Some Rocks, an Eclipse and a few Trains

27 March - 02 April 2006

Report by Duncan Cotterill


Unusually, the main reason for doing this trip wasn't the trains. I'd promised myself a trip to see a total solar eclipse ever since missing the best of the 1999 eclipse in Britain due to cloud. None of the following eclipses had been at convenient times or in places I was particularly keen to go. This one was different as it passed over Turkey, a country I had visited several times in the '70s and '80s and thoroughly enjoyed. At that time there were still steam locomotives around but they had all disappeared years ago. An added bonus was that the eclipse passed over Kapadokya (Cappadocia), one of the natural wonders of the world with its surreal landscape of amazing rock formations. This was an opportunity not to be missed. The trains weren't ignored altogether although they were definitely relegated to second place.

To Ankara

Monday 27 March 2006

The trip started at one of the unnatural wonders of the world; Heathrow Airport Terminal 4. How they can make such a pig's ear of getting people from the front door to the departure lounge is beyond me. Anyone who enjoys queueing should make a point of visiting. It's almost as bad as that other hell-hole, Paris CDG. After all the fuss, my flight was delayed by an hour.

Arrival at Ankara was also one hour late and by the time I'd collected my hire car, driven into the city and found my hotel it was almost midnight. At least that meant that the traffic was light on Ankara's chaotic roads.

On to Kapadokya

Tuesday 28 March 2006

A bright and sunny start. After letting the worst of the rush hour traffic pass I ventured out onto the teeming streets with some trepidation. Big city driving is bad enough when you're familiar with the local customs and know where you're going. I was struggling on both counts but I needn't have worried. After negotiating a couple of difficult junctions it was all plain sailing and once off the city streets and onto the ring road, driving was actually a pleasure. The main road east out of Ankara parallels the railway much of the way and three trains were seen, all freights and all DE22 hauled although one did have a DE24 coupled inside. It was very hazy so photography was a bit pointless. The descent from Elmadag to Irmak is noteworthy with plenty of curves, tunnels and spectacular views. Oh for a Skyliner coming the other way!

My destination was the town of Avanos, formerly the Roman city of Venasa and a good base for visiting Kapadokya. The afternoon was spent exploring the area around Goreme for somewhere suitable to view the following day's eclipse. The landscape here is dotted with giant stone pillars and cones sculpted into exotic shapes by wind and rain over countless millennia. First impressions weren't that promising. It felt like tourism had ruined the place. It was crawling with people, tour buses, refreshment and souvenir stalls. Fortunately that was only the first impression and it soon became clear that a short walk would usually take you away from the crowds and the tat into a totally unspoiled and incredibly beautiful landscape. I was soon photographing the rocks with a passion normally reserved for steam engines.

Total Eclipse

Wednesday 29 March 2006

Eclipse day dawned perfectly clear. The morning started with another rock photting session. Then it was off to my chosen spot for the eclipse, amongst a group of rock cones north of Goreme. It's impossible to describe the eclipse experience adequately so I won't try. It's something that you've got to see for yourself. Trust me, it's worth it.

After the sun came out again there was time to phot some more rocks until sunset before returning exhausted to my hotel. The strangely named Sofa Hotel in Avanos is worth a mention. It has been sympathetically converted from a cluster of traditional stone built houses clinging precariously to the side of a hill at the west end of the town. It's a fascinating place with a maze of little alleyways, tunnels and precipitous flights of stairs leading to the individual rooms, which are all comfortably furnished. You get all the facilities you would expect in a modern hotel but with bags of character as well. My room was right at the top with a view out over the town and river towards the distant hilltop castle at Uchisar.

Kayseri - Ulukisla Line

Thursday 30 March 2006

Time for some gricing. The weather was clear again and I headed east to try some photography on the Kayseri - Ulukisla line. North of Yesilhisar the line runs across a relatively uninteresting plain. Erciyes Dagi, the extinct volcano that dominates the skyline for miles around, does add interest but it's at an awkward angle for photography. At Yesilhisar the line leaves the plains and climbs up an attractive river valley to bypass the 1400 metre Arapli Pass that the road goes over. Most of this section is inaccessible but it is possible to reach the lineside at the north and south ends. Rail traffic was very light. There were southbound freights at 10:44 with DE22 069, 13:44 with an unidentified DE22 and 16:00 with DE22 085. No northbound trains were seen in 8 hours by the trackside.

