise the current congestion in cities will increase rather than ease.
This may lead to lesser local sales of trucks too,” she warned.
According to Dogan, road and highway infrastructure in Turkey followed vehicle sales increases over the past decade, begging the question, will the industry be able to redefine routes in advance of the shift to a multimodal approach, or even an eventual predominance of rail for intercity movements?
And moreover, are large parts of the logistics industry even going to want to make the change?
“Will heavy-duty truck and bus manufacturers, and importers, see railway investments as a threat to their share or an opportunity for a greener logistics opportunity to be spread? asked Dogan. “Believing the latter is being optimistic.”