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Shortest ‘metro’ line in the world: Tünel

Posted on 24 July 2019

Underground railway Tunel. Photo: Slawomira Kozieniec

Istanbul was the second city in Europe – after London – that had an underground rapid transit system constructed. When it opened in 1874 it got the name “The Metropolitan Railway of Constantinople From Galata to Pera”.

It is an impressive name for the shortest ‘metro line’ in the world: it has only one stop! It isn’t a real metro. It is a funicular, is a cable railway in which a cable attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles on rails moves them up and down a steep slope; the ascending and descending vehicles counterbalance each other.

Although it isn’t a real metro line it became popular anyway. Not only in the old days of steam powered engines and gas lamps, but still now when it covers the distance in 90 seconds. Because the short ride takes you on a very steep hill from Karaköy to Tünel Square, at the beginning of Istiklal Caddesi, the main artery of nightlife in Beyoğlu.

French engineer Eugene Henri Gavand, who came to Constantinople as a tourist in 1867, originally conceived the project. Many European merchants and bankers used to work in Galata, close to sea level, where the harbor, the trade, the offices and the banks were. They lived uphill in the Pera neighborhood, about 60 meters higher.

The only direct street connecting the two, Yüksek Kaldırım, is steep and narrow; at the time of the construction of the Tünel, it was crowded with 40,000 pedestrians a day. Gavand conceived of the Tünel as a kind of elevator ascending and descending that would greatly ease the journey.

Gavand received permission from Ottoman Sultan Abdulaziz to start the project, with a 42-year concession to operate it. Until the 1970s, the carriages were of dark wood with numerous coats of bright lacquer. A modernization program replaced them with modern rubber-tired Paris metro-type trains. Today the Tünel metro serves some 12,000 people daily.


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