Down under, or: Marmaray

With a shock the elevator came to a standstill. Exactly 62 metres beneath the surface of the Bosporus. With a helmet on my head and a reflecting orange jacket I stepped out into the tunnel. Look, there is the arch where the metro will come out! And hey, so this is going to be Üsküdar metro station? And Sirkeci station is in that direction? Let’s go!

Okay, I didn’t make it all the way to Sirkeci station under construction, but with a group of people I did walk about one kilometre into the tunnel that is being constructed to connect the Anatolian and European sides of Istanbul. The whole metro line is 76 kilometers long, connecting the far western end of the city to Gebze, a suburb of Anatolian Istanbul. The track underneath the water is 1.5 kilometres long, going from 26 metres deep to more than 50, and then up again. The tunnel is, by the way, not dug underneath the Bosporus, but was sunk down and is resting on the sea bed.

So much for the statistics. I was invited to go down under by the municipality where I live, Üsküdar. That’s where the metro line will go underwater. I was invited via twitter: the Üsküdar municipality has a twitter account that is not only sending, but really interacting with its followers. They saw that I often tweet about the suburb. So I was invited, along with around 25 other tweeps (some of them journalist colleagues) from inside and outside Üsküdar. Of course I didn’t hesitate for a second!

The metro line will sure change Üsküdar. For one thing, once it’s opened, the area around the harbour will not be a huge construction site anymore and the view over the Bosporus will be open again – never saw it without the construction site, so I’m very curious. House prices will go up (it’s about time I bought some property here – if I find an investment partner ;-)). Maybe in people’s minds the Anatolian side will not be ‘far away’ anymore. Üsküdar is actually already a very central neighbourhood, with great boat connections to the European side till late at night, but to some it is still ‘the other side’, and thus far away. That might change when there are long trains going from east to west and vice versa every two (!) minutes.

Istanbul needs more of these public transport projects. Not too long ago, the metrobus system started up: a free lane for long buses taking commuters ultra fast to and from places in the city that are a total pain in the ass to reach by car. I used it a few times and even though it’s always packed with people, it was a delight to speed past the traffic jams. The Marmaray line will be opened on October 29, 2013, when Turkey celebrates its 90th Republic Day. Will I use it a lot? I’m not sure. The boat between Üsküdar and Sirkeci (it will remain in service, won’t it?) is one of my favourites. Could an underwater railway ever change that?

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