The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - Steam in Turkey 1984, Part 5
Through the Cilician Gate

Terry Case writes about his travels for steam. Further tales will follow from time to time covering more of Australia, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Pakistan.

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On 6th October we travelled from Konya to Mersin, an early start whilst still dark, somewhere in the yard a steam freight was getting underway to Adana. This sector was supposedly fully dieselised but around 10.30 we were told there was a steam freight waiting to cross us some way up the line, this caused quite a stir. Stations are few and far between on this section of largely flat landscape. It was late morning before we found 56153 (Skoda 1949) on a train of modern hopper/tippler wagons. What was becoming apparent was that even diesel lines might have p.w. trains hauled by steam and we were able to have a photo stop with the ballast crossing our own train.

First though, here is Henschel 46052 taking the tour train out of Konya heading for Ulukisla.

56153 (Skoda 1949) on a ballast working crosses the tour train.

After midday the line began to climb out of the plains and into hill country that was dry and semi desert, providing some interesting photo runs. Ulukisla was the frontier for another type of country, it was an oasis of tall trees. It is a junction for the lines to Kayseri and Adana; which justified the yard and servicing point. Konya supplied the pilot 56091 (VF 1948) which would be exchanged when a boiler washout or repairs became due.

The tour now descended the Taurus Mountains, it was a stunning piece of railway building with many tunnels, bridges and rock ledges to negotiate, a tricky descent for locomotive crew. We passed through magnificent country which had those of us new to the country anticipating the return upgrade. The Henschel 2-8-2s look a real race horse with their high wheels, they were purchased to run the expresses, including the Blue Train on the Istanbul to Ankara line, they also powered the Taurus Express so once they would have been in regular use in this area.

The line has a dark history being built by the German Railway Corp during World War One. Following an Armenian rebellion the Turkish army stripped the line of its Armenian work force and the German military coerced prisoners of war to work on the line. In addition to many British and Indian soldiers there were also Australian P.O.Ws working on this section. Some died from the severe cold in the winter of 1916, neither they nor their German captors had adequate clothing or food leaving them vulnerable to disease. Some Australian (and other Empire troops) were buried along sections of the line, which is also where Germans graves were once located.

Leaving the Cilician Gate and Taurus Mountains behind the tour train heads for Yenice.

After spending the previous day (7th) pottering around Mersin, Adana and the line to Iskenderun we were now savouring a tour highlight, the climb from near sea level at Yenice to the summit near Ulukisla which involves a climb of 1,200m through spectacular scenery, it is one of the great train journeys!

According to Ted Talbot's book 'Steam in Turkey', some fans called the eight mile stretch from Belemedik “The Grand Canyon” as the line is carried hundreds of feet above the valley floor of the river Cakit by means of 17 tunnels: indeed two thirds of the eight mile section is tunnel.

The operating staff had promised tour leader Dave Thornhill that the tour train had a clear line, this fragile promise lasted only as far as the first station out of Yenice. We had several photo-stops, but the price paid was lengthy stops at stations to clear other traffic. Our own schedule became very late. Some of the photo-stops were magnificent, the bridge over a deep gorge with soaring mountains as background, (in 1989 see below) rated a double run past. 

Here, 46052 is seen performing one.

46052 at work in 1984 on the lower stretch of the line.

Mid way between Ciftehan and Ulukisla 46052 emerges from a tunnel into an inhospitable landscape.

46052 on the steep grades out of Ciftehan.

Nearing the end of the sustained climb to Ulukisla. 

I was able to photograph this line on 3 of the World Steam tours. Train crews generally did not take footplate riders on this mountainous line. Whilst photo stops were offered on the lower section the organisers offered taxis to chase the train between Ciftehan and Ulukisla as the road is adjacent to the line for much of this sector. 

In 1989 I re-visited the line on a tourist train organized by World Steam. A new TCDD coach was part of the motley consist. Despite this train being aimed at a tourist clientele many runpasts were organized, the following pictures were taken on that trip.

There are excellent positions to watch the train working hard, clinging along cliff faces, emerging from a tunnel, running beneath the road. It is also a fantastic ride, of course the real thing would have been hard to beat with the heavy 3 cylinder German 44 class being assigned to the line in the last years of steam working.

The waiting game, 46052 waits to cross a regular train.

Stock for the 1989 tourist train included this carriage once a part of Ataturk’s train.

Locomotives may have appeared to be in good external condition but sometimes were in poor mechanical shape and sustained work highlighted such problems. Firemen struggled when locomotives had defects such as fallen brick arch (or no brick arch) in the firebox, a reminder we were witnessing the end of steam in Turkey.

Rob Dickinson