This page discusses the history of the public transport in Paris and how the urbanisation affected the extension of the RATP network towards the outskirts. The discussion finalizes with future plans for extensions in the concerning region.
|The French word "bienvenue" means "welcome", but is also the name of the engineer Fulgence Bienvenüe, the father of the Parisian subway.
In the 19th century, public transport in Paris existed mainly out of tramways, pulled by horses. However, in the 19th century - like in many other large European cities - traffic augmented drastically due to the increase in population and urbanisation as a result of the industrial revolution. The once Roman settlement of Lutetia became a metro-pole. With this gigantic population explosion came problems. Streets became more crowded by the day and it often took endless to get from one side of the city to the other.
In London, engineers had found a solution to this problem. There they constructed an urban railway, under ground. Parisian engineers, who were charged with solving the transport problems of the French capital, conducted a thorough inquiry into this new phenomenon. The London Underground (or Tube) proved to be filthy, hot and highly uncomfortable. This as a result of using steam locomotives to drive through the tunnels. Everywhere the remnants of burning coal could be found and the air was very humid and warm. Even special air shafts didn't solve that problem. It was clear that this solution was far from ideal. But what was the solution then?
At the end of the 19th century, several Parisian engineers delivered their potential solution to the transport problem, where one engineer proposed an idea of constructing a railway on columns high above the broad avenues, another proposed to keep it completely under ground, with a good air circulation and electric traction.
In 1900, both the World Fair (Exposition Universelle) and the Olympic Games were organised in Paris. The community feared the biggest traffic chaos the city had ever seen. The engineers were asked to hurry up with their solutions and to come with something feasible. At last there was one engineer who caught the attention of the Parisian local authorities: Ingénieur Fulgence Bienvenüe. He studied many of the plans and presented a solution which was more a combination of the good things of the others. The plan was to create both under and above ground an urban railway with electric traction. In the plan a set of lines was proposed, from which the first should be finished before the opening of the World Fair. The local authorities approved the plan and construction of the first Parisian subway line between Porte de Vincennes and Porte Dauphine (the central part of line 1 nowadays) was started. Construction was undertaken using the cut and cover method (ciel ouvert).
|CMP & Nord Sud|
|From 1899 until the Second World War, the Parisians would be tortured by streets broken up and all the traffic jams as a consequence of that. To illustrate that a subway line is not easily constructed was proved by the fact that the goal to finalize the first line before the World Fair was not achieved (the line was opened in July 1900, but the World Fair was opened in April 1900).
But anyway, Paris was an Eiffel Tower and one subway line richer, which should grow into the most complicated subway system in the world. The CMP (Compagnie de chemin de fer Métropolitain de Paris) should exploit the line.
The identity of the Parisian subway is unique. Even the tiles used to cover the walls of the stations are famous throughout the world. But there are more things of the Parisian subway which are unique. In the beginning, the design was in hands of the architect Hector Guimard. This famous Art Nouveau architect created the most impressive entrances of many stations who decorate the city (and especially the subway) up and till today. Everybody who visited Paris at least once, will remember these green curved iron fences with their red tulips.
The first subway lines were almost all constructed in the East-West direction. This was intentional, because in this way the subway lines followed the major urban axes where the richer people lived. Montmartre in the north and Montparnasse in the south were mostly inhabited by people from the working class. The CMP who exploited the East-West lines didn't have any interest in these regions as they thought that investing in those areas would not be repaid by a sufficient number of people who would use it. Anyhow, construction of subway lines in these areas was desired by the local authorities, if necessary by another company... 'Nord-Sud'. One can see even nowadays that the Nord-Sud used a slightly different style in constructing their stations. The tiles Nord-Sud used were slightly different and the Nord-Sud also indicated the direction of the trains in the masonry on top of the tunnel entrance ('Direction Montmartre' or 'Direction Montparnasse'). Nord-Sud constructed many of the now still existing lines 12 and 13.
The Nord-Sud had the station Saint Lazare as the principal station to change from one line to the other. Here they constructed the famous "rotonde" in the middle. In the center of this, you could find the original Nord-Sud logo in the floor. Unfortunately the RATP decided to remove it during a renovation of the station in 2005.
|The situation of two companies exploiting one network, came to an end just after the Second World War. It was an unpractical situation and there were simply not enough financial means for two companies to survive. Also the local Parisian authorities wished to create one new company for all types of public transport in Paris: Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP).
The RATP began its work with modernising the network. In the fifties the seeming endless range of subway trains of the type Sprague Thomson was put to an end. For more than half a century this type of trains dominated the view of the Parisian subway. It knew a first, second and even third class. In 1951 the MA (Matériel Articulé) was put into service. It still knew a division into first and second class.
