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Posts tagged ‘Gare du Nord’


The Changing Soundscape of the Gare du Nord

THE GARE DU NORD railway station in Paris is on the cusp of great change. Over the next few years the physical architecture of this station will be transformed and consequently, so will its sonic architecture.

For many years I have been recording and archiving the sounds of the Gare du Nord. My particular interest lies in investigating how sounds can define, or help to define, a place and how the soundscape of a particular place changes over time. The Gare du Nord is a valuable case study in both these areas.

The first Gare du Nord station was built in 1846 but an increase in traffic meant that a new, bigger station was soon required.


The original 1846 chemin de fer du nord station

Rebuilding took place under the direction of the German-born French architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff with the new station combining the advanced structural use of new materials, notably cast iron, with conservative Beaux-Arts classicism. Hittorff’s Gare du Nord was completed in 1864.


La “Gare de la Compagnie du chemin de fer du Nord” photographiée vers 1864 par Charles-Henri Plaut

Significant changes to the station were made in 1981 to accommodate RER Line B and then in 1993 to accommodate the TGV and the Eurostar. The last major change was 2001 with a major expansion of the departures hall.


Gare du Nord TGV Departure Hall in 2017

And now the Gare du Nord is about to undergo further change.

Subject to negotiations due to be concluded by the end of this year, SNCF Gares & Connections and the global real estate company Ceetrus will set up a joint venture to carry out a transformation of the Gare du Nord. Ceetrus, in association with architect Denis Valode (Valode and Pistre architects), will lead a transformation as big as that led by the Hittorff in 1864. The transformation is due to be completed in time for the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.


Artist’s impression of the transformed Gare du Nord

The transformation will see the station triple in size from 36,000m2 to 110,000 m2. With 700,000 passengers using the station each day, excluding those who use the associated Métro station, the Gare du Nord is already the busiest railway station in Europe. Following the transformation the daily passenger numbers are expected to increase to 800,000 in 2024 and 900,000 in 2030.

The transformation will include a new departure terminal in which the flow of arrivals and departures from the station will be distinct thus improving fluidity and comfort for travellers. A new station facade is proposed on rue du faubourg Saint-Denis with direct access to the departure terminal.

The Eurostar terminal will be expanded to meet the challenge of strengthened customs controls linked to Brexit.

Accessibility will be enhanced with more elevators and escalators. The new station will have 55 lifts and 105 escalators. Station security will be enhanced with more CCTV being installed.

Access to the three metro lines will be improved. The bus station with its 12 bus lines and 7 Noctilian services will be connected directly with the departure terminal, and 1,200 bicycle parking spaces will be available with direct access from the square in front of the station.

Traffic circulation around the station will be redesigned to take account of the redesigned access to the station and also the expected development of new electric mobility solutions.

The transformed station will also include a 2,000 m2 ‘European Academy of Culture’, a concept devised by the writer Olivier Guez, including a 1,600 m2 space to host events and concerts.

There will be 5,500 m2 of co-working space, a nursery, new restaurants and a one-kilometre running track on the station roof.


Artist’s impression of the transformed Gare du Nord

The transformation of the Gare du Nord will clearly change the visual landscape of the station but it will also change its sonic landscape. There are six main line railway stations in Paris, five of which sound very similar. The exception is the current Gare du Nord, which has a very distinctive soundscape. The size of the main departures terminal together with Hittorff’s 19th century iron and glass construction and the cacophony of waiting passengers squeezed between the parked trains and the street outside gives the Gare du Nord a very particular sonic ambience.

This is what the Gare du Nord sounded like in 2011.

Gare du Nord 2011:


Gare du Nord Departures Hall 2011

Although the major transformation project is not due to start until next year, some improvements to the Gare du Nord are already underway. When I went there last week I found men laying a new stone floor in the main departures hall, which gives us a clue as to how the soundscape of the station will change as the major construction work progresses. The sounds of the gasping trains will have to compete with the cacophony of building work for some considerable time to come.


Gare du Nord 2018:


Having recorded the soundscape of the current Gare du Nord many times I shall continue to record and archive the sounds as the station’s transformation takes place. I shall be fascinated to discover the sounds of the new, ultra-modern Gare du Nord when all the work is completed. I will though still go back to my archive from time to time and listen to the sounds of the ‘old’ Gare du Nord; sounds that have been so familiar to me for almost the last twenty years and sounds that are about to disappear.


