SOME TIME AGO I reported that the Gare du Nord, one of the six main line railway stations in Paris and the busiest railway station in Europe, is undergoing a transformation. But it’s not only the Gare du Nord that is being transformed. On the left bank of the Seine, in the southeastern part of the city, another Parisian main line station is having a major facelift.
Since 2012, work has been underway at Gare de Paris Austerlitz, usually called Gare d’Austerlitz, to construct four new platforms, refurbish the existing tracks and rebuild the station interior. The renovation work will be completed by 2020 thus doubling the capacity of the station to accommodate some of the current TGV Sud-Est and TGV Atlantique services which will be transferred from Gare de Lyon and Gare Montparnasse, both of which are at maximum capacity.
The redevelopment of Gare d’Austerlitz is not confined to the station itself. It will also include developing some 100,000 M² of land between the station and the neighbouring Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière to include housing, offices, public facilities and businesses.
Built in 1840 to serve first the Paris-Corbeil then the Paris-Orleans line, the station, known originally as Gare d’Orléans, underwent its first makeover between 1862 and 1867 to a design by the French by architect Pierre-Louis Renaud, much of which is what we see today.
The name, Gare d’Austerlitz was adopted to commemorate Napoléon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in December 1805.
Métro Line 5 arrived at Gare d’Austerlitz in 1906, the station survived the great flood of 1910 and in 1926 it became the first Parisian railway station to stop handling steam trains when electrification arrived.
Although the smallest of the Parisian main line stations, until the late 1980s Gare d’Austerlitz was one of the busiest with services not only to Orléans but also to Bordeaux and Toulouse. However, with the introduction of the TGV Atlantique using Gare Montparnasse, Gare d’Austerlitz lost most of its long-distance southwestern services and the station became a shadow of its former self. About 30 million passengers a year currently use Gare d’Austerlitz, about half as many as use Gare Montparnasse and a third as many as use the Gare du Nord.
The 21st century makeover of Gare d’Austerlitz will see the station upgraded to handle TGV trains, some of its former southwestern services restored and its capacity doubled.
Capturing the sounds of Paris is what I do and capturing changing soundscapes of the city has a special fascination for me. Any renovation of public spaces not only changes the visual aspect of the place but also its soundscape and so I am anxious to follow how the soundscape of the Gare d’Austerlitz will change as the current development unfolds.
This is what the station sounds like today:
Gare d’Austerlitz and its sounds:
It will be interesting to compare these sounds with sounds recorded from the same place in 2020 when the work is completed.
Of course, we don’t have to wait until 2020 to find a changing soundscape around Gare d’Austerlitz. We only have to go up from the main station platforms to the Métro station Gare d’Austerlitz to discover how soundscapes change over time.
These are sounds I recorded on the Métro station platform in 2011 when the old, bone shaking, MF67 trains were running.
Métro Line 5 – Gare d’Austerlitz in 2011
And these are sounds I recorded this year from exactly the same place. The difference is that the old rolling stock has been replaced with the newer, more energy efficient, smoother running, much more comfortable, air-conditioned, MF01 trains.
Métro Line 5 – Gare d’Austerlitz in 2017
The old MF67 trains no longer ply Line 5 of the Paris Métro and their iconic sounds have gone forever. I believe that the everyday sounds that surround us are as much a part of our heritage as the magnificent buildings that grace this city and, although change is inevitable and often for the better, the sounds we lose in the process deserve to be preserved.
Just as the sounds on Métro Line 5 have changed so will the sounds in and around Gare d’Austerlitz as its renovation unfolds. And I will be there to capture the changing soundscape for posterity.
SEARCH WIKIPEDIA FOR ‘Paris Flood’ and this is what you will most likely find:
“In late January 1910, following months of high rainfall, the Seine River flooded Paris when water pushed upwards from overflowing sewers and subway tunnels, and seeped into basements through fully saturated soil. The waters did not overflow the river’s banks within the city, but flooded Paris through tunnels, sewers, and drains. In neighbouring towns both east and west of the capital, the river rose above its banks and flooded the surrounding terrain directly.”
Fast forward a hundred years or so to the beginning of June 2016 and the question on most Parisians’ minds was: “Will history repeat itself?”
