France has one of the most developed railway systems in the world. The railway system is convenient, safe and economical. Paris has a significant number of railway stations, stemming both from the history of the development of French railways and from the needs to serve the city finely. These large-scale and beautifully designed large buildings once became the trend of that era.
The history of French railways begins at the beginning of the 19th century. At its peak before the First World War, the French rail network thus had nearly 70,000 kilometers of national or local lines. From the 1830s and then within the framework of the law relating to the establishment of main railway lines in France of 1842, the State granted large companies coherent sets of railway lines, thus forming a “cobweb” network whose center is Paris.
As the center of the French railway network, Paris has always been the core hub of national railway commuting, so it has many large railway stations. Some date from the origin of the railway, others are of more recent construction, in particular within the framework of the realization of the regional express network of Île-de-France. The train stations in Paris were built in the mid-to-late 1800s and early 1900s and have a wonderful period feeling to them. The exception is Gare Montparnasse, which was rebuilt in the late 20th century.
Parisians discovered the station, an invention of the 19th century, with pier of the promenade for Le Pecq when the first section of railway line created by the Compagnie du chemin de fer de Paris à Saint-Germain was opened. This first attempt will continue and Paris sees the opening of six other piers in what is then the outskirts of the historic city before the major works of Haussmann. They are all railheads created by the big companies which are going to extend their railway networks across the country.
There are many train stations in Paris, while six of them remain keep functioning, taking passengers to destinations throughout France and the rest of Europe – Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est, Gare de Lyon, Gare d’Austerlitz, Gare Montparnasse, Gare Saint-Lazare.
These stations are not interconnected, but are connected by the Petite Ceinture line in 1862, in order to allow exchanges between the companies, in particular for the traffic of goods. The capacity of the Petite Ceinture having proved insufficient during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, a second connecting line was built 10 to 20 km around Paris, the Grande Ceinture line.
Other stations were created in order to provide goods services to Paris (Paris-Bestiaux station, Paris-Gobelins station, etc.) or to form the origin of isolated lines (Bastille station, Invalides station, of Denfert-Rochereau).
With the war and economic depression, and the rise of new modes of travel, such as the automobile and the highway and the subway, France is no longer as dependent on rail transport as it used to be. The French rail network only had around 24,000 kilometers at the start of the 21st century. As a result, some Parisian train stations lost their railway function and were either demolished or reconverted for other uses.
History of French railway
The history of rail transport in France dates from the first French railway in 1823. Before the advent of the railway in France, the rapid transport system was provided by stagecoaches. There are many testimonies of the revolution wrought by the use of the train in travel time. Alexandre Dumas notes that in 1828 it took 14 hours to travel from Paris to Rouen by stagecoach when, 20 years later, the railway reduced the journey to three and a half hours.
At the beginning, France fell behind in the railways developed, partly because of the Napoleonic wars. In addition, France has a road network (royal and departmental roads) and above all a network of canals and inland waterways. A more serious obstacle was powerful political opposition, especially as mobilized by the Transport companies that use canals, roads, and rivers. They blocked the necessary railway charters in Parliament.
Already in 1810, the French engineer Pierre Michel Moisson-Desroches proposed to build seven national railways from Paris, in order to travel “short distances within the Empire”. However, nothing happened. Mining companies in 1828 opened the first railway to move coal from the fields around St. Etienne 11 miles from St. Etienne to the Loire River. Most of the work was done by horses, although steam locomotives were used for the last segment. Passenger service opened in 1835.
In the early days, most of the French railways were built by the private sector, and the French public sector was slow to participate in the development of railways, or even to formulate common standards. The government rejected all major rail projects before 1842, and France steadily fell behind the nations that had reached a quick consensus on railway policy. In 1842 Britain had 1,900 miles of railways in operation; France only have 300 miles.
Since the 1842 agreement, the French government further subsidized the companies by having the department of the Ponts et Chaussées do most of the planning and engineering work for new lines. The government would assist in securing the land, often by expropriation. The government also agreed to pay infrastructure costs, building bridges, tunnels, and track bed. The private companies would then furnish the tracks, stations and rolling stock, as well as pay the operating costs.
