Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday inaugurated a high speed train link from Istanbul to the Anatolian city of Konya that cuts journey times by nearly nine hours, the latest in a string of hugely ambitious infrastructure projects under his rule.
The president himself opened the line at a ceremony in Konya, 460 kilometres (285 miles) southeast of Istanbul, and declared travel on it would be free for the next week.
Erdogan -- who has dominated Turkey as president and prime minister for the last 12 years -- said the line was the latest step in his multi-billion dollar drive to modernise Turkey.
"For decades, we only sat back and watched development taking place in the West. We could see high speed trains only on TV and see planes only when we lay down on the ground and looked up to the sky."
"But thanks to us, Turkey has gone through a great transformation in 12 years. We have cleared the way for our people," he boasted in a televised speech.
Religiously conservative Konya, which has a population of over one million, is a key economic hub in central Turkey and a stronghold of support for the ruling Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The journey time on the high speed line is four hours 15 minutes compared to 13 hours on the old trains. Two departures are planned a day with tickets starting at a very reasonable 42.5 Turkish lira ($18).
Erdogan is pressing ahead with a plan to build a high speed train network across Turkey, which has so far lagged behind Europe in railways with most journeys made by road or plane.
In July he inaugurated the first high speed train line between Istanbul and Ankara that cut journey times in half to just 3.5 hours. There is already a high speed line between Ankara and Konya.
Transport Minister Lutfi Elvan said that Turkey next year would launch tenders to build a new ultra-high speed line between Istanbul and Ankara to slash the journey to just 1 hour 10 minutes.
He said that the new line would be completed by 2019.
A tunnel carrying metro passengers underneath the Bosphorus was opened last year while future projects include a massive third airport for Istanbul and a new ship canal to relieve pressure on the Bosphorus.