Artist’s impression of the transformed Gare du Nord


Gare d’Austerlitz and its Changing Sounds

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.



Gare du Nord – A Transformation

DESPITE ITS REPUTATION for being stuck in the past, the face of Paris is changing.

A recognition that Paris needs to modernise to become more competitive in the twenty-first century, together with the Greater Paris Project, the plan to create a sustainable and creative metropolis by absorbing the suburbs and redeveloping the city centre, and the city’s bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games have become a catalyst for change.

A huge amount of money is being invested in public transport with the extension of the tramway network, the extension and upgrading of the Métro system and the introduction of electric and biogas buses.

Both the Ministry of Defence and the Palais de Justice are moving from the city centre into state-of-the-art new buildings on the outskirts of the capital to help stimulate the local economies, the Herzog & de Meuron designed skyscraper, the Tour Triangle, a 180 metre (590 ft) tall glass pyramid in the southwest of the city, has been given the green light and even the ghastly Tour Montparnasse is due for a makeover.

Although Paris is not yet a permanent building site, the pace of change is accelerating as seen by the recent announcement of a €600 million transformation of the busiest railway station in Europe, the Gare du Nord.


The Gare du Nord is one of six main line railway stations in Paris and with some 2,100 trains carrying 700,000 passengers per day, the station is not only the busiest in Europe, it’s the third busiest in the world.

Despite being rather scruffy and certainly in need of a revamp, the current Gare du Nord is special for me not because of the number of passengers who pass through it but because it is the only Parisian railway station with a distinctive soundscape. It is a perfect example of a place being defined by its sounds.

I went to the Gare du Nord the other day to capture more sounds for my archive before the station’s transformation changes the soundscape completely.


Inside the Gare du Nord; October 2016:


The transformation of the Gare du Nord will take place in two phases: the first has already begun and is due to be completed in 2019 and the second is scheduled from 2019 to 2023 – just in time for the 2024 Olympic Games – should the Paris bid be successful!

The Gare du Nord currently links Paris to London, Brussels, Amsterdam, the northern suburbs and Charles de Gaulle airport as well providing RER and Métro lines that cross the city.

The plans, designed by the architects Wilmotte & Associés, call for a new arrivals terminal exiting in Rue de Dunkerque, the current main entrance where passengers enter and leave the station, a new departures terminal entered from Rue de Maubeuge, where the taxi rank currently is, a Pôle échange Francilien for trains to the suburbs, a Pôle échange National for main line SNCF trains and a new €80 million Eurostar Terminal for which work is already underway.

A 160 metre-long, 60-metre wide walkway above the tracks will lead passengers to their platforms and the whole area around the station will be pedestrianised.

These images from Willmotte & Associés show us what we can expect:







As the visual landscape of the city changes so does its sound landscape and as an archivist of the contemporary Parisian soundscape I am striving to record and archive these changes.

Of course, it doesn’t only require an architectural transformation to change the soundscape of the Gare du Nord. Over the last seventeen years, I’ve witnessed the sounds of breathless passengers carrying suitcases give way to the rumble of wheeled luggage bags and where once the sounds of the trains were complimented only by the train announcements, today it is the repetitive security announcements that dominate – an example of sounds not only reflecting a change of lifestyle but also a change to the very fabric of our society.

Will I mourn the loss of the current distinctive soundscape of the Gare du Nord? Yes, of course, but I also look forward to the new, more passenger friendly terminus even with what I suspect will be its less distinctive soundscape.

I will record the sounds of the Gare du Nord both during and after its transformation content in the knowledge that the distinctive sounds of the station that so many of us knew before the work began will be preserved in my archive for future generations to explore, to study and to enjoy.


The Gare du Nord today – but not for much longer!


From Paris by Thalys

EARLIER THIS WEEK I had to travel from Paris to Amsterdam.

After years of criss-crossing Europe courtesy of Air France, I’ve come to realise that being seduced into thinking that a one-hour flight might be the quickest and most convenient way to travel between these two cities is a myth perpetuated only by the prospect of accumulating more, usually unclaimed, air miles.

