THE ‘END OF THE LINE’ STRAND in my Paris Soundscapes Archive is dedicated to the sounds I capture in and around each terminus station on the Paris Métro system. From time to time I share the atmosphere of some of these terminus stations and their surroundings on this blog.
In previous ‘End of the Line’ posts I’ve explored the sounds in and around the Métro station Les Courtilles, the branch of Paris Métro Line 13 terminating in the northwest of Paris, and the sounds in and around Métro station Château de Vincennes, the easterly terminus of Paris Métro Line 1. Now I’m going to explore the sounds in and around the Métro station La Défense – Grande Arche, the westerly terminus of Métro Line 1.
However, to make this ‘End of the Line’ segment more manageable I will divide it into two parts. Today’s post, Part 1, explores inside La Défense – Grande Arche station and the next post, Part 2, will explore the sounds around the station in what is said to be Europe’s largest purpose-built business district containing most of the Paris urban area’s tallest high-rise buildings.
La Défense looking to the West
Because it serves the largest business district in the Paris region, La Défense – Grande Arche is a multi-functional transport hub. Not only is it home to the western terminus of Métro Line 1, it also houses a Transilien suburban train station, an RER station, a tram station and a bus station, all designed principally to handle the huge number of commuters who travel to and from work in La Défense each day.
La Défense – Grande Arche: The main concourse
The business district of La Défense is so big that it actually has two Métro stations. Esplanade de la Défense is the first of these so it was approaching here on my way to La Défense – Grande Arche that I began my sonic exploration.
Exploring La Défense – Grande Arche station in sound:
Opened on 19th July 1900, Métro Line 1 is the oldest line on the Paris Métro network. Built by the one-armed railway engineer Fulgence Bienvenüe, to connect various sites of the 1900 Exposition Universelle, the original line comprised eighteen stations between Porte Maillot and Porte de Vincennes. In 1934, the line was extended to the east from Porte de Vincennes to Chateau de Vincennes and in 1937 it was extended to the west from Porte Maillot to Pont de Neuilly. In 1992, Line 1 was extended again to the west from Pont de Neuilly to La Défense. In 2007, work began to automate Line 1 and on 15th December 2012 a fully automatic service was introduced. Today the 16.5 km Métro Line 1 is the most utilised line on the Paris Métro network handling over 600,000 passengers per day.
Arriving at the La Défense – Grande Arche terminus, I alighted and made my way up to the cavernous station concourse. This used to be a dingy, inhospitable place but a recent coat of paint has brightened it up a bit and now, the usual suspects cater for the commuters.
From the main concourse I headed off to explore the tram station, home to Tram Line T2.
Tram Line T2, linking the south-west suburbs of Paris with La Défense, began operating in 1997. The tramway was built on the former train line thus making it independent from the road. An extension In 2009 added five more stations towards the south, extending to Port de Versailles and in November 2012, another 4.2 km northern extension beyond La Défense to Bezons added a further seven stations.
The extensions to Tram Line 2 are part of a larger scheme in the Île-de-France aiming to increase connectivity of the suburbs by creating up to 70km of bus and tramways around Paris.
The Transilien suburban trains operate from platforms adjacent to but separated from the tram platforms.
While the public address announcements in the main station concourse are almost unintelligible, those in the tram station are much better – even if they do seem to appear end-to-end.
From the tram station I went back to the concourse and on to the RER station and RER Line A.
With more than one million passengers a day, RER Line A is the busiest Parisian urban rail line.
With the section of the line running through the city centre closed each summer for maintenance and construction work, much to the dismay of commuters, and with the line badly affected by alerts for suspect packages, which have doubled in the last year, it’s hardly surprising that, according to a 2017 survey by transport authorities in the greater Paris region, trains on RER Line A run on time only 85.3% of the time. Add to that grossly overcrowded trains and the occasional strike and RER Line A can sometimes be a challenge.
Despite the introduction of advanced traffic control systems that enable extremely short spacing between trains during rush hour (under 90 seconds in stations, under 2 minutes in tunnels) together with several upgrades in rolling stock, ever-increasing traffic volume and imminent saturation continues to blight the line.
Still, it’s not the worst performing RER line. According to the 2017 survey, that accolade goes to RER Line D.
The sounds of La Défense – Grande Arche presented in this post are a distillation of my original ninety minute recording now consigned to my Paris Soundscapes Archive but I hope they give you at least a flavour of the sonic tapestry hidden below the monumental Grande Arche de la Défense. In Part 2, I shall explore the sounds up on the surface.
