Long hailed as the crossroads of civilisations and a bridge between continents, Turkey is now looking to upgrade its physical infrastructure in a bid to improve competitiveness. With a growing population of just under 75m, it faces bottlenecks in moving people and goods across its vast area and through its crowded cities. Moreover, strengthening ties in trade and tourism with Europe, Asia and the Middle East make it imperative to improve international transport connections.

The government has ambitious plans for each of the main transport modes. Turkish Airlines (THY), the national flagship carrier, has come a long way in establishing Istanbul as a transit hub for passengers heading to Asia and Africa. In rail, Turkey is upgrading its ageing network and planning high-speed links both within the country and with its neighbours. Expansions to Ankara and Istanbul’s metro networks are also under way. Turkey’s extensive coastline, meanwhile, makes sea transport an attractive shipping option, and there are plans to expand and upgrade the country’s ports. Finally, Turkey is adding new roads and bridges to cope with burgeoning vehicle traffic and car ownership figures.

The government is counting on private sector interest to bankroll some of the biggest transport projects. The main financing mechanisms will be the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, privatisation of operating rights and direct public funding. While relying on private investment will save the Treasury billions and encourage cost-effective project management, the authorities will need to be consistent and transparent in their planning. Realistic expectations and clear communication will be the key to unlocking the transport puzzle and enabling continued economic growth.

THE LONG & WINDING ROAD: The country’s road network will be a major investment focus in 2012, with tenders for highway privatisations and major construction projects scheduled for April and May. Turkey is more dependent on roads than the denser, more rail-heavy economies of Europe. According to Eurostat, 97.8% of inland transport is road-based, compared to 92.7% in the EU-27 grouping. The number of vehicles on the road is increasing along with Turkish prosperity – passenger cars’ share of land transport rose from 46% in 2000 to 51% of the total in 2008. This increase in demand for infrastructure, combined with long-term urbanisation, is leading authorities to promote metro and rail solutions within cities. However, more highways and bridges will be needed to ease congestion.

One of the landmark undertakings in urban roadways is the planned third Bosphorus bridge, which will be located north of Istanbul near the Black Sea. Long on the government’s agenda despite concerns from environmentalists and urban planners, the project was first tendered in January 2012. A total of 18 companies had purchased tender specifications for the North Marmara Highway development, which was to include some 415 km of roads in addition to the bridge. However, an unfavourable funding environment and concerns about the project’s scope produced no bids and the government was forced to delay the project again.

A NEW ROUND: Four bidders took part in the new tender for the Marmara Highway Project in April 2012, with a consortium of Turkey’s İçtaş and Italy’s Astaldi winning the contract at the end of May. The group promises to open the bridge in 2015, with the full project scheduled to take just over 10 years to complete.

When the second tender was announced, Şule K›l›ç, managing director and head of financial advisory at Unicredit, expected the changes made to the second tender, which reduced the scope of highway construction, would be crucial to drawing bids. According to a fact sheet from the Department of Transportation, maximum fees would be $0.06 per km for roads and $3 ( one-way) for the bridge itself. This makes the bridge the most valuable asset of the project. Bundling it with the road networks represented an attempt to mix good assets with bad to make the project financially viable.

Another change was the inclusion of traffic guarantees. The idea is that if vehicle numbers dip below a predetermined minimum, the government will pay the remainder of the fees the private operator would have earned, providing a public backstop. “Banks do not want to take on any market risk for this project,” K›l›ç said, “so the traffic guarantees will be important in minimising the downside.”

At the same time, there was widespread dissatisfaction among private sector participants with the way the government handled the project planning process. Standard geotechnical and environmental studies were not completed, which makes it difficult for companies to estimate the costs required to carry out the project. In addition, the proposed location has drawn criticism, as the bridge is well to the north of the most crowded areas of the city. While traffic guarantees are often a standard feature of many public-private partnerships (PPPs), there were concerns that they were engineered to prop up what could be an otherwise financially unfeasible project.