The expectation that the government would eventually nationalize the rail system formed another important element in French railway legislation. The original agreement of 1842 leased the railway lines to the companies for only 36 years. Napoleon III extended these leases to 99 years soon after he came to power. That the rail companies only operated on leases paved the way for the nationalization of the French rail lines under the socialist government of the 1930s.
When the Republic replaced the monarchy in 1848, 2000 miles of track were in operation but the situation was highly unsatisfactory. Three dozen companies were in operation, most of them with incomplete lines that sharply limited traffic. Financially, most were in great distress. Some policy was confusing and contradictory, in order to blocked monopolies, which meant no regional networks could form.
Under govern of Napoleon III, the first step was to amalgamate all the companies along specific routes. The consolidation into six major companies proved successful. By 1857 the consolidation was complete, and the government was no longer operating any lines. All the trunk lines were interconnected.
The original plan of using Paris as a hub was continued, so that long-distance travel from one place to another necessitated connecting to another line in Paris. Paris grew dramatically in terms of population, industry, finance, commercial activity, and tourism.
The system was virtually complete by 1870, although constant construction was done to upgrade the quality of lines, set up double trackage, rebuild bridges, Improve signaling, and large freight yards and passenger stations, reduce slopes and drill long tunnels.
The Second Empire under Napoleon III, 1852-1871, emphasized building infrastructure. Napoleon III placed great emphasis on economic growth and modernization, with special attention to infrastructure and construction of railways, as well as coal and iron establishments He also stimulated French banking, completion of the telegraph system and subsidization of steamship lines Railways were given priority over canals and local roads.
The state built most of the railway system and invited private companies to operate the lines under leases of up to 99 years. They were publicly owned but privately operated. The state guaranteed the dividends of the railway operating companies, and in exchange took two-thirds of any greater profits. The financing involved stretched the private banking sector to its limit, and was greatly augmented by the introduction of the 300 franc bond, which enabled large numbers of middle-class Frenchmen to invest easily in the economic expansion.
In the time, France already operated well-established governmental structures and procedures that could easily expand to encompass railway regulations as well. The engineering bureaucracy was world-class. The agency that handled canals expanded to include railways.
Gare du Nord
Gare de Paris-Nord, also known as Gare du Nord, is one of six major SNCF terminus stations in Paris. It has always had a marked international vocation, before seeing its regional traffic develop strongly. The Gare du Nord has been listed as a historical monument since January 15, 1975.
It is the Parisian railhead of the rail network serving the North of France, as well as neighboring countries, Most of the destinations are proximity of Belgium, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Germany. It welcomed more than 292 million passengers in 2018, also including RER B traffic. It is often considered the first European station, and the third in the world, in terms of attendance (including that of the metro station).
Opened in 1846 by the Compagnie des chemins de fer du Nord as a landing stage for the Paris-Nord line in Lille, the station is a major ” intermodal crossroads ” in the capital, where high-speed trains coexist (national service – with TGV inOui – and international – with Eurostar and Thalys -), trains of the TER Hauts-de-France network, Transilien, RER, metro, bus, taxi and Vélib’.
The current Gare du Nord was designed by French architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff, while the original complex was constructed between 1861 and 1864 on behalf of the Chemin de Fer du Nord company. A substantial refurbishment programme being performed during the late 2010s and early 2020s will greatly redesign the station. The plans for this include a significant expansion of the station’s footprint and ability to handle passengers, expanding onsite amenities and establishing a new departure terminal in preparation for the 2024 Summer Olympics. As a consequence of this redevelopment, the Gare du Nord will become the largest railway station in Europe.
In 1861, the architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff took over the management of the reconstruction work of the Gare du Nord. He modified the first sketches already made and designed a new building in the modernist neoclassical style, built in a “U” shape as was customary at the time. This configuration makes it possible to erect a monumental facade marking the entrance of the railway into the city; but it also limits the possibilities of later extension of the number of channels. Of Roman inspiration, the facade is organized around a central pavilion forming a triumphal arch flanked by two pavilionssmaller. It is characterized by the use of large blocks of stone.
The facade is decorated with twenty-three statues commissioned from thirteen eminent sculptors of the time, representing the main towns served by the company. The most majestic statues, which crown the building, are 5.50 m high. They illustrate the head of the line and its distant international destinations (Paris, London, Berlin, Frankfurt, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Vienna, Brussels, etc.) as well as the national destinations.