Now, I’m more than happy to avoid the endless angst associated with airports and opt for a much more civilised mode of travel – the train.

Gare du Nord

My Thalys train from Paris to Amsterdam

After walking to the bus stop at the end of my little street I caught the 43 bus, which took me to the Gare du Nord in time for me to catch my 10.25 Thalys train to Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Gare du Nord

Thalys is an international high-speed train operator originally operating on the LGV Nord high-speed line between Paris and Brussels, a line shared with Eurostar trains going from Paris or Brussels to London via Lille and the Channel Tunnel. The line is also shared with French domestic TGV trains.

Beyond Brussels, the main cities Thalys trains reach are Antwerp, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Liège, Bruges, Ghent, Charleroi, Aachen and Cologne.


The main Thalys routes

En route to Amsterdam the Thalys crosses France, Belgium and The Netherlands stopping at Brussels (Bruxelles in French), Antwerp (Anvers in French), Rotterdam and Schiphol, before arriving at Amsterdam Centraal Station three hours and seventeen minutes after leaving Paris.

Thanks to a very sensible piece of joined-up thinking, Schiphol railway station is directly under Schiphol airport so for anyone flying from Schiphol, a short escalator ride from the train platform will deposit you directly inside the airline departures area.

Just as with the airlines, train ticketing remains a complete mystery to most of us but since I had the luxury of being able to book my tickets several weeks in advance, I was able to travel in Comfort Class 1 for less than the price of an Economy Class ticket bought close to the day of departure.


Inside Comfort Class 1 at Amsterdam Centraal Station after all the passengers had left

Since I never travel anywhere without microphones and a sound recorder I couldn’t resist recording my departure from Paris.

From Paris by Thalys:

I began recording as I was walking along Platform 9 at the Gare du Nord towards my carriage, N°13. A very smart young man in a Thalys uniform clipped my ticket and I boarded the train.

I am fascinated by what I call ‘transitional sounds’, the changing sounds we experience as we move from one environment to another. In this case, the sounds of the busy station platform merging into the relative silence of the train carriage.

It doesn’t take long though before this relative silence is penetrated by a different range of sounds – people stowing their luggage and settling into their seats, the rustle of papers, snatches of conversation, a lady progressing along the carriage offering to book taxis for those alighting at Brussels (a perk of travelling business class) and the loudspeaker announcements. On Thalys trains, the announcements are made in four languages, French, Dutch, German and English and since my journey started in Paris protocol dictates that the announcements begin in French. On the return journey from Amsterdam they begin with the Dutch version.

The lady announcer, who speaks all four languages, tells us that departure is imminent, the doors close and almost imperceptibly the train moves off. It’s not until we’re well clear of the station that the sound of the wheels rattling over rails is heard.

I continued recording until we passed Saint-Denis in the northeast of Paris and began picking up speed by which time I’d learned from the announcer that I was on the right train, the Thalys bar was open in the adjacent carriage and that I should keep my ticket with me at all times.

Presently, Charles de Gaulle airport hove into view in the distance and I couldn’t resist raising a glass to all the passengers there mired in the endless check-in queues, complex security procedures and all the other irritations associated with air travel. As one who used to make 150+ flights every year I’m quite content now to leave all that behind and let the train take the strain.



“Play Me, I’m Yours”

I LEFT PARIS earlier this week and went to London for a couple of days. I travelled on the Eurostar so two hours and fifteen minutes after leaving the Gare du Nord in Paris I was in St Pancras railway station in London.

Arriving at St-Pancras:

London of course has just hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games and some reminders of that remarkable few weeks this summer remain in St Pancras station.

I like St Pancras station not only for its stunning Victorian architecture but also because it has a Foyles bookshop that gives me endless pleasure and which seems to extract money from my wallet quite effortlessly. It was while I was in Foyles earlier this week that I heard the sound of a piano. I went to investigate.

A Man and a Piano:

Although the sound of a piano is not something that one expects to hear in a railway station, St Pancras has given me musical surprises before as you can see here.

Today’s surprise though came from one of the pianos I discovered placed around the station which is actually an artwork by British artist Luke Jerram called, “Play Me, I’m Yours”. Reaching over two million people worldwide – more than seven hundred pianos have already been installed in cities across the world bearing the simple instruction ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’.

