London Underground is famously the world’s oldest underground railway – but which one came second? Well, that accolade goes to the Tünel, in Turkey’s Istanbul. It is also arguably the world’s shortest underground railway, being just 571 meters in length and having only two stations.

The Tünel was opened in January 17th, 1875 (so it is 133 years old next Friday) to provide an easy ride between the two neighborhoods of Pera and Galata, both in the new district of Istanbul on the hill north of the Golden Horn. The railway is also notable for being a “funicular” railway – namely one which runs up a steep slope. You are probably familiar with funicular railways from their use in the Alpine mountains.

The Tünel was originally conceived by the French engineer Henri Gavand in 1867 – just four years after the London Underground had opened. Two years later, in November 6, 1869, he received permission from the Ottoman sultan Abdülaziz to start the project. After finding foreign funding, construction began in July 30, 1871 and ended in December 1874. The Tünel was finally opened for service in January 17, 1875.

When the underground railway first opened, people were scared of traveling underground, so the owners added an extra carriage for carrying animals to show that the service was safe.

When it opened, the Tünel was powered by horses, and was converted to electric cable in 1910, being converted to electric rail and locomotion on 1971. In the same year the original wooden cars were finally replaced by metal ones.

In depth history and pictures at Funicular Blog

Istanbul Transport website

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9 comments
  1. It’s worth checking out line one of the metro in Budapest, (must be the third oldest in the world as it opened in 1896) and a World Heritage Site. It’s wood-paneled and lovely. I’ve enjoyed the Tünel too.

  2. IanVisits says:

    Interestingly, I was on the website of the Glasgow subway this afternoon and they claim to be the 3rd oldest subway after the London Underground and the Budapest line.

    I guess they haven’t heard of the Istanbul railway 🙂

  3. John says:

    The Istanbul tunnel was not an underground rapid-transit network. It was a tunnel to climb a hill using the systems used in the Alps. The second oldest, after London was the Mersey Railway in Liverpool/Birkenhead in 1886. A long under-river tunnel and underground stations either side.

  4. Murphy says:

    The 2nd oldest Metro line was opened in Athens, Greece, in 1869

  5. Chin Fook Kiong says:

    The second oldest underground railway system in the world is in Calcutta, built during British India.

  6. Dave Roberts says:

    The Liverpool Underground Railway is the second oldest… opening in 1886. Underground railways should not be confused with a need for tunnels but a requirement and decision to build a railway underground. Even then, the London model at that time was merely cut and cover….dig a ditch…lay the track and cover with paving. Barely underground and barely hidden. Liverpool’s was based upon engineered tunnels which led to an underground crossing of a river. Not just hidden for convenience but underground due to necessity.

  7. Ian Crumblish says:

    Look up Wikipedia. London, Budapest then GLASGOW. The Underground in Glasgow was opened on October 14th 1896. It is a true Underground, not a ditch type, not a funicular etc. Argue with them.

    • ianvisits says:

      You must be very angry to be hunting down and commenting on an article that’s 11 years old.

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