Inside, when it was created, the departures building housed many waiting rooms, divided by destination and class, as well as several services including a waiting room, ticket sales counters and courier services. The arrivals building houses the customs services and the counter for baggage claim.
The hall’s columns date from 1862 and were mostly made in Glasgow (Scotland). These columns make it possible to evacuate rainwater from the roofs. The iron and cast iron framework is supported by two rows of columns. The waiting rooms are decorated with paneling and painted in imitation of marble, representing pilasters and capitals, as well as motifs representing industry. In the 21st century, only the large glass roof and its cast iron columns remain, the layout of the building having evolved according to the constraints of operation.
The forecourt of the station was refurbished by the City of Paris in 2005-2006 (lighting, paving, lanes for buses, taxis, pedestrian crossings, etc.). The former departures courtyard, covered with a geotextile fabric, now accommodates arrivals. In 2015, to symbolize global warming, a work by Leandro Erlich, Maison fond, representing a Parisian building in the process of melting, was installed on the forecourt, on the sidelines of COP21. A few days later, a monumental sculpture by Richard Texier, Angel Bear, is also erected on the forecourt: a winged bear symbolizing the melting of the pack ice.
Gare de l’Est
The Gare de l’Est is one of the six large mainline railway station termini in Paris, France. It is located in the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul district, in the 10th arrondissement, not far from the Gare du Nord. Its facade closes off the perspective of the north-south axis pierced by Baron Haussmann, prefect of the Seine, and consisting mainly of the Boulevard de Strasbourg.
Opened in 1849, it is currently the fifth-busiest of the six main railway stations in Paris before the Gare d’Austerlitz. The Gare de l’Est is the western terminus of the Paris–Strasbourg railway and Paris–Mulhouse railway which then proceeds to Basel, Switzerland.
The station is the work of architect François-Alexandre Duquesney and engineer Pierre Cabanel de Sermet; the top of the west pediment is adorned with a statue by sculptor Philippe-Joseph Henri Lemaire representing the city of Strasbourg, while a sculpture depicting Verdun, the work of sculptor Henri Varenne, adorns the east pediment. A major redevelopment of the Gare de l’Est accompanied the commissioning of the TGV Est in 2007.
The building is in the neo-classical style, with a freestone facade; the many additions made to the original station retain this style on the facade, with the exception of the large transverse hall and its two entrances, rue d’Alsace and rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin, which are in the Art Deco style.
The facade of the west wing (the oldest) is lit by a half rose window, fitted with a pendulum flanked by sculptures representing the Seine and the Rhine by Jean-Louis Brian. The gable of this hall is saddleback with motifs of Lombard bands; it is crowned with an allegorical statue of the city of Strasbourg, the work of Henri Lemaire.
It is a symmetrical building from its construction, equipped with two pavilions under a hipped roof framing the half-rosette, which is set back from the pavilions, with a colonnade of nine semi-circular arched arcades on the ground floor. -pavement. The first two levels of the side pavilions, as well as the openings behind the colonnade, use the semicircular arch; the windows on the second level are rectangular, with a decorative domed arch frame.
The east wing was built in 1931 on the same model. Henry Frédéric Varenne sculpted the statues representing the Marne and the Meuse surrounding the clock, as well as the allegorical one of the city of Verdun at the top.
The central part, which connects these two buildings, is made up of three volumes, with an extension of nine bays flanked by two groups of four bays; the whole overlooks a colonnade of thirteen arcades which responds to the style of the side buildings. This shallow part of the building serves to hide a large interior courtyard with an Art Deco glass roof and functional-looking brick and concrete facades.
The side facades are not perfectly symmetrical; they have several pavilions and an Art Deco-style entrance opening onto a large transverse glass roof, which runs from rue d’Alsace to rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin. On the east side, this glass roof is flanked by two identical pavilions whose facade imitates the pavilions of the original building; on the west side, there is only one of these pavilions, to the right of the Art Deco entrance. Underground access ramps, for cars, were created under these pavilions as soon as they were built.
