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!
FOR OVER ONE HUNDRED years, the Viaduc d’Austerlitz has swept majestically over la Seine. Its sole purpose is to carry the trains of Métro Line 5 over the river from the Quai de la Rapée to the Gare d’Austerlitz and back again.
The task facing Fulgence Bienvenüe, the architect of the Paris Métro network, was how to get Line 5 across the la Seine without interfering with the river traffic. The answer came from the engineer, Louis Biette, who proposed a single-span bridge with the deck suspended from two elegant metal arches so that no pillars or supports descended into the river.
The single-span stretches for 140 metres, which even today makes it the second longest bridge in Paris. The 8.5 metre wide deck is suspended 11 metres above the river. Two stone abutments support the ends of the metal arches, one on each bank of the river, with each measuring 22 metres x 18 metres. Each abutment also extends some 10 metres below the river.
The viaduct itself was built between 1903 and 1904 by the Société de Construction de Levallois-Perret which, under a different name, was the same company that built the Eiffel Tower.
Building the viaduct itself was relatively straightforward. Large wooden scaffolding was erected with wooden pillars sunk deep into the river bed to enable the prefabricated metal sections to be put into place. Building the approaches to the viaduct, or at least one of them, was much more complex though.
While the approach from the Gare d’Austerlitz on the Left Bank posed no particular problems, it was a completely different story on the other side. It was decided that it was impracticable to demolish the necessary buildings on the Right Bank to facilitate a straight entry to the viaduct so instead the design called for a sharp 90° turn within a restricted space. But not only that, the line was required to make a sharp climb from under the Place Mazas to the level of the viaduct. The problem was given to the firm Daydé and Pillé who built the Grand Palais in 1900 but were really specialists in metal construction and particularly bridges.
Their solution involved the application of mathematics and the construction of a helicoidal extension to the viaduct. A helicoid I am told is a curve shaped like Archimedes’ screw, but extending infinitely in all directions. This particular helicoid has a radius of 75 metres and a slope of 4% which not only provides a neat solution to the problem but it also makes the ageing MF 67 Métro trains groan with exasperation.
MF 67 trains climbing the slope and negotiating the curve:
Jean Camille Formigé was responsible for the decorations on the pillars, the arches and the abutments of the viaduct which consist of dolphins, shells, seaweed and animal faces as well as the cast iron designs featuring the coat of arms of Paris attached to anchors.
Formigé though was not responsible for this more recent decoration on the abutment on the Left Bank side.
Adam from Invisible Paris usually knows about things like this so I asked him if he could tell me anything about this lady and why she was there. He told me that she, “ is a creation by artists Leo & Pipo (a selection of other creations can be found here http://www.facebook.com/LEOetPIPO), but it seems that both the photos and the places in which they are positioned are pretty random. I think only they know therefore who she is and why they put her there!”
Thanks to the foresight of Fulgence Bienvenüe and Louis Biette together with the ingenuity of Daydé and Pillé, Métro Line 5 was successfully navigated across la Seine from Quai de la Rapée to the Gare d’Austerlitz via the Viaduc d’Austerlitz.
I find the Viaduc d’Austerlitz not only visually attractive but sonically priceless. Every time I go there I am acutely aware that the screeching of each MF 67 train is a sound that is fast disappearing. The old trains are gradually being replaced by the swanky new, more efficient, cleaner and quieter MF 2000 trains. That’s clearly the right thing to do … but I can’t help feeling sorry that we will lose one of the sounds that defines Paris in the process.
It seems appropriate therefore to leave you with the sounds of the short ride from Quai de la Rapée station, under Place Mazas, up the slope and round the helicoidal curve, across the Viaduc d’Austerlitz over la Seine to Gare d’Austerlitz station. It’s a journey of one minute and thirty seconds but it spans over one hundred years of history.
Quai de la Rapée to Gare d’Austerlitz:
I HAVE EXCITING NEWS from Line 1 of the Paris Metro! The 725,000 passengers who travel on this line every day, including me, are now enjoying new, driverless, automatic trains. And what’s more, we have new, up-market ‘Mind the Gap’ announcements as well.
In November last year, the first automatic trains went into service on Line 1. RATP, (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) the Paris mass transit authority, sent me a letter to tell me about this and to say that two new automatic trains a month will be introduced so that by the end of 2012 Line 1 will be completely automatic.
