Stations Picked, Huge Automated Transit Project for Paris is Closer to Realization

» Three intersecting lines will serve mostly circumferential routes around the Paris city core, providing fast trips to a currently under-served clientele.

In the Western World, the most significant rapid transit project currently being contemplated is Paris’ 96-mile Grand Paris network that would extend brand-new automated rapid transit lines across and around the region at the eye-popping price of more than twenty billion euros. If adequately financed, it would be a huge undertaking designed to speed travel between locales now at the periphery of the region’s fast transit network, spurring housing and population growth in the metropolitan area’s suburbs.

Announced more than a year ago by conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, the program has no assurance of being completed. While regional authorities are currently constructing dozens of miles of new light rail lines, several busways, and a few metro extensions, almost all in the inner suburbs, the national government’s program has yet to be funded thanks to its extraordinary cost. The RER regional rail program, the last major transit program conceived for the French capital, radiates fast trains from the city core and was conceived in the 1960s, and little has happened since. Continuing the current situation could mean decades of only minor improvements in mobility for the nine million people living just outside the walls of the City of Paris.

Yet the Réseau Primaire de Transport du Grand Paris (primary transport network of greater Paris) may be coming to life. This week, the government opened public debate on the project, revealing the extensive studies it has completed on potential alignments for the rail corridors, including proposed station sites. And the Sarkozy Administration has committed to €4 billion to the Société du Grand Paris, the semi-autonomous organization that will build the project and invest in eight major development sites that will have prime access to the network.

If the program is approved, the Société would take on 40 years of debt financing to sponsor the €21.4-23.5 cost, to be paid back mostly through deals made on real estate in station areas.

The project would encompass 155 km (96 miles) of new lines that would be added to the existing automated 5.5-mile Line 14 Metro that currently runs along a southeast-northwest route through Paris. Three routes would be offered: a 50 km Blue Line from Orly Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport, via the existing Line 14; a 75 km Green Line from Orly Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport, via the La Défense financial district west of Paris (with 21 km shared with the Blue Line); and a 60 km Red Line from La Défense to Le Bourget Airport, via the southern and eastern suburbs. Commute times for suburban residents hoping to reach destinations outside of Paris will be decreased significantly, with average train speeds a very respectable 40 mph thanks to few stations (give or take 40, depending on the final alignment chosen) and very high frequencies thanks to automation. At peak hours on some segments, trains will arrived every 85 seconds.

Construction could begin in 2013, with completion of the full project by 2023. By 2035, the system is expected to serve between two and three million daily riders.

The alternative is scary. Little new investment in new public transportation corridors would foster extreme congestion on lines entering Paris and increased automobile use in suburb-to-suburb travel; 80% of such commutes are already made by car. The inner suburbs — made up of three départements, Hauts-de-Seine, Val-de-Marne, and Seine-Saint-Deins — are surprisingly dense, more than San Francisco at 17,000 people per square mile, enough for adequate ridership on high-capacity transit lines and not sprawling in the traditional sense. Paris itself has 53,000 inhabitants per square mile, New York City 27,500.

Nevertheless, the government’s project is not universally liked. Its focus on station-area development at major business districts and airports promotes environments designed for middle-to-upper income groups; the new system could benefit real estate investors marketing to their needs more than anyone else. That’s problematic considering the Paris region’s existing segregation of income groups, with wealthier inhabitants mostly to the west of the city and the poor to the northeast. Moreover, the extension of the northeast and southwest segments of the system far from the urban core (some of which is still farmland!) seems more likely to promote exurban development than reinforce dense areas.

The Socialist Party, which controls the regional government and at least for now seems well positioned to win the presidency from Mr. Sarkozy in 2012, has advocated a separate 37-mile Arc Express program, which would circle around the City of Paris at a much closer radius, with far more stations and average speeds of about 25 mph. That project will be submitted for public debate in the coming months.

The Sarkozy government’s project is far more ambitious and encompasses 70% of the Arc Express alignment. But it could use some cutbacks; specifically, the Green Line’s southwest segment seems unnecessary. The Red and Blue Lines are each expected to attract about one million riders by 2035 while the Green Line will move half as many; even so, the Green Line is expected to cost as much to build as the other two combined.

All that said, this program is unique as it represents a major investment in a public transit project that is primarily aimed at improving the livelihoods of those living outside of the city core, not typically the first priority of transit planners. Yet it’s an especially important goal considering the increasing concentration of the poor and lower-middle class in the suburbs (both in France and in the United States). In massive metropolitan areas like the Paris region, there are few good options for improved mobility other than the provision of fast transit between big destinations — so it’s not like the installation of “cheaper” light rail, busways, or the like would do much to aid in the ability of people to get from one place to the next.

Only with truly rapid transit can people be granted easy movement throughout regions, and that’s what this project would provide.

The lines are being planned to interface directly with existing transit lines, encouraging multimodal transfers; of the 40 or so stations that could be built, 37 are in correspondence with existing or planned fixed-guideway public transportation. Bus lines would be redrawn to shuttle passengers to and from stations. And the government’s plan to encourage new construction around stations, and in fact to use proceeds from the development to pay back the costs of the system, is at least fiscally sound, though not necessarily socially so.