Gare de Lyon
The Gare de Lyon is one of the six large mainline railway stations in Paris, France. It handles about 148.1 million passengers annually according to the estimates of the SNCF in 2018, with SNCF railways and RER D accounting for around 110 million and 38 million on the RER A, making it the second-busiest station of France after the Gare du Nord and one of the busiest in Europe.
The station is located in the 12th arrondissement, on the right bank of the river Seine, in the east of Paris. Opened in 1849, it is the northern terminus of the Paris–Marseille railway. It is named after the city of Lyon, a stop for many long-distance trains departing here, most en route to the South of France. The station is served by high-speed TGV trains to Southern and Eastern France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Spain. The station also hosts regional trains and the RER and also the Gare de Lyon Métro station.
Lyon railway station had been under construction since 1847. The station was expanded many times as the volume of rail traffic increased. By 1900, in time for the 1900 World’s Fair, a new thirteen-track Gare de Lyon building was constructed, designed by the Toulon architect Marius Toudoire and decorated with a large fresco by the Marseille artist Jean-Baptiste Olive, depicting some of the cities to which one could take a train from this station.
The main entrance, on Place Louis-Armand, opens onto Rue de Lyon, which leads to Place de la Bastille, and Boulevard Diderot. This station is distinguished by its belfry, a square tower 67 meters high and bearing clock faces on its four faces. On multiple levels, it is considered a classic example of the architecture of its time. Most notable is the large clock tower atop one corner of the station, similar in style to the clock tower of the Palace of Westminster, home to Big Ben.
In the SNCF station, at the top of the columns, are the coats of arms of the cities served. In the ticket office room, the large fresco (in fact, canvases pasted on the walls) by Jean-Baptiste Olive, a Provençal painter, stretches over a hundred meters parallel to the letter lanes, showing, in a continuous way, the main destinations accessible by train from the station, to the Côte d’Azur and the city of Menton.
On the first floor, via the grand staircase, is the mythical Second Empire style restaurant, Le Train bleu, as well as its bar Le Big Ben, which has served drinks and meals to travellers and other guests since 1901 in an ornately decorated setting. It has been classified as a historical monument since September 28, 1972, which makes the Paris-Lyon station the only station (with that of Belfort) in operation in France to be subject to such protection, even if in this case it does not concern the part devolved to the railway function itself.
The Gare d’Austerlitz is one of the six large Paris rail termini. The station is located on the left bank of the Seine in the southeastern part of the city, in the 13th arrondissement. It is the start of the Paris–Bordeaux railway; the line to Toulouse is connected to this line. It retains a major role for the service from Paris to the south of Île-de-France, Orléanais, Berry and the west of the Massif Central. In 1997, the Ministry of Culture designated the Gare d’Austerlitz a historical monument.
Since the commissioning of the LGV Atlantique, this station has lost most of its mainline traffic with Touraine and the greater French Southwest. This is now only about 21.3 million passengers per year, half that of Montparnasse station. However, the extensive renovation of the station, started in 2011 and planned until 2025, should change the situation in the years to come and ensure an increase in traffic.
Demolished, the station was rebuilt, from 1862 to 1869. It included a large hall made from iron, 51.25 metres wide and 280 metres long, designed by Ferdinand Mathieu and carried out by the construction workshops of Schneider & Co at Le Creusot and Chalon-sur-Saône.
Also built was the departure pavilion to the north, the perpendicular building of the restaurant buffet, the arrival pavilion to the south, as well as the Paris-Orléans railway administration building at the west end of the hall, on Place Valhubert, with a Belle Époque style façade. The administrative building was an extension of the iron hall, whose pediment was invisible from Place Valhubert. This arrangement, as well as the choice of side entrances, was unusual for a terminal station.
A large refurbishment project of the Paris Austerlitz is currently under way. Four new platforms are being constructed and all the existing tracks are being refurbished. The interior will be rebuilt in order to handle LGV Sud-Est and LGV Atlantique services, partially transferred from the Gare de Lyon and Gare Montparnasse, both of which are at maximum capacity.
Gare Montparnasse is one of the six major Parisian terminus railway stations. It is located in Montparnasse, on the left bank of the Seine, straddling the 14th and 15th arrondissements (respectively in the Plaisance and Necker districts). It is a mainline station, northern terminus of the LGV Atlantique, ensuring TGV connections to destinations in the Great West.