Moreover, the route passes through some of the last remaining green spaces in Istanbul. Professor Haluk Gerçek of Istanbul Technical University told reporters in March 2011 that the bridge and construction resulting from it could “destroy all the wetlands and forests, which we describe as being the lungs of the city”. Others saw a hidden motive in its location. “The factor that determines the selection of location is not the easing of traffic,” wrote columnist Metin Münir in the local press, “but the zoning of Istanbul’s vacant areas for housing and to create construction income unprecedented in the city’s history.” These issues may have contributed to the multiple delays on the contract, which was originally scheduled to be awarded in August 2011, then tendered (unsuccessfully) in January 2012 and again in April 2012, and finally awarded in May.

A BRIDGE TO IZMIR: Other initiatives, like the Gebze-Izmir motorway, are gaining more traction. The 421-km highway will connect Gebze, just outside Istanbul, with Izmir on the Aegean coast, and includes the construction of a bridge over the Izmit Bay. A concession was awarded in 2009 to a consortium consisting of Italian contractor Astaldi and five Turkish companies. The BOT project is expected to reach an estimated cost of $6.3bn and will be paid for by tolls as part of a 22-year, four-month concession.

When operational – the bridge by 2015, the highway by 2018 – the government will guarantee an annual $690m in traffic fees. Astaldi, with its Turkish partners and the Japanese Itochu Corporation that is building the bridge, will seek $3.5bn in loans for the project. Construction should begin in 2012. The bridge will replace a 70-minute detour around Izmit Bay with a six-minute crossing, while the travel time between Istanbul and Izmir will decrease by at least three hours.

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of Gebze-Izmir are the participants in the Eurasia Tunnel project, which will connect Istanbul’s European and Asian sides with a submerged car tunnel under the Bosphorus. Around 1 km south of the much-hyped Marmaray rail project, this is a 14.6-km route, one-third of which will be the tunnel. The main Turkish contractor, Yap› Merkez, partnered with four Korean companies, signed an agreement with Turkey’s highway directorate in 2011, under the BOT model. Tariffs will be some TL8 (€3.40) for cars and TL11 (€4.70) for heavier vehicles. The project is notable for the extensive environmental and social impact assessment commissioned by the partners to attract international financing. In accordance with strict criteria set by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which is considering providing a loan of up to $100m for the Eurasia Tunnel, a report was issued in September 2011 that assessed all facets of the project. As export credit agencies such as the EBRD play an increasingly prominent role in financing Turkey’s infrastructure development, their disclosure requirements may come to eclipse in importance those set by the government.

Finally, perhaps the biggest story in the road infrastructure sector in Turkey in 2012 is the privatisation of six existing motorways and the two Bosphorus bridges. These highways connect highly populated areas such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and the East Mediterranean/Anatolian cities of Adana and Gaziantep. The assets will not be sold wholesale to private investors; instead, bidders will vie for a 25-year km of fast track. The most advanced of these projects is the Ankara-Istanbul HSR, of which parts were made operational in 2009. The Eskisehir-Istanbul section is under construction, with a tentative operation date of 2013, while HSR transit between Ankara and Konya was commissioned in September 2011.

NEW CONNECTIONS: Even bigger plans are in the works for HSR thanks to the largest loan in Chinese history. China will lend between $28bn and $32bn for a host of new high-speed lines: one connecting the western city of Edirne to Istanbul; and lines going east from Ankara to Sivas, Kayseri, Diyarbak›r, Kars and Trabzon; west to Izmir; and south to Antalya. Once these routes are completed – hopefully by 2023, the country’s 100th anniversary – a passenger could travel across Turkey in about 12 hours, compared to several days now.

Unlike the mainly privately funded highway and roads projects, railway investment has been dominated by public funding. The government invested approximately €1.83bn in 2005-10 on HSR, and planned €3.57bn in infrastructure investment for 2010-12. Given high upfront capital requirements for railways, it is unsurprising that the railway operator Turkish State Railways (TCDD) is the biggest loss-making state-run public enterprise in Turkey. TCDD’s revenues amounted to TL2bn (€850m) in 2010, including TL867m (€368.5m) in subsidies, but expenditures ran to TL2.87bn (€1.2bn) with a loss of TL866m (€368.1m). For TCDD to move toward operational break-even point, it will need to transfer of operating rights (TOR), which grants the holder the toll receipts. The Privatisation Administration (Ö‹B) touts the highways and bridges as a prime investment, citing gross income of TL576m (€244.8m) annually for the motorways and TL276m (€117.3m) for the bridge in 2010. According to Ö‹B, Turkish vehicle traffic is growing by 5-10% annually, while it is almost flat in EU markets. Still, there are concerns in the private sector that some of the assets being privatised are in poor condition, and that the TOR terms provide insufficient investor protection (see analysis).