Place Louis Aragon; 4th Arrondissement; June 2016
After a prolonged period of rain last month, the waters of the Seine, Loire and Yonne rivers began to rise alarmingly. In the départements of Loiret and Seine-et-Marne the rivers broke their banks causing what French President, François Holland, described as a “real catastrophe”.
In Paris, the Seine didn’t break its banks but, rising to some 6.3 metres above normal on the night of Friday 3rd June, it came dangerously close.
The sight of dirty brown water and debris floating through the centre of the city was surreal.
Although the Seine didn’t break its banks in the city, the quais on either side of the river were completely flooded giving a clue at least as to what those in the worst affected départements were experiencing.
A five-minute walk from my home, the Seine had completely covered an island jutting out into the river. The Parisian green benches, the skateboard park and the honey farm with its beehives were completely submerged.
A nearby tennis court was looking the worse for wear.
And the péniches (houseboats) had been cast adrift.
On Saturday 4th June the news was that although the water hadn’t fallen, at least it had stopped rising and so, with the photograph of the policemen shown at the beginning of this post standing in front of the Viaduc d’Austerlitz in 1910 in mind, I went to the same place to see what I could find.
Completed in 1904, the Viaduc d’Austerlitz is a 140-metre single-span bridge built to carry the trains of Métro Line 5 over the Seine from the Quai de la Rapée to the Gare d’Austerlitz and back again. With an 8.5 metre wide deck suspended 11 metres above the river the bridge was designed to make it easily navigable for river traffic.
During the recent crisis all river traffic was suspended because the exceptionally high water level made the bridges over the Seine impassable.
Underneath the bridge the quay is usually open to pedestrians and vehicular traffic but on Saturday it was flooded despite a hastily erected barrier being in place.
What does a flood sound like? Would there be a sound-rich raging torrent of water crashing it’s way through the city?
I thought about this as I watched the water rise over several days and I discovered that it didn’t happen like that. There was no raging torrent but instead, an almost silent, inexorable flow of water calmly engulfing everything in its path.
On Saturday, with the floodwater passing by me and the trains of Metro Line 5 passing overhead, I recorded the sounds around the Viaduc d’Austerlitz. It wasn’t the sounds of the vast quantity of ugly brown water flowing along the river that caught my attention but rather the more delicate sounds on the flooded quais.
The Paris flood 2016 around the Viaduc d’Austerlitz:
With a repetition of the catastrophic Paris flood of 1910 avoided, the floodwater is beginning to recede. Water pumps have been drafted in, the clean-up operation has begun and the cost is being estimated somewhere between €600 million and €2 billion.
It’s easy to lament the situation in Paris over the past few days: the flooded quayside bars and restaurants, the péniches cast adrift, the closure of the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay to move their collections from ground level to higher floors, the occasional power outage and the closure of some Métro stations and part of RER Line ‘C’.
But let’s not forget the 4 dead, at least 24 injured and thousands of residents in towns such as Nemours and Montargis who saw their homes submerged and shop owners left counting the cost as the town centres were inundated by the floods.
IT’S PERHAPS BEST SEEN from outside the McDonald’s restaurant at the corner of the Boulevard de la Villette and the Avenue Secrétan in the 19th arrondissement. From here you can see the elegant, sweeping curve of the Paris Métro as it approaches the Métro station Jaurès, one of the four stations aériennes on Métro Line 2.
The elevated viaduct approaching Jaurès station
Although Métro Line 2 arrives at Jaurès station well above ground, the station also hosts two other lines, Line 5 and Line 7bis both of which are below ground.
The original station, called Rue d’Allemagne after a street close by, opened on 23rd February 1903 as part of the newly completed Métro Line 2 running between Porte Dauphine and Nation.
On 31 July 1914 the socialist and pacifist politician Jean Jaurès was assassinated in a Parisian café, Le Croissant, in rue Montmartre, by Raoul Villain, a 29-year-old French nationalist. Just three days later, war with Germany was declared and suddenly German names became unpopular. The street name rue d’Allemagne was expunged and replaced by the avenue Jean-Jaurès. With the change of the street name came the change of the name of the station, rue d’Allemagne became simply Jaurès.