Located in public parks, bus shelters and train stations, outside galleries and markets and even on bridges and ferries, the pianos are available for any member of the public to play and enjoy. Many pianos are personalised and decorated by artists or the local community. By creating a place of exchange ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ invites the public to engage with, activate and take ownership of their urban environment.

“Play Me, I’m Yours”:

Taking ownership of this particular piece of the urban environment was this delightful, foot-tapping, American gentleman who brightened up everyone’s afternoon including mine.

And ….

Play Me, I’m Yours‘ has also been to Paris. I found it in the CNIT at La Défense in July.



The Voice of the 39 Bus – continued …

AT THE BEGINNING of June I published a blog piece entitled “The Voice of the 39 Bus” in which I described the recording of the bus stop announcements for the 39 bus route in Paris. I also introduced Andréa, the voice of the 39 bus.

I had been given exclusive access to attend the recording session held at the studios of Sixième Son, Europe’s leading audio branding and sound identity agency. Song Phanekham, the man responsible for the sound identity of RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), the Paris mass transit authority, was there and he directed the recording session.

All the names on the 39 bus route were recorded by Andréa by repeating them two or three times, sometimes with a slightly different inflection, so as to give Song more choice in the editing.  Great care was taken to ensure exactly the correct pronunciation and inflection for each name.

An extract from the recording session:

The 39 bus travels from the Gare du Nord in the north of Paris to Issy – Frères Voisin in the south-west. The journey takes about an hour depending on the traffic.

The terminus at Issy – Frères Voisin is simply an ordinary bus stop in an ordinary leafy street surrounded by tall rather plain buildings.

I travelled the full length of the 39 bus route on Saturday from the Gare du Nord to Issy – Frères Vosin and back again and the good news is that I was accompanied by Andréa, or at least by her voice, which has now been installed in the 39 buses. I recorded my journey in both directions.

Travelling this route is rather like travelling on a tour bus, you get a really fascinating view of this city.

Some sounds from the 39 bus route:

Here I have selected a montage of some, but by no means all, of the sounds of the journey which, for those of you who know Paris, will conjure up fascinating images … Porte Saint-Martin, Porte Saint-Denis, Poissonnière – Bonne Nouvelles, Grand Boulevards, Bibliothèque Nationale, Palais Royal – Comedie Française, Musée du Louvre, Pont du Carroussel – Quai Voltaire, Saint-Germain des Près, Sèvres – Babylon, not to mention the Hôpital des Enfants Malade, Colonel Pierre Avia and of course the not quite so glamorous, Issy – Frères Voisin. All this comes for the price of a bus ticket and the joy of having one’s bones rattled as the bus bounces over the all too frequent pavé.

There are couple of things you might find of interest.

First, Paris bus stop names are derived from the names of streets or buildings in the vicinity of the bus stop so, for example, the stop for the Hôpital des Enfants Malade is right outside the hospital. Some bus stop names though comprise two names like Palais Royal – Comedie Française for example. This simply means that the bus stop is between the Palais Royal and the Comedie Française just as the stop Pont du Carroussel – Quai Voltaire is at the junction of the Pont du Carroussel and the Quai Voltaire. It’s simple really.

Second, the bell often heard on a Parisian bus is not, as in some countries, a signal from a passenger to the driver to stop at the next stop but rather a signal from the driver to those outside the bus to beware. A signal best heeded!


The Gare du Nord and Its Sounds

THE GARE DU NORD is one of the six terminus railway stations in Paris and it’s the one I use most often.

It’s reputed to be the busiest railway station in Europe with 190 million passengers passing through it each year. That equates to the population of the United Kingdom, France and Italy combined, or the entire population of Brazil.

From the Gare du Nord French SNCF trains head to northern France, Thalys trains to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany and the Eurostar to both Brussels and to the United Kingdom. The station is also home to some French commuter train services.

The original station was opened in 1846 but traffic expanded at such a rate that in the 1860’s the French architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff was engaged to redesign and rebuild the station.  His creation is the Gare du Nord that we see today.

For me, the Gare du Nord is the only station in Paris that has really distinctive sounds enveloped in their own distinctive acoustics. The other main Paris stations sound rather ordinary by comparison.