HIGH SPEED: The government is looking to lay thousands of kilometres of high-speed rail (HSR) track across the country and beef up urban metro systems. Train travel in Turkey has a proud history: Istanbul was the eastern terminus for the Orient Express from 1889. Separately, the Berlin-Baghdad railway and Hejaz railways connected the eastern parts of the Ottoman empire. After 1950, however, investment in rail slowed as attention turned to building highways. In Istanbul, which built the world’s second-oldest underground metro, buses took priority over subway construction – presaging the city’s current traffic challenges. Rail accounts for just 2.2% of passenger transport – coach buses are cheaper for long-haul travel, while flights are faster, and minibuses dominate in the cities. Now, however, the government is hoping to expand its existing railway network, with 11,052 km of conventional and 888 km of HSR, to include more than 10,000 boost passenger figures, which grew just 1.1%, to 24m passengers per year from 2006 to 2010. The hope is that HSR, which came on-line in 2009, will attract passengers and, with a cost coverage ratio four times higher than that of conventional trains, better monetise them. However, delays in finishing the Istanbul-Ankara line mean that these gains would not be realised until 2014 at the earliest. Meanwhile, large inefficiencies within TCDD persist, particularly with workers’ wages. Staff salaries represent more than 100% of TCDD’s revenues, excluding subsidies, and staff productivity was measured at 84% of the EU average, according to a World Bank study.

Plans for Turkey’s railway system to be reformed and opened to private investment are in the works, although there is as yet no clear timetable for when this will occur. Turkey’s ninth development plan, which runs from 2007 to 2013, calls for the state to withdraw from the production of locomotives and railway car production via privatisation, while maintaining control of the infrastructure. However, these plans may run into a number of legacy issues. While TCDD issued a regulation in 2005 allowing private entities to operate trains on state-owned infrastructure, that rule was struck down by the Council of State in 2007 as being illegitimate. In keeping with EU guidelines, legislation has been promulgated splitting off TCDD’s railway operations activities to a subsidiary. However, the World Bank has argued that by giving operation rights to a state enterprise, rather than one with commercial status, the draft law does not solve the corporate government problems that are inherent in TCDD’s structure. Nonetheless, if adopted, the new rule would open up the door for private firms to operate on state-owned infrastructure with a focus on profit.

URBAN RAIL: While TCDD controls intercity and suburban rail transit, it is not responsible for providing infrastructure or services to the cities of Turkey. Upgrades to mass transit rail systems are urgent, particularly in Istanbul, as the city tries to cope with population growth. Istanbul’s tram network was abandoned by the 1960s as buses and taxis grew in popularity. Congestion forced the authorities to try to reduce traffic, and the tram returned to operation in 1992. Istanbul’s current offerings include a subterranean metro, light rail, two trams, and suburban rail lines on both the European and Asian sides. Ferries transport passengers across the Bosphorus, and a dedicated rapid-transit metrobus line stretches from Asia to Europe, from Sö€ütlüçesme to Avc›lar. The availability of these options has attracted Istanbul’s commuters – 71% of trips are undertaken using public transport, compared with 60% in 1997.

With most of the central areas served by at least one mode of transit, the challenge is now to connect these seamlessly with each other and with the city’s periphery. 2012 should see the opening of the Kad›kö yKartal M4 (Asian side) and Olympic Stadium M5 ( European side) metros, as well as the start of construction on the Üsküdar-Ümraniye M6. Several projects are scheduled to go to tender in 2012 including the Mahmutbey-Kabataş metro and Bak›rköy light rail system.

The Mahmutbey-Kabataş line is scheduled as a PPP project according to a BOT model – the city’s first privately funded rapid-transit project. According to metro operator Istanbul Ulaş›m, the high demand for rapid transit allows operations to break even or turn a profit, which makes the city fairly unique. Moreover, certain projects like the Mahmutbey line, which crosses the prime Beşiktaş and Şişli districts, can feasibly recoup even investment costs with a long-term BOT contract.