Even with this extensive transport facility complete with its coffee shops and fast food outlets, travelling to and from La Défense during the rush hour each day can be a grim experience. I know, I did it for thirteen years!
WHEN I TRAVEL IN Paris I mostly use either the Métro or the buses but rarely the RER. The RER, or Réseau Express Régional, of course does crisscross Paris but I only seem to use it when travelling further afield to the Parisian suburbs.
The RER Network across Paris and the Île-de-France
The other day I was on an RER train returning to Paris from a sound recording assignment in the suburbs when I alighted at the RER station ‘Champs de Mars – Tour Eiffel’. Although I pass this station frequently on my regular 82 bus journeys I had never actually been inside so I took this opportunity to have a look round and, of course, to capture the atmosphere in sound.
Inside the Gare du Champs de Mars:
There are two unassuming entrances to the station, one at the junction of the Quai Branly and the Avenue de Suffren …
… and the other further along the Quai Branly at the Pont Bir-Hakeim.
Entering the station from the entrance close to the Avenue de Suffren the unassuming feel continues. There is no huge concourse but rather a narrow corridor leading to the ticket barrier.
There are only two platforms at the station conveniently named ‘A’ and ‘B’ and the signage is good too, which is just as well since thousands of tourists use this station to get to and from the most visited attraction in Paris, Le Tour Eiffel. Many tourists wanting to venture from the city centre to the Palace of Versailles also use this station.
It’s only once you pass the ticket barrier and have figured out which platform you need (for the Palace of Versailles you need Platform ‘A’ by the way) that you begin to get a different feel for this station.
RER Line ‘C’ – Direction Pontoise
The sweeping platforms are very long and from Platform ‘B’ you can look out across La Seine.
RER Line ‘C’ – Direction Versailles
Today’s Champs de Mars – Tour Eiffel station dates from 1988 when the Vallée de Montmorency – Invalides branch of RER Line ‘C’ opened. This stretch of line used a large part of the infrastructure of the former ligne de petite ceinture dating from 1867.
Today’s station may have only been here since 1988 but it is in fact the fifth railway station to have occupied this site.
The first Gare du Champs de Mars was built to connect the Petite-Ceinture to the Champ de Mars and the site of the 1867 Exposition Universelle, or World’s Fair. This station was demolished shortly after the Exposition.
Bird’s Eye view of the site of the 1867 Exposition Universelle in the Champs de Mars
Image via Wikipedia
For the 1878 Exposition Universelle, again held in Paris on the Champs de Mars, another Gare du Champs de Mars was built.
Gare du Champs de Mars in 1878
Image via Wikipedia
This station was designed and built by the French architect, Juste Lisch who, amongst other things, also designed the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. This station survived longer than its predecessor and it was used for the 1889 Exposition Universelle as well. In 1897 though the station was demolished and moved to Bois-Colombes on the outskirts of Paris.
The 1878 Gare du Champs de Mars in situ at Bois-Colombes
Image via Wikipedia
For the 1900 Exposition Universelle, this time featuring the newly built Tour Eiffel, another Gare du Champs de Mars was built and the line was moved closer to la Seine and extended to Invalides.
Gare du Champs de Mars in 1900
Image via Wikipedia
As well as a station for passengers, a goods station was built close by between the Avenue de Suffren and the Boulevard de Grenelle. After the 1900 Exposition the passenger station was closed, the goods station became a coal depot and from 1937 it was transformed into engine sheds. The former goods station was finally closed in 1971.
Although the 1900 Gare du Champs de Mars no longer exists it is possible to imagine something of it by walking along the Promenade du quai Branly between the Pont d’Iéna (opposite the Tour Eiffel) and the Pont Bir-Hakeim and looking back towards the Tour Eiffel. Along this stretch of the Promenade du quai Branly some of the original wall of the 1900 station remains.
Part of the original wall of the 1900 Gare du Champs de Mars
The Gare du Champs de Mars and its association with the Expositions Universelle held in the Champs de Mars close by is of interest to me partly because I find the history of these Expos fascinating (Paris also hosted the 1937 one as well) but also because Paris is bidding to hold the Exposition Universelle in 2025.
It just so happens that my local Mayor and Deputé (Member of Parliament) is leading the bid so I must ask him if we can expect yet another new Gare du Champs de Mars in 2025!