In 1956 the RATP confronted the Parisians with a whole new phenomenon, that had never been used anywhere on the planet: a pneumatic system. The French tyre producer Michelin convinced the RATP to equip the subway trains with additional rubber tyres, so they could accelerate and brake much more efficiently, to reduce the vibrations of the ground and to increase the comfort for the travellers.
The RATP was impressed by the new concept pneu and therefore applied to line 11. The rolling stock MP55 (MP = Matériel sur Pneumatiques / MF = Matériel fer, followed by the year of design) was the first to drive on line 11. For this new concept, these rubber tyres are mounted parallel to the normal steel wheels, together with additional tyres placed in a horizontal way. Furthermore the tracks had to be adapted with two new rails and two vertical bounds. Thanks to these horizontally and vertically placed rubber tyres a train cannot derail. The steel wheels and tracks remain present, in case of a punctured tyre, or for parts of the network that were not equipped with the additional rails like switches and depot tracks.
Under the travellers, this new phenomenon was taken very positively. Not just for accelerating or braking faster, or for protecting the (historic) buildings due to reducing the vibrations, but more because of the additional comfort during driving. The système sur pneus was a success and therefore also applied on other lines on the network. Nowadays you can find this system on the lines 1, 4, 6, 11 and 14.
From the moment of the introduction of the MA and MP55, soon other types of trains arrived to replace the older ones (mostly the Spragues). Each time with additional improvements in the traction as well as improvements of the comfort for the travellers. In the beginning of the nineties, the last existing divisions between first and second class for the subway and R.E.R. (regional subway, see further) ceased to exist. After the MA and MP55 there came (chronologically) the MP59, MF67, MP73, MF77, MF88 and MP89. The MF2000 is at this moment running trials to be put into service in the near future.
It was in this RATP-era, that the company also started to expand their network further and further towards the greater Paris. An old railway line, called the Ligne de Sceaux was no longer profitable and so the company which exploited this line handed it over to the RATP. This line kept it's name until the R.E.R. was formed (see next article). The main problem of this line was that it ended at the station Denfert Rochereau and therefore missed an important link with the city-center of Paris. Therefore the RATP decided to extend the line towards the current station of Luxembourg. With the integration into the RATP network, the line became profitable again. Nowadays the line is a part of the R.E.R. B and is connected to the north-eastern network of the SNCF via Saint Michel Notre Dame and Gare du Nord, making it one of the most important lines of the current network.
|RER & Météor|
|In the seventies of the 20th century, the subway network started to grow further and further into the suburbs. The time to travel from one suburb to another or the Parisian city center became possible, but was due to the many stops of a the subway, very time consuming. The subway turned out to be not fitted for longer distances. Therefore engineers of the RATP decided to construct a new network, strongly connected to the existing subway network, but at a higher level, with bigger intervals and higher speeds of operation. The name of this new network was: R.E.R. (Réseau Express Régional). The idea was to connect all major cities within the Île de France region (centre province of France) with a big under ground station in the heart of Paris: Châtelet-Les-Halles. Most of the infrastructure about to be used, was already there. Most were old railway lines once constructed by the SNCF (French national railway company) or by private companies. They served mostly only a strictly local role. The RATP connected them by constructing links, where under several very expensive large tunnels trough Paris itself. Five lines (A, B, C, D and E) now serve entire Île de France and are very popular by people coming from the suburbs and tourists arriving at one of the two major airports of Paris (Orly and Charles de Gaulle). Travel times were reduced enormously.
The RER was a good option for the longer distance... had only one disadvantage: the frequency is much less than for the subway. Also the center line A became in the nineties more and more charged. Therefore the plan was made to construct a new subway line which had the comfort of the subway, but also the advantage of the R.E.R. to use larger distances between the stations. This new East-West connection (for the moment) inside Paris is called: MÉTÉOR (MÉTro Est Ouest Rapide). A secondary goal of the project is to debranch the lines 7 and 13 at Maison Blanche and La Fourche respectively. These two stations should then be connected under ground with a large curve serving Gare de Lyon, Châtelet and Saint Lazare as the most important intermediate stations. The current western branch of line 13 should then also be prolonged to the Port of Gennevilliers.
The techniques used in the new METEOR line (line 14) are really high-tech. The tunnels continue virtually on the platforms in glass, so nobody can enter the tracks anymore and the trains themselves are fully automated and have no driver. The passengers can take a seat at the front of the train. These are the new MP89 CA (CA = Conduite Automatique, versus the CC = Cabine de Conduite). This line 14 has recently been prolonged from Madeleine to Saint Lazare station since 15 December 2003, which is a beautiful example of new under ground station architecture. Stations are no longer humid and dark spaces where a traveller is "just passing by". The RATP adopted the concept that public transport is an important part of a human being's life and should therefore be as comfortable as possible. Modern trains and a nice atmosphere in the stations is a part of that idea. It has largely been applied to the new line 14, where much attention was put to a nice ambiance in the stations and to fit it in the urban architecture aboveground.