One ambitious project scheduled to wrap up soon is the Marmaray, which will shuttle passengers across the Bosphorus through a submerged tunnel. The initiative will establish a new hub at Yenikap›, where the tunnel would join up with the existing metro and light-rail lines. Originally scheduled to open in April 2009, the tunnel has been delayed at least until October 2013 and has exceeded its budget of $500m. The main culprit was the discovery of the ancient Port of Theodosius at the Yenikap› station side, which necessitated extensive archaeological excavations.

SHIPPING: Turkey’s recovery from the global recession of 2008-09 has been strong, but maritime shipping has lagged, part of a worldwide trend. “After five very good years, roughly 2003-08, the shipping world became very volatile with the global financial crisis,” Ihsan Karavelioğlu, vice-president of Karavelioğlu Group of Companies, told OBG. Total trade grew 12% (8% in real terms) in 2010-11, a great improvement over contractions of 1% and 10% in the preceding two years.

But while road, air, and rail freight volumes had surpassed their pre-crisis levels by 2010, four of the five top Turkish ports saw 2011 throughput still significantly below that of 2007. Tonnage throughput at the top five Turkish ports did grow in 2010-11, at 3.84% and 5.9%. Still, outside of the short-term global lull in the shipping industry, Turkey has strong potential to grow, given its 8400-km coastline and access to markets in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. Some 94% of imports and 83% of exports go via maritime transport, according to the EU-funded Transport Infrastructure Needs Assessment (TINA) completed in 2007, which forecasts these ratios remaining stable through 2020. The study highlights the potential for Turkey to become a multi-modal transport hub, connecting its road and railway networks to its ports. “Containerisation continues to expand in Turkey, with a significant percentage of bulk commodities shifting to containers,” Sean Pierce, the CEO of YilPort, told OBG.

The growth opportunities are motivating a string of private sector investments, both through privatisation and via new port construction projects anticipated to use the BOT model. The two legacy state enterprises in this sector are the Turkish Maritime Corporation (TDI) and the TCDD, which is also the railways owners and operator. From 1997 to 2003, the TDI privatised the operations of 13 ports via 30-year TOR deals, retaining only partial control of Izmir Port.

For its part, TCDD privatised two ports, Mersin and Iskenderun, with the 36-year concession for the latter purchased by Limak Holding in 2012 for $372m. The privatisation of the ports of Izmir, Derince, Band›rma and Samsun are expected next. Several new ports are in the works that seek to establish Turkey as a hub for Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean traffic. The port of Çandarl›, on the Aegean coast, is planned as a competitor to the Greek hub of Piraeus. Its anticipated final size – with a capacity to handle some 10m-12m twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) per year – would make it one of the largest ports in the world. Infrastructure works on Çandarl› are being done via conventional public funding, with a TL230m (€97.8m) contract awarded to a joint venture (JV) of Limak and Kolin İnşaat. However, the superstructure will be built through a BOT contract that includes a long-term concession, costing up to $4.5bn. Çandarl› is planned as a major trans-shipment port, where cargo from large vessels will be offloaded onto smaller boats for distribution to various countries in the region.

BOT port projects in Mersin and Filyos demonstrate the key role Turkey can play in facilitating regional trade. The TINA analysis, for example, envisions the hinterland of Mersin port, on the south Mediterranean coast, to extend to Iraq, Iran and the Caucasus in the east. The five-stage project would gradually expand capacity from 1.7m to 12m TEU per year. Meanwhile, Filyos port, on the Black Sea, would have a capacity of 25m tonnes. Filyos is designed to absorb some of production of Anatolia and mitigate the intense congestion in the Bosphorus and Dardanelles.

Black Sea traffic, and a demand for port facilities, is likely to expand as trade relations with countries in the region deepen. Roll-on/roll-off passenger (ROPAX) transport – ships carrying freight vehicles and with a passenger component – will become an increasingly popular mode in the Black Sea, Karavelioğlu predicted. “We cancelled visas between Turkey, Ukraine and Russia, and trade between these countries is doubling every few years,” Karavelioğlu told OBG. “They need our foodstuffs, and we need their petrol and natural gas.” ROPAX, according to Karavelioğlu, avoids border problems, saves on petrol and minimises the safety risks associated with long-haul trucking.