Paris Métro Station Jaurès – A Sound Portrait:
Métro Station Jaurès – Line 2 – Direction Nation
Métro station Jaurès is one of the four stations aériennes on the 2 km elevated section of Métro Line 2 and so the Line 2 platform is well above ground.
Métro Station Jaurès – Line 2 – Direction Porte Dauphine
As well as the magnificent glass roof the platform also boasts a rather unusual stained glass window.
Designed by the artist Jacques-Antoine Ducatez, this window was installed in 1989 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. It depicts the people carrying flags marching towards the Bastille prison, the taking of which launched the Revolution.
Line 2 was the first Métro line to open at Jaures station but a further line, or at least part of a line, was added soon after. In January 1911, a branch line of Métro Line 7 to Pré Saint-Gervais was incorporated. This branch line remained until 1967 when it was formerly separated from Line 7 to become Line 7bis, or Line 7a.
Métro Station Jaurès – Line 7bis – Direction Louis Blanc
Line 7bis is the deepest of the lines that pass through Jaurès station and, at the moment, it looks by far the most desolate. All the tiles together with most of the fixtures and fittings have been removed in preparation for renovation work which is due to be completed by the end of June this year.
Métro Station Jaurès – Line 7bis – Direction Pré Saint-Gervais
Sandwiched between Line 7bis and the aerial Line 2 is Line 5, which crosses the east of Paris from Bobigny to Place d’Italie.
Métro Station Jaurès – Line 5 – Direction Place d’Italie
Line 5 arrived at Jaurès station in 1942 as part of the extension of that line from the Gare du Nord to Eglise de Pantin.
Métro Station Jaurès – Line 5 – Direction Bobigny
In my sound portrait you can hear the sounds from all three of the Métro lines that pass through Jaurès station, Line 2, Line 5 and Line 7bis.
YESTERDAY, WEDNESDAY 18th JULY, was World Listening Day 2012. Organised by the World Listening Project in partnership with the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology, World Listening Day is a celebration of listening as it relates to the world around us. People from across the world participate in a variety of ways and I was keen to make my contribution. I gave a lot of thought to what my contribution might be.
I decided that I wanted to share sounds that people would find interesting and enjoyable to listen to, sounds that reflected everyday life here in Paris, sounds that anyone could have easy access to but sounds that are perhaps so familiar they are often ignored. The Paris Métro seemed to have the answer.
A staggering 1.5 billion journeys are made on the Paris Métro each year. About 93 million of these are made on Line 5, the line that crosses the east of Paris from Place d’Italie to Bobigny. When I began to think about it two things occurred to me. First, Line 5 is perhaps the most sonically interesting line on the Paris Métro network and second, I suspect that very few people actually travel the full length of the line from Place d’Italie to Bobigny – Pablo Picasso or back again.
Line 5 is of particular interest to me because its sounds are changing. The current MF 67 trains have been in service for over forty years and they’re now gradually being replaced by the new MF 2000 rolling stock. Before too long, the distinctive sounds of the MF 67’s, the sounds everyone associates with the Paris Métro, will disappear. For some time now I have been collecting and preserving the sounds of the Paris Métro and particularly the sounds of Line 5, but I have never recorded the complete journey from one end of the line to the other. World Listening Day 2012 seemed like an ideal opportunity to do it.
I began my journey at Place d’Italie.
Place d’Italie – On the left an MF 2000 : On the right an MF 67
The journey from Place d’Italie to the other terminus at Bobigny – Pablo Picasso is 14.6 kilometres. It includes 22 stops and it takes about 35 minutes.
Place d’Italie to Bobigny – Pablo Picasso:
The station names on Line 5, like the station names on all the Métro lines, provide a lexicon of French history. It’s easy to get carried away thinking about Napoleon and the Treaty of Campo Formio or the Battle of Austerlitz or Jacques Bonsergent, the first civilian Parisian to be executed by the Nazis during the Occupation all remembered in the station names on Line 5.
The MF 67 train I travelled on
But for me, it’s the sounds that are so fascinating. The ageing MF 67 rolling stock combined with the curves and gradients of Line 5 create a sonic experience unlike any other on the Paris Métro network. So, anyone familiar with Line 5 will be familiar with these sounds.