Inside the Gare du Nord:

The inside of the Gare du Nord is always busy with constant waves of people ebbing and flowing. Outside, the ebb and flow continues but less with people and more with traffic.

Just behind the Gare du Nord is a very busy bus station, which I know well. It’s from here that I catch my 43 bus home every time I arrive at this station after a rail journey.

Outside the Gare du Nord:

Parisian buses may not be the first thing that leap to mind when one thinks of the Gare du Nord but for me, these sounds are also an integral part of the Gare du Nord’s rich sound tapestry.


‘Little Jaffna’ – A Parisian Soundwalk

AT THE END OF AUGUST I made a blog piece about La Fête de Ganesh, the annual festival to celebrate Genesha, the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune. In July, I made a piece about the Passage Brady with its exotic smells and the atmosphere of an Indian bazaar. So yesterday, when I found myself in ‘Little Jaffna’ in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis in the 10th arrondissement, I couldn’t help feeling that, unwittingly, a theme was developing.

Stretching from the Boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle to the Boulevard de la Chapelle, the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis is a mélange of Turkish, African, and Indian communities. Yesterday, it was the stretch from the Metro station, La Chapelle, to the railway station, Gare du Nord that particularly interested me and it was along here that I did a Soundwalk.

A Soundwalk in ‘Little Jaffna’:

This part of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis is quite distinctive.  It would be easy to call it, “Little India”, but that would be an over-generalisation, even though one of the shops bears that name. The fact is, that what we often refer to as the Indian community here comprises a far wider diversity than just “Indian”.

Of the immigrants originating from the Indian sub-continent who have settled in Paris, only a minority are natives of India proper. Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Punjabis, and Sri-Lankan Tamils form culturally and socially distinct groups in Paris. Something I didn’t know until recently, is that the largest these communities is the Tamil.

Most of the Parisian Tamils fled Sri-Lanka as refugees in the 1980’s during the violent civil war. Over time, they have thrived in a close-knit community in this part of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. The soubriquet, “Little Jaffna”, comes from the name Jaffna, the capital of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, the area from which most of these people are descended.

I began my Soundwalk at the Metro station, la Chapelle, where the African and Indian communities meet.  The distinctive sounds of “M’Ice, M’Ice, M’Ice” and “Vum Ice, Vum Ice, Vum Ice”, are the African ladies outside the metro station busily trying to sell ice cubes from plastic bags tucked away in shopping trolleys. They are a common feature in all the African communities in Paris but I’ve yet to see any of them actually making a sale.

Passing through the entrance to the Metro station, crossing the road and walking towards the Gare du Nord, I leave Africa behind and enter into the world of the Indian sub-continent with all its colour, exotic smells and sounds.

A greengrocer is selling exotic fruit and vegetables outside his shop whilst inside, the checkouts are working at a frantic pace.

An Halal butcher, surrounded by colourful sari and textile shops, is chopping meat. Conversation abounds.

This is so much more than a place to shop; this is a place to see and be seen, a place to meet friends, neighbours and family, a place savour and to enjoy. This is “Little Jaffna” and these are its sounds.


Sounds of Euston Station … Under Surveillance!

I SPENT TWO DAYS in the UK this week. At the bottom of my little street I caught the 43 bus to the Gare du Nord in Paris and from there I caught the Eurostar. Two hours and fifteen minutes after leaving Paris I alighted in London St. Pancras station. I still marvel at how quick and convenient this journey is and of course, St. Pancras was looking as wonderful as ever.

There are two other main-line railway stations within a stones throw of St Pancras. Across the street is the ugly and claustrophobic King’s Cross station thankfully undergoing a serious makeover. Further up the Euston Road beyond the British Library is Euston station.

It was here, with some time to spare, that I decided to venture inside and record some of the atmosphere.

In Paris I feel free to record sound and to take photographs in public places without giving it a second thought. I’m sad to say that don’t have the same feeling in London. It’s said that in London you are captured by a video camera three hundred times every day and I can well believe it. Euston station is littered with video cameras at every turn. I would have liked to have taken photographs inside the station to illustrate the sound I was recording … but I didn’t. I just had the feeling that pointing a camera would have brought the wrath of God down upon me.