BUILDING UP STEAM: Connected with Turkey’s advantages in maritime transport is the success of its shipbuilding industry. The country, which is home to some 70 shipyards, ranks among the top 10 in terms of both deadweight construction and number of ships, according to the OECD. However, the sector has been hit disproportionately by the crisis, which caused new orders to shrink rapidly and production to move eastward. Turkish output fell 35% from 2008 to 2010. One comparative advantage for Turkey is ship repair, where it is mostly immune to competition from Asian rivals. “About 90% of work in the shipbuilding industry is actually repair and maintenance,” Mustafa Ünar, secretary-general of Turkish Association of Ship Industrialists, told OBG. “This is owed to Turkey’s strategic location in Europe, so ships from countries like Ukraine, Malta or Russia come here for repairs. Our workers are cheaper than in other ports, and we don’t use the euro.”

A NEW ISTANBUL: One cannot discuss Turkish maritime transport without acknowledging one of the country’s most ambitious projects. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s self-professed “crazy project” would see the construction of a second Bosphorus, bisecting the European side of Istanbul and creating an island between the two waterways. The rationale for Canal Istanbul is clear: the Bosphorus is crowded with tankers carrying oil and chemicals, and a spill could threaten the lives of millions. But the 48-km canal could take years to complete at a cost of at least $10bn, which the government has planned to pay for with public funds. Moreover, Turkey is constrained by treaties such as the 1936 Montreux Convention, which limits its ability to restrict traffic on the Bosphorus. Given that the costs of the canal would need to be recouped by usage fees, it is unclear whether the government could force tankers to use the more expensive route.

There is a broad consensus that tanker traffic presents a danger to Istanbul, but responses differ as to the best solution. The Samsun-Ceyhan pipeline, a proposed joint project between Turkey and Russia, could bypass the Bosphorus by shipping oil from the Black Sea across Anatolia to the Mediterranean. Politics plays a big role in these mega-projects: some experts view the announcement of the Canal itself as a bargaining ploy to force Russia to commit to the pipeline.

“The Turkish government wants petrol traders to use petrol pipelines instead of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits,” Karavelioğlu told OBG. “I’m sure that a balance will be achieved between pipeline and tanker usage.” However, if the canal goes forward, and Turkey does not manage to renegotiate the Montreux Convention and charge for passage, it may be forced to find alternative sources of funding the project. Erdoğan has suggested that selling land along the canal’s newly created banks could bring in money and solve congestion problems in Istanbul.

COME FLY WITH ME: The prime minister is not alone in having big ambitions for the transport sector. Plans for THY can only be described as global, with the carrier hoping to become the main transit hub for millions of passengers flying between Europe and Asia and Africa. Turkey’s tourism attractions, meanwhile, have boosted domestic airlines, with low-cost carriers (LCCs) specialising in short-hop trips to European markets.

Turkish airports saw 117m passengers in 2011, a 14% increase over 2010. THY accounted for 32.9m passengers, which represented growth of 12.7% and made 2011 the tenth consecutive year of passenger growth for the carrier. THY’s goal is to become “the largest airline in the world”, and it already offers more non-stop destinations from a single airport than any other Middle Eastern or European carrier. It is competing with what the airline industry dubs MEB3 – the Middle East Big 3 of Etihad, Qatar and Emirates – for a slice of the international transfer market. Transfer passengers, usually heading to or from India, China or South-east Asia, totalled 5.6m in 2011, a five-fold increase from 2004. New carbon emissions taxes from the EU may help Turkey’s transfer bid goals. Since flights into EU airspace must pay carbon taxes, but previous connecting flights are exempt, flights from the east can save money by connecting as close to Europe as possible. Still, the transfer competition can be overly hyped: almost half of THY’s passengers are domestic, while the MEB3’s lack of a domestic market forces them to focus on transit traffic. Still, long-haul flights are where the profits are, according to Ilke Tak›moğlu Homriş, former manager at Iş Invest. “Airlines make the most money after three hours of flight time, and no destinations in Turkey are much more than 1.5 hours apart,” Homriş said. According to Efe Kalkandelen, associate equity research analyst at Iş Invest, “Most of the growth for THY in 2012 will come from international passengers.”

