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!
TODAY, THE TRAMS IN PARIS are modern, sleek and efficient but their history goes back to the middle of the nineteenth-century, predating the Paris Metro by almost fifty years.
From 1855 until the end of the 1930’s, Paris enjoyed an extensive tramway network. In the early days the trams were horse powered.
Horse trams though presented a number of challenges. They were relatively slow and several teams of horses were required for each tram each day – not to mention the tons of horse manure littering the streets. Mechanical traction was the answer.
By 1887, trams powered by compressed air had arrived in Paris. Steam driven trams were introduced in the 1880’s and 1890’s but, by the end of the nineteenth-century, electrification of the trams was underway.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries trams were prolific in Paris but the advent of the motorcar and motorised buses, without the need for costly infrastructure, marked the beginning of the end for the tram. The last of the tram routes in Paris closed in 1957.
But that is not the end of the story. The increasing need to connect Paris with its suburbs has led to the re-birth of the Paris tram.
Of these tram lines the one that I’m most familiar with is Line T2 which runs south from La Défense to Porte de Versailles. Operated by RATP, the Paris mass transit authority, Line T2 is 13.7 km long, has seventeen stations and is used by some 20 million people a year. Each tram can carry 440 people.
As with the Paris Metro, the names of the stations evoke images from French history.
Stopping at stations like Jaques-Henri Lartigue (French photographer and painter), Henri Farman (French aviator and aircraft designer) and Suzanne Lenglen (French tennis player and winner of 31 Championship titles between 1914 and 1926) seem to add colour to the journey.
And again, like the Metro, RATP have taken trouble with the sound of the announcements inside the tram. Each station name is announced twice and at the terminus the announcements appear in several languages each spoken by native speakers.
Inside a tram on Line T2 from the station Henri Farman to Porte de Versailles:
Today’s Paris trams are remarkably quiet both when listening inside and from the outside. In fact, from the outside, it’s much easier to hear the sound of the traffic than it is to hear the sound of the tram.
A Tram at Porte de Versailles:
The new generation of Paris trams are far removed from their nineteenth-century ancestors. Quiet, sleek, efficient and comfortable they are an integral part of the Paris public transport network.