I completely understand the very real concerns about security and the need for vigilance in our modern world but isn’t there also a case for balance? Who actually watches these miles and miles of video footage?

I have to admit that coming back to Paris was a breath of fresh air.


A Tale of Three Stations

I have just returned from a short business trip to the UK. I left home last Sunday, walked to the end of my street and caught the 43 bus to the Gare du Nord and then the Eurostar to London St Pancras. Whilst in London I also had occasion to visit London King’s Cross station. Having been to these three railway stations I thought I would do a little research and then add some sound colour.

Paris Gare du Nord

Paris Gare du Nord is one of the six large terminus stations of the SNCF mainline network in Paris. It handles trains to Northern France as well as to various international destinations such as Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Measured by the number of passengers, around 180 million per year, it is the busiest railway station in Europe.

The first Gare du Nord was built by the Bridge and Roadway Engineers on the behalf of the Chemin de Fer du Nord company, which was managed by Léonce Reynaud, professor of architecture at the École Polytechnique. The station was inaugurated on 14 June 1846, the same year as the launch of the Paris – Amiens – Lille rail link. Since the station turned out to be too small in size, it was partially demolished in 1860 to provide space for the current station. The original station’s façade was removed and transferred to Lille.

The president of the company Chemin de Fer du Nord, James Mayer de Rothschild, chose the French architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff to design the current station. Construction lasted from May 1861 to December 1865, but the new station opened for service while still under construction in 1864. The façade was designed around a triumphal arch and used many slabs of stone. The building has the usual U-shape of a terminus station. The main support beam is made out of cast iron. The support pillars inside the station were made at Alston & Gourley’s ironworks in Glasgow in the United Kingdom, the only country to have a sufficiently large foundry to do so.

Like other Parisian railway stations, the Gare du Nord rapidly became too small to deal with the increase in railway traffic. In 1884, engineers were able to add five supplementary tracks. The interior was completely rebuilt in 1889 and an extension was built on the eastern side to serve suburban rail lines. More expansion work was carried out between the 1930s and the 1960s.

In 1994, the arrival of Eurostar trains required another reorganisation of the rail tracks.

The Gare du Nord has served as a backdrop in numerous French films, for example in Les Poupées Russse.

In US movies, both the exterior and the interior of the Gare du Nord are seen in the 2002 film The Bourne Identity with Matt Damon and again in the trilogy’s finale, The Bourne Ultimatum, released in August 2007. It was also seen in Ocean’s Twelve in 2004, and Mr Bean’s Holiday in 2007.

The station is also mentioned in Dan Brown’s book, the Da Vinci Code.

I always find the Gare du Nord to be a lively place. Yes, it has it’s share of beggars and other malcontents and it can be fearsomely cold in winter, but it generally has a hustle and bustle about it which I quite enjoy.

This is a recording I made inside the Gare du Nord.

Gare du Nord

London St Pancras

London St Pancras train station has to be one of the most impressive railway stations in the world and it’s a station I always enjoy visiting.

It was designed by William Barlow in 1863 with construction commencing in 1866. The famous Barlow train shed arch spans 240 feet and is over 100 feet high at its apex. On its completion in 1868 it became the largest enclosed space in the world.

One of the most recognisable features of St Pancras station today, the red brick Grade 1 listed Gothic front facade was created as part of a competition in 1865 and became the Midland Grand Hotel designed by Sir Gilbert Scott and built between 1868 to 1876. As a note of interest, Gilbert Scott also designed the iconic red telephone box. In 1935 the Midland Grand Hotel was closed and the building became railway offices known as the St Pancras Chambers.

The station performed an important role during both world wars, acting as a meeting place for troops, a departure point for soldiers off to war, and to help transport children out of London to the safety of the countryside. During WWII the station was hit during the Blitz on London. Despite the devastation, London Midland and Scottish Railway engineers soon had the platforms working again.

The greatest threat to the station came in 1966 with plans to amalgamate King’s Cross and St Pancras. However public opinion had been sharpened by the demolition of Euston in 1962. Sir John Betjeman took up the cause to protect the station and in 1967 the Government listed the station and hotel as Grade 1.

The St Pancras Chambers were used as BR offices until 1985 before falling vacant in the late eighties. In the early nineties emergency safeguarding works were undertaken to combat roof leakages and general decay.