Paris already has of course the world’s first fully automated Metro line, Line 14, which runs from Saint Lazare to Olympiades on a north-west south-east diagonal across the centre of Paris. The conversion of Line 1 is another first. It’s the first time that an old, working Metro line (Line 1 was built in 1900) has been converted to be fully automatic without any disruption to the service. That’s quite an achievement. The work to reconfigure the platforms and to install the sophisticated electronics began in 2008 and it’s been a long process. I know because I’ve watched it all unfold. Sometimes, it seemed that the work would never end.
The Automatic MP 05 Train
The new automatic, air-conditioned trains are built by Alstom and they have been designated with the appellation, MP 05. MP (matériel pneus) means that they have rubber tyres. 05 refers to the date of the original tender for these trains that was issued in 2005. These new trains are replacing the existing MP 89’s, which I’ve become very fond of since I’ve been here. The good news is that the MP 89’s will have an afterlife. As they’re removed from Line 1 they will see many more years of service on Line 4.
The MP 89 Train
As if all this wasn’t exciting enough I have even more exciting news! The new, automatic trains on Line 1 have new announcers and a special new announcement for ‘Mind the Gap’.
A source inside RATP, the man responsible for the sound identity of the Paris Metro, has given me some really interesting information, which I’m delighted to share with you. RATP take their sound identity very seriously. They have introduced foreign languages for some announcements and they pay particular attention to their authenticity by using native speakers. French and English are always present but they add other rotating languages, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese.
‘Mind the Gap’ goes international:
There we go, ‘Mind the Gap’ in French, English, German and Japanese.
The male voice used in this announcement is a British RATP staff member working in the marketing department. The French female voice is a former metro train driver on Line 1.
Well done RATP not only for excelling at converting Line 1 to automatic without any disruption but also for having the foresight to give such a high profile to the sound identity of the Paris Metro.
I can’t help wondering what Fulgence Bienvenüe, the one-armed railway engineer and ‘Father of the Metropolitan’ would make of it all. I like to think he would approve.
To hear more of ‘Mind the Gap’ click on the links below:
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.
THE PARIS METRO HAS an endless fascination for me. It makes up part of the superb public transport system that threads its way into the remotest corners of this city – but more than that, most of the Paris Metro system has character.
Take the Metro station Passy in the XVI arrondissement that I visited on Saturday.
Sounds at Passy Metro Station:
Whilst most of the Paris Metro system is underground, a good part of it is actually above ground – and in some cases, a considerable way above ground. Read more
Paris has a superb public transport system at the heart of which is the Paris metro.
The man considered to be the “Father of the Métropolitain” was the wonderfully named Fulgence Bienvenûe, a one-armed railway engineer who had great experience of constructing railway systems but no experience of designing urban transport systems. In March 1898, the Minister of Public works authorised the construction of the first six lines of the Métropolitain amounting to some forty miles of track. Fulgence Bienvenûe was appointed Director of Construction for the Métropolitain and he embarked upon his task with enthusiasm.
The construction of the Métropolitain was a huge task. Work began in early 1899 against the background of the other great project of the time, the Universal Exposition, which was to open in the spring of 1900. Unlike the London Underground where deep tunnels were bored, Bienvenûe opted for the cut and cover method of construction. This meant digging deep trenches at the bottom of which the lines were laid and the stations built. Then the trenches were covered over and tunnels formed. This meant that Paris became a huge building site.
Using the cut and cover method of construction the work was able to proceed quickly and the first Line, Line 1 from Porte Maillot in the west to Vincennes in the east, was opened on 19th July, 1900, several weeks after the opening of the Universal Exposition. Line 1was extended much later first to Pont-de Neuilly and then to La Défense. It is the line that I use practically every day.
Bienvenûe continued to work on the metro until his retirement in 1934 at the age of eighty-two. His name lives on today. The metro station Montparnasse – Bienvenûe is named after him.
The work of the other man most closely connected to the Paris metro is iconic, instantly recognisable and is seen as the very image of Paris.
Hector Guimard was commissioned to design all the entrances for the Paris metro in 1902. His name was synonymous with the Art Nouveau movement and his sinuous floral designs in forged iron were produced in sections so that they could be adapted to the conditions of each station. His designs were elaborate with glass roofs and walls and some even included drainage systems. Hector Guimard designed all the entrances to the Paris metro stations until 1913.
Sadly, only two of Guimard’s original metro entrances are still in use. One is at Porte Dauphine, shown here in the photograph above, and the other is at Abbesses although this one was originally at the Hôtel de Ville. Fortunately, some of Guimard’s other metro entrances remain at least in part like this one in the Place des Ternes.
The Métropolitain remains a unique part of the French cultural heritage.
The sound of a metro train on Line 12 at Concorde