People don’t usually catch Métro trains just to listen to the sounds … but I do, which is why this recording takes on an extra dimension. I record sounds like this partly as an historical record of the sounds of our time but also for the purely sonic qualities that sounds like this have. Listened to in a train on Line 5 these sounds simply come with the territory, but listened to away from the Métro system, divorced from their context, they become something completely different.
On one level, these completely unprocessed sounds are a colourful sonic record of a journey from Place d’Italie to Bobigny – Pablo Picasso along the full length of Line 5. On another level, they become a sort of self-generated work of sound art, a Matériel Fer tone poem.
Listening as it relates to the world around us is what World Listening Day is all about. These sounds, the sounds of Line 5 of the Paris Métro, are my contribution to World Listening Day and I hope they will enrich others around the world as much as they enrich me.
LINE 5 OF THE PARIS METRO must surely have the most distinctive sounds on the city’s entire Metro system. Earlier this year, I produced a blog piece about the Quai de la Rapée Metro station on Line 5 together with the sounds of the trains passing in to and out of the station.
Sounds of Line 5 at Quai de la Rapée:
Paris Metro Line 5
Yesterday, I had to travel along Line 5 from Gare d’Austerlitz to Place d’Italie and once again I was struck by the distinctive sounds on this line. I recorded the relatively short journey and I’ve included the end of it, the one stop from Campo Formio station to the terminus at Place d’Italie, for you to listen to.
Sounds of Line 5 – Campo Formio to Place d’Italie:
So what causes these distinctive sounds? I think it’s mainly to do with the fact that the trains on Line 5 are over forty years old – they were introduced in 1967/1968, so they are sounding their age.
Photo from Wikipedia
They are Type MF 67 rolling stock – and here, a quick lesson in Paris Metro train designation is called for. There are several types of trains on the Metro system but they fall into two main categories, those designated Type MF and those designated Type MP. The distinction is that the Type MF’s (Le materiel fer) have steel wheels whereas the Type MP’s (Le materiel sur pneus) have rubber tyres. Needless to say, the Type MF 67’s on Line 5 have steel wheels, which contributes to some of the distinctive sounds.
It is with mixed feelings that I can report that rather swanky new trains are gradually being introduced on Line 5.
Photo from Wikipedia
The existing MF 67’s are being replaced with the new Type MF2000 trains. These are more efficient, quieter and the only trains on the network to have on-board air-conditioning. To date, sixteen MF 2000 trains have been introduced, leaving forty MF 67 trains remaining.
So, the distinctive sounds of the Type MF 67 trains on Line 5 are set to disappear some time soon. Suddenly, recording and archiving these vanishing sounds for posterity seems to be really quite important.
I OFTEN STAND on this spot and look down the Port d’Arsenal towards Bastille. I’ve been here in the summer sunshine, in the autumnal mists and in the depths of winter.
But it’s not the view that I come for. Just to the left from where this picture was taken is the lock that forms the entrance to the Port d’Arsenal – the link between the Port and la Seine. Over the lock is an iron bridge that carries the Metro Line 5 into the Metro station Quai de la Rapée. It’s the distinctive sounds of the Metro trains trundling over this bridge and into and out of this station that I enjoy.
Metro Sounds at the Quai de la Rapée:
Named after Jean-Baptiste La Rapée, General Superintendant of the Armies of Louis XIV who owned a country house hereabouts, the station stands on the Quai de la Rapée, until the beginning of the 20th century a port specialising in handling logging and wood products.
Of the 208.8 km of the Paris Metro system, 16.6 km are above ground, part of Fulgence Bienvenûe’s Metro ariéne. Consequently, most of the stations are either underground or well above ground. The station Quai de la Rapée is unusual in that it is at ground level.
The texture of the sounds changes with the seasons of the year, becoming crisper and harsher in the winter and it’s the mystical quality of these constantly changing sounds that attract me back to this place.
Before long, as the rolling stock on the Paris Metro is upgraded with sleeker, more efficient but sonically much less interesting trains, today’s sounds at the Quai de la Rapée will disappear. Those who live close to this part of Line 5 may breath a sigh of relief at that prospect but I can’t help feeling that we will have lost yet another of the sounds that define this city.