High-speed rail arrived at St Pancras International on 14 November 2007 and all Eurostar services now operate to and from there. This followed a massive redevelopment of St Pancras at a cost of £800 million. The restoration work has seen the Barlow Shed completely reglazed and the paintwork taken back to its intended pale sky blue. Where possible the building has been restored by recycling the brickwork from the original building or sourcing clay from the original clay sources in the Midlands. The master plan for the extension to St Pancras was originally created by Sir Norman Foster, and has since been developed by RLE’s Chief Architect Alistair Lansley. The glass extension has been designed to house the extra long Eurostar trains in their new home.

The completion of St Pancras is just one small part of the £6 billion project High Speed 1 (formerly known as the CTRL) and just the beginning of the redevelopment and regeneration of the King’s Cross area.

St Pancras remains one of the greatest Victorian buildings in London with impressive Victorian Gothic architecture. The ridge and furrow glazing of the Barlow shed contains 14,080 glass panels, giving a total glassed area of nearly 10,000m2… Almost 2 football pitches – or 38 tennis courts. The bottom third of the roof is finished with 300,000 slates hand crafted and supplied from Wales.

The St Pancras Chambers is being restored into a 5 star Marriot hotel with luxury private apartments on the upper levels.

St Pancras International is the new home of some specially commissioned pieces of public art for the station.

The Meeting Place is a 9m high bronze of a couple locked in an intimate pose by the world-renowned sculptor Paul Day. The couple stand underneath the famous St Pancras clock at the apex of the Barlow shed.

Sir John Betjeman was responsible for saving both the St Pancras chambers and the station from demolition in the 1960s. In tribute to the famous poet and railway lover an 8 1/2ft sculpture by Martin Jennings has been designed to stand at platform level to celebrate the man and his poetry. The sculpture features the poet looking up in awe at the splendour of the Barlow shed whilst catching hold of his hat.

The famous St Pancras clock has been reconstructed by the original makers Dent, and now hangs high at the apex of the Barlow arch once more.

St Pancras actually combines three stations under one roof, the Eurostar station, the Midland station and the north-south commuter station.

This is a recording of  commuter trains at St Pancras.

Commuter Trains at St Pancras

London King’s Cross

King’s Cross has to be my least favourite of these three stations.

It was opened on the 14th October 1852. It replaced the temporary train station at Maiden Lane which was built by the Great Northern Railway in1850 and stood for two years, until Kings Cross’ completion. George Turnbull was the resident engineer for Great Northern Railway between 1846-49 and he drew up the first plans for the Kings Cross Station. Lewis Cubitt completed the designs and the station was built by the construction company of John and William Jay from 1851 to 1852. The station was built on the site of an old fever and smallpox hospital. The station opened in 1852 with 8 platforms.

The accompanying Great Northern Hotel was also designed by Lewis Cubit and it was opened on the 17th May 1854. The station was enhanced in the 1920’s and the current concourse and a travel centre was added in 1973.

In 1972, British Rail constructed an intended temporary structure at the facade of the station. The structure is still there and is seen by many as detracting from the original beauty of Lewis Cubitt design (which is Grade I-listed). The current redevelopment plan intends to remove the ‘temporary’ structure.

In 1973, the Provisional IRA threw a bomb into the booking hall of the station, injuring six people and causing much damage to the booking hall.

In 1987 a catastrophic underground fire occurred claiming the lives of 31 people in the Kings Cross St Pancras tube interchange. The fire was believed to have been started by a commuter throwing a match down the side of an escalator.

I find that the inside of King’s Cross Station has nothing to commend it at all. It is claustrophobic and very oppressive. It is always full of passengers, or do we say “customers” these days, standing because there is nowhere to sit down. There are more security cameras covering every aspect of the building than I’ve ever seen anywhere. I counted forty of them and then I stopped counting. The public address announcements are littered with security announcements saying that unattended baggage will be destroyed by the “security services”. Who exactly are these “security services” one wonders.

Unlike the Gare du Nord or St Pancras, King’s Cross is not a railway station that I would choose to visit unless it was absolutely necessary.

Here is an atmosphere recording I made inside King’s Cross.

King’s Cross