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!
THE GARE DE LYON is one of the six main line railway stations in Paris. The Gare du Nord with 190 million passengers a year is the busiest railway station in Paris, in France and in Europe so, with around 90 million passengers a year, the Gare de Lyon is some way behind but still ranked as the third busiest railway station in France.
Named after the city of Lyon, the Gare de Lyon is situated in the 12th arrondissement of Paris and it’s the northern terminus of the Paris – Marseille line. From here high-speed TGV trains travel to southern France as well as to Switzerland, Italy and Spain. The station also hosts regional trains as well as an RER and Métro station.
The first station on this site was built in 1852 by the Compagnie des chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée (known as PLM). PLM operated chiefly in the southeast of France with a main line connecting Paris to the Côte d’Azur by way of Dijon, Lyon, and Marseille. This station was a rather drab and low-key affair which, even after being enlarged four times, was continually swamped by the number of passengers passing through. By the 1890’s, with the station unable to cope with the volume of traffic and with the prestigious Exposition Universelle coming up in 1900 it was decided to replace the old station with a new one. The task of building of the new station fell to the French architect Marius Toudoire but the work fell behind schedule and the Gare de Lyon that we know today was eventually opened in 1902.
The design of the Gare de Lyon conceals the working station behind a monumental stone frontage with echoes ranging from the French 17th Century to the northern Italian Renaissance the most significant feature of which is the 64 metre high clock tower positioned so as to be visible from Place de la Bastille.
Gare de Lyon – A Soundwalk:
The clock tower may be the most significant feature of the Gare de Lyon on the outside but on the inside that accolade must surely go to the magnificent restaurant, Le Train Bleu, once rather unassumingly called the “Buffet de la Gare de Lyon”.
But an ordinary station buffet it most certainly is not!
Photo courtesy Le Train Bleu
The Buffet de la Gare de Lyon changed its name to Le Train Bleu in 1963 to celebrate the “Paris-Vintimiglia” service, the luxury French night express train, which operated from 1886 to 2003. Colloquially referred to as Le Train Bleu (the Blue Train) because of its dark blue sleeping cars it gained international fame as the preferred train of wealthy and famous passengers between Calais and the French Riviera.
Inside, Le Train Bleu is richly decorated with caryatides, rococo mermaids, exquisite gilding, mirrors and 41 murals painted by 30 renowned artists depicting scenes of Paris at the time of the Exposition Universelle as well as beautiful French landscapes from the route of the PLM railway.
My soundwalk in the Gare de Lyon includes a walk along the regional train platforms, the main station concourse, the TGV train platforms and a walk right up to the Paris – Milan TGV train as the passengers were about to board.
Today, it takes just three hours to travel by TGV from the Gare de Lyon to Marseille, around four hours to Geneva, about seven and a half hours to Milan and about eleven hours to Venice and, with a little forward planning, all at very reasonable prices.
And while you’re listening to the sounds inside the Gare de Lyon and perhaps musing about taking one of these exotic train journeys, here are some more of the sights inside the station:
If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might also like my account of the sights and sounds of the Gare du Nord which you can find here.
OPENED IN AUGUST 1837, the Gare Saint-Lazare is one of the six terminus railway stations in Paris. 450,000 passengers a day pass through this station and it’s the second busiest station in Paris after the Gare du Nord.
There are no high-speed TGV lines operating from the Gare Saint-Lazare but the services do include the long distance Intercités trains towards Normandy as well as the regional Transilien trains to the western suburbs of Paris.
Inside the Gare Saint-Lazare:
In recent times, the Gare Saint-Lazare has had a rather tired and weary look to it so it’s good to report that after almost three years of renovation work a new-look Gare Saint-Lazare finally opened to the public this week.
The €250 million project was funded partly by SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français, France’s national state-owned railway company) and partly by private investment. The three level concourse was constructed while the station was fully operational for most of the time and that is a testament to the planning that went into the work.
The new look station has 80 new shops to explore including familiar names such as Celio, Promod, Yves Rocher, Foot Locker, Camaïeu, Virgin, Sephora, Lush and L’Occitane. There are also some upmarket brands including Guess, Lacoste, Aigle, Passionata and Esprit.
Although the concourse is now officially open the shops are for the most part still catching up and when I went few of them were actually open for business.
The Gare Saint-Lazare is not a station I use all that often. Nevertheless, it’s good to see one of the least fashionable main terminus stations in Paris transformed into one of the smartest. At least the waiting time in the station will now be more entertaining for those addicted to shopping.