THY’s focus has been on expanding its destinations and increasing frequencies. The carrier added 20 routes in 2011 and is embarking on an expansion of its fleet. THY took delivery of 32 new planes in 2011 and has 14 still on order. These capital expenditures, combined with increased fuel costs and a volatile lira, contributed to soft earnings data for 2010 and 2011. Net profits fell by almost half in 2010, to TL286.4m (€121.7m), and the airline recorded a net loss of TL467m (€198.5m) in the first nine months of 2011. THY’s expansionist tendencies extend to acquisitions, where the carrier is in talks to acquire Poland’s distressed, state-owned LOT Airlines. According to Kalkandelen, Iş Invest’s prediction of 8% passenger growth in 2012 makes THY’s 16% expectations look rather optimistic. Still, a 66% rise in advertising spending in 2011, combined with accolades like the “Best Airline in Europe” award from Skytrax, make its future prospects intriguing indeed.

Even as THY turns its attention to the attractive international market, it is de-emphasising a growing but increasingly crowded domestic and low-cost market. The biggest fish here is Pegasus, which flew 11.3m passengers in 2011, making it Europe’s fifth-largest LCC. Pegasus is engaged in an expansion of its own, adding new flights to destinations such as Almaty, Kazakhstan and Erbil, Iraq from the LLC terminal in Sabiha Gökçen, Istanbul’s second airport. The carrier now flies to 22 countries. But it has a growing list of competitors, from OnurAir, which serves nine domestic and three international destinations, to SunExpress, which flies mainly to and from Europe. THY operates AnadoluJet in the short-hop market. Germany, which dominates Turkish tourism, is the top foreign market for the LCCs.

LIBERALISATION: The airline sector has benefitted from deregulation since the current government came to power in 2002. THY’s monopoly on domestic flights was removed in 2003, allowing the current competitors to move in with attractive pricing and better service. A majority of THY was privatised, with shares totalling 51% sold in 2004 and 2006, mainly to foreign investors.

Finally, Turkey is close to signing a unified civil aviation agreement with the EU that would allow carriers on both sides greater access. Still, many restrictions remain: foreign owners cannot control more than 49% of any operator running regularly scheduled domestic flights, and Turkey’s airways are not yet fully open.

One major beneficiary of liberalisation is airport operator and contractor TAV. Starting with a concession to operate the Istanbul Atatürk Airport in 1997, TAV also has built and operated the Ankara, Izmir, and (secondary) Antalya Gazipasa airports, and runs several airports abroad. In April 2012 TAV was sold to Aéroports de Paris, the operator of the French capital’s airports. The success of private firms in building airports is motivating the government to choose the BOT model. Zafer Airport, in the province of Kutahya, will be the first airport built from scratch under a BOT model, with a 30-year concession by IC holding.

The rapid growth of passengers and cargo is straining capacity. A new runway at Atatürk Airport is in the works, although there are doubts about its feasibility, given land availability issues in Istanbul. Meanwhile, a third Istanbul airport is scheduled for 2016, but not likely to arrive until 2020, according to Homriş. The new airport, in Silivri, would be several times bigger than Atatürk Airport, have five runways and serve up to 120m passengers per year.

Although demand is high, with air freight growth averaging 10% for the past three years, supply limits are being hit. “We have to refuse high-paying customers because we don’t have the cargo space available,” Ahmet İzer, director of GSA Logistics, told OBG. The narrow-body plane strategy of the low-cost carriers, and to some extent THY, makes cargo growth difficult. Adding space at Sabiha Gökçen will be crucial, as will be building a third airport in Istanbul.

OUTLOOK: Turkish transport is a story of investment and challenge. The pipeline of necessary infrastructure spending is estimated at $180bn over the next 10 years, according to K›l›ç. With the emphasis on privatisation and PPPs, there is ample opportunity for construction companies, logistics providers and investors to get a piece of the action. The challenge comes in ensuring that the ambitions of government planners and private sector companies are feasible, both technically and financially. Liberalisation has transformed the sector, but with infrastructure development still led by the government, effective communication between public and private sectors will be essential.