The METEOR project with all its beauty was also a reason for the SNCF to show their quality in the Parisian capital as well. They constructed a new RER line E[OLE] (EOLE = Est Ouest Liaison Express). This line has two large new underground stations with a fabulous architecture in the center of Paris: Haussmann St. Lazare and Magenta. The Magenta station is directly connected to the famous Gare du Nord station, Haussmann-St. Lazare connects the RER E to the main railway station St. Lazare and at the other hand to the RER A station of Auber. With line 14 extended to St. Lazare, the complex Haussmann-St. Lazare - Auber is one of the major public transport connection points in the Parisian region. It serves many millions of people every year.
|Plans for the future|
|A lot of construction is going on at this moment in Paris concerning public transport. First of all there is the extension of the METEOR (line 14) in both northern and southern direction. In the north, where line 14 will take over the left branch of the existing line 13, this line 13 is currently being extended from Asnières-Gennevilliers/Gabriel Péri to Asnières-Gennevilliers II, Asnières-Gennevilliers III and Port de Gennevilliers. In the future, line 14 will be extended from St. Lazare to Place de Clichy and will then take over the left branch of line 13 from Brochant.
In the south, a similar operation is undertaken. At this moment, the future station Olympiades (which is located between Bibliotèque François Mitterrand and Maison Blanche) is already there, but is currently in use for maintenance on the rolling stock (Ateliers de Tolbiac). At this moment a new underground maintenance site is constructed between the current one and the future station Maison Blanche. Once this new site is finished, the current site will be transformed into a new station, baring the name Olympiades. For the time being, this station will then serve some time as a terminal station for the line. In a later stage, the line will be extended to Maison Blanche and will then take over the left branch of line 7 from Maison Blanche to Villejuif-Louis Aragon.
Line 14 of the subway system is not the only one which will be extended in the near future. Also line 4, the most "untouched" line of the subway system since its construction, will be prolonged towards Bagneux in the south. At the same time line 12 will be prolonged in the north, line 11 towards the east and line 8 one station further towards Créteil Parc des Sports. The other prolongations mentioned will concern some extra stations. For more detailed information about these prolongations, the excellent official site http://extension-reseau.ratp.fr could be consulted.
It's not the subway system which will be extended and further developed, but the RATP has also large scale plans to re-introduce the tramway in Paris. When the subway of Paris was constructed, the tramway lost its importance and was eventually demolished. But since the reopening of two lines (T1 and T2) in the outskirts, the RATP realized that tramways are more important than once thought. Tramways are relativily cheap, also easily constructed and very good accessible to travellers. Several lines are planned now, where one circle line, which follows the broad avenues, parallel to the Parisian highway ring : Boulevard Périphérique. During this construction, which already takes place at the southern side, much attention is given to rearrange these avenues, to make them look nicer. Once this ringline is completed (which will take quite a some years), the infamous bus lines PC1, PC2 and PC3 are finally decharged.
On the right of this article is a collection of zoomed parts of the RATP network, when these prolongations are finished. On each map you see a red rectangle in the background, indicating the project area. To see the differences with the current map, you could have a look here. That is the map of the existing network. From the top to bottom, the maps respresent:
- Prolongation of L14 (Météor) in the north from St. Lazare via Brochant to Port de Gennevilliers, using the left branch of the current line 13;
- Prolongation of L14 (Météor) in the south from Bibliothèque François Mitterrand via Olympiades and Maison Blanche using the current left branch of line line 7 to Villejuif Louis Aragon;
- Prolongation of L4 from Porte d'Orléans to Bagneux;
- Prolongation of L8 from Créteil Préfecture to Créteil Parc des Sports;
- Prolongation of L12 from Porte de la Chapelle to Mairie d'Aubervilliers;
- Prolongation of L11 from Mairie des Lilas to Rosny-Bois Perrier.
(under construction for the moment)
A complete map with all the future infrastructural projects, can also be found on this site in the MAPS-section (or by following the link). The map has been generated with a great job of research by mr N. Delabre into these projects. A word of caution: viewing (or downloading) the map could take a while, it's quite large (1.3 MB).
|Further reading / references|
De Bienvenüe à Météor - UN SIÈCLE DE MÉTRO EN 14 LIGNES [Jean Tricoire - La Vie du Rail - ISBN: 2902808879]
LE RER - le réseau francilien [Jean Tricoire - RATP Transports Île de France - ISBN: 2856210014]
(These books and other gadgets of the Parisian subway are for sale in the special RATP cultural heritage shop, Boutique du Patrimoine)
This article (La Passion du Métro) in French
This article (La Passion du Métro) in Dutch
Navily - La mobilité c'est esstentiel
The official website of the RATP
Plans for the future extension of the RATP network
Discussion forum on public transport in Paris and Île de France: Symbioz (in French)