Ankara - Kayseri Line

Friday 31 March 2006

The Ankara - Kayseri line held the prospect of more traffic. For the first time since my arrival in the country, the weather was cloudy and it stayed that way all day. Two eastbound freights were seen during an hour or so spent between Himmetdede and Beydagirmeni. At 10:00 DE22 029 passed on a mixed freight followed by an unidentified DE24 running long hood forward on a container train at 10:15.

West of Himmetdede the line runs cross country away from roads most of the way to Yerkoy. Around Fakili and Kanlica there are roadside sections in pleasant scenery. Kanlica got very busy at lunchtime when DE22 063, heading east on the Guney Ekspres, crossed DE22 035 on westbound ore hoppers at 12:30. The ore train waited for DE22 071 to arrive on eastbound hoppers before proceeding west at 12:45. Next was DE22 086 on the westbound Asya Ekspres at 13:07 followed by DE22 002 on the westbound Vangolu Ekspres at 13:20. Then it all went very quiet again with nothing else appearing during the next two hours.

Avanos to Ankara

Saturday 01 April 2006

My last full day in Turkey was spent returning from Avanos to Ankara, trying to follow the railway wherever practical. First action was at 09:21 east of Himmetdede where DE22 056 came up the hill from Beydagirmeni on a loaded ore train banked by DE22 013. The banker returned east at 10:10 on a train of containers, followed half an hour later by DE22 068 on eastbound oil tanks. After waiting in vain for another westbound, it was time to head north-west to pick up the railway again west of Yerkoy.

The line parallels the Sivas to Ankara road much of the way from Yerkoy to the capital but easily accessible locations are fairly difficult to find. Only three trains were seen during the 200 km journey anyway. DE22 056 appeared again at Cerikli, still heading west with its ore train. Another DE22 was looped at Balisih on an eastbound mixed freight and a third was shunting its eastbound freight at Yahsihan. Irmak appeared to be largely unchanged from steam days, except for the absence of steam locomotives. A DE22 was parked outside the shed but there was no sign of the 8F pilots or Skyliner 2-10-0s that used to be there.

My plan had been to find a location on the climb from Irmak to Elmadag and spend the late afternoon there. However the lack of trains, a build up of cloud and the difficulty finding locations where the light was right persuaded me to give up and continue towards Ankara. No more trains were seen.

Back Home

Sunday 02 April 2006

An early start got me to the airport in plenty of time for the flight home. Although everybody was ready to board in good time we were still about 20 minutes late getting away and got stacked on the way into Heathrow as well. At least Terminal 4 is easier to get out of than it is to get into.


The availability of direct flights from London to Ankara makes trips to central Turkey a lot easier than they used to be, for those of us living in southern England at least. British Airways partner BMED only started flying to Ankara on 26 March, the day before my outward flight. Unfortunately the use of Heathrow Terminal 4 detracts greatly from the experience. It's almost worth travelling via Frankfurt or Zurich to avoid the place.

The eclipse was an incredible experience although I don't feel I really did it justice. Too much time was spent wrestling with a cantankerous tripod and not long enough just taking in the spectacle. A lot was learned about photographing eclipses though and it would be a shame not to put that knowledge to good use. Oh well, there will be another one in a couple of years. Yes, they are addictive.

Kapadokya was a fascinating place to visit in its own right with so much worth seeing. You wouldn't think rocks could be so appealing but these were no ordinary rocks. I could happily go back for a longer visit at some stage in the future. Turkey is still the same enchanting mixture of eastern and western culture it always was. Although the economy and infrastructure have come forward a long way over the past two decades, it still hasn't lost its charm. Where else could a loaf of bread cost you 250,000 Lira, 250 Lira or 0.25 Lira depending on who you asked? Of course they were all 0.25 NEW Lira but it took some time for the realisation to dawn.

Unfortunately the trains were a little disappointing. It wasn't just the light traffic levels, there wasn't any variety of traction either and bog standard GMs aren't very exciting. OK, they make a lot of noise but it's not a particularly nice noise as diesel noises go. In comparison to an unsilenced Czech 749, a Chinese DF8 or anything English Electric the DE22 sounds very uninspiring.

The small country stations, where you could usually expect a friendly reception, are now generally unmanned and the buildings are often derelict. No more cups of tea in the station master's office while waiting for the next freight to arrive. It also makes it almost impossible to get information on freight train times. You just have to wait in the hope that something shows up. While the country as a whole still retains its delightful character, the railways have lost a lot of their's. This is a great loss.

I could well visit Turkey again in the future but it's more likely to be for the scenery, the culture and the historic sites than for the trains.