The station opened in 1840, was rebuilt in 1852 and relocated in 1969 to a new station just south of the original location – where subsequently the prominent Montparnasse Tower was constructed. It is a central element to the Montparnasse area.
The station itself is worth visiting; in the main hall, large Op Art wall compositions by the painter Victor Vasarely are installed, while the Atlantic garden is located on a slab above the tracks. Until 2019, it housed a museum complex on the Resistance, consisting of the Museum of General Leclerc de Hauteclocque and the Liberation of Paris – Jean-Moulin Museum, a double museum dedicated to these two personalities; this museum was moved in 2019 to be reinstalled in a building on place Denfert-Rochereau.
The Gare Saint-Lazare is one of the six large mainline railway station termini in Paris, France. It serves train services toward Normandy, northwest of Paris, along the Paris–Le Havre railway. Saint-Lazare is the third busiest station in Paris, after the Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. It handles 275,000 passengers each day. The station was designed by architect Juste Lisch; the maître d’œuvre (general contractor) was Eugène Flachat.
The Gare Saint-Lazare itself, a monument to the last word in state-of-the-art transportation, the railroad. The Gare Saint-Lazare has been represented in a number of artworks. It attracted artists during the Impressionist period and many of them lived very close to the Gare St-Lazare during the 1870s and 1880s.
Le Quartier de l’Europe, where artists like Claude Monet and Gustave Caillebotte spent a lot of time and painted was, in short, a paradigm of modern Paris; the forward-looking young artists who called it home, and who had consciously dedicated themselves to the interpretation of modern life, included in their work recognizable references to their neighborhood as a sign of both their commitment to the present, with all its irregularities and “unaesthetic” components, and their rejection of the past, with its Academy-sanctioned conventions.
Édouard Manet lived close by, at 4 rue de Saint-Pétersbourg. Two years after moving to the area he showed his painting The Railway, (also known as Gare Saint-Lazare) at the Paris Salon in 1874. Painted from the backyard of a friend’s house on the nearby rue de Rome, this canvas, now in the National Gallery of Art at Washington D.C., portrays a woman with a small dog and a book as she sits facing us in front of an iron fence; a young girl to her left views the railroad track and steam beyond it.
Gustave Caillebotte also lived just a short walk away from the station. He painted Le Pont de l’Europe (The Bridge of Europe) in 1876 (now in the Petit Palais, Musée d’Art Moderne in Geneva, Switzerland) and On the Pont de l’Europe in 1876-80 (Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth). While the former picture looks across the bridge with the ironworks diagonally crossing the picture to the right, with a scene of partially interacting figures on the bridge to the left, the latter depicts the iron structure of the bridge face-on in a strong close-up of its industrial geometry, with three male figures to the left side of the painting all looking in different directions (the Pont de l’Europe is a massive bridge spanning the railyard of the newly expanded station, which at that time had an iron-work trellis).
In 1877, Claude Monet left Argenteuil for Paris, where he moved to the Nouvelle Athènes housing estate, in the Saint-Georges district. After studying the campaign for several years, he decided to study technical progress, a theme that had become very fashionable. The painter then asked for permission to work in the Saint-Lazare station, close to his home. He finds inspiration in the modernity and mobility of the subject, its changing luminosity, the clouds of vapor. He produced a series of twelve paintings from various points of view, including views of the vast hall, where he focused more on light effects and colors than on a detailed description of the railway world.
Like other Parisian stations, Gare Saint-Lazare, through its manager SNCF Gares & Connexions, offers its travelers several cultural services. It is, more specifically, station lives. These mini-concerts are given by artists from all walks of life, offered to travelers wishing to have fun. The station is also equipped with a free access piano, which some people use to relax while waiting for their train, but which also allows young talents to be spotted.
In 2021, Gare Saint-Lazare will host the Art Lutique museum, the first museum in the world dedicated to the creative industries which will exhibit the works of contemporary artists from comics, manga, cinema, animation and video games. Located behind the large clock on the station facade, over an area of more than 1,300 m2, the museum will present an evolving permanent collection, initiation workshops and temporary exhibitions devoted to artists and international studios from the Playful art. The station thus becomes the first in the world to house an art museum.