Update: I felt that this discussion could be better informed by positioning the project on a map showing the relative densities of the neighborhoods and cities in the Paris region. I’ve added the map below:

(Base density image from IAU-IdF)

33 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • This type of system is one of the major things lacking in the US. Using NYC as an example we have 4 different rail companies all coming into the city, but none that run around it in a ring type layout. So to get from an outer station to another outer station requires going into the city and back out.

    This will really help Paris. I am glad to see it coming together.

    • Max Wyss

      This project in Paris is a little bit easier, as it does follow (as far as I understand it) the “Grande Ceinture”, the outer belt line, which has been built a long time ago, back in private railway’s time, to let freight trains bypass paris. So, right of way is already available.

      New York never had something like that… the closest was, I guess, aconnection via the Poughkeepsie bridge.

  • Alurin

    Whatever flaws this plan may have, it’s nice to see a country where political parties are competing to offer the better public transit alternative.

    However, doesn’t the proposed Blue Line mostly duplicate the existing RER-B?

  • Actually, the system will follow an entirely new right of way for almost all of its route. Of the 155 new km to be built, only 20 km will be above ground — the rest will be tunnelled.

  • Danny

    Interesting reversal of politics, with conservatives wanting the comprehensive and complete system and the liberals wanting a piece of crap.

    • Mason Hicks

      Danny,
      It is a mischaracterisation to refer to the ‘Arc Express’, the system that is being promoted by the Left as a “piece of crap”. In fact, much what is being proposed by both sides matches pretty closely. The most important distinctions are in how the decisions are being made. The politics of this project centers on the Left’s charges that the conservative federal government is steam-rolling the project over the banlieues while allowing little or no imput or debate from the regional and local stake-holders. Of course, these regional and local stake-holders (the people who would actually use the system) of whayare primarily on the Left. The region, Ile de France simply wants to have a system that would actually benefit those who’s area it passes through; not just to fly on through and only stop at the places where only the rich want to go. Naturally, they also want the National government dictating to them transportation matters which occur entirely within the borders of the region. Incidently, if you study the historical context of the routing of what now comprises the Paris RER network, one sees that it was originally steam-powered rail-lines developed solely to grant wealthy Parisians access to their summer countryside retreats.

  • Minato

    This plan is bad.
    I understand that people who don’t live in Paris cannot unterstand why.
    It is not because a plan is bigger that it better, this one completly avoid some of most populated area and only serve the so called hubs (most of these aren’t hubs).

    What the need of a new line between Orly, Versailles, la Defense and CDG, almost none.
    Especially when there are already two existing lines (Transilien J and U) between Versailles and La Defense.

    The blue and green line almost use the same route than the exting RER B, but in express.
    The existing RER B express train (direct Gare du Nord – CDG) are almost empty most of the year (the local trains are crowded).
    Do we need to spend billion to create two new lines here ?

    -The regional project, is an metro ring in inner suburbs, it would serve the real densely populated area and the real hubs.

    • Denis

      Actually, RER B express is crowded and too slow – it is a huge hazzle to get into the city core from the beautiful CDG airport. And it is even worse to get to Orly airport from the city core. I am there every summer. La Defense is the new employment center. This plan is not bad.

    • Mason Hicks

      Minato,
      I agree with most of what you said except for your calling it a bad plan. It seems your main objections are centered on the west side (Green-line), and I believe that was in line with Yonah’s observations. I do believe a good business case can be made for a direct connection between La Defense and CDG. Your observations of the RER B and the RER B Express are right on, but I don’t think that your conclusion that added capacity along the line between CDG and the city core is not needed is correct. Especially, when you noted that the local lines are always crowded, which they are… In fact, the existing Metro Line 14 was developed for the specific purpose of paralleling and thereby releaving RER A. It has worked very well for that purpose and extending it out to CDG should offer the same result for RER B. That is if doing so doesn’t actually result in over-crowding Line 14.

    • Minato, I just found your old RER thread on Skyscraper City, where you mention that the busiest station on the RER A is Gare de Lyon. Isn’t Chatelet-Les Halles the busiest? In general, do you have precise statistics for each station? STIF’s online factsheet only includes Metro ridership.

      • Minato

        The data that I had where in an RER book published by the RATP.

        It also seems weird to me but often the numbers are not calculated in a way that we imagine.

        By exemple the metro ridership by line in Paris is not the real number of people who used the line but the number of people who have entered in the metro network by this line.
        The people coming from other lines are not included.
        So the data can be quite far to the reality for some lines.

        I wonder if it is not the same here, people interchanging from the RATP RER B are maybe not included in the data, this can downplay the ridership of the RER A in Chatelet les Halles.

        • Why, how many boardings does the RER have at Chatelet-Les Halles? Is it even remotely close to the figure the RATP quotes, which is nearly 500,000 people passing through the station (presumably including both entries and exits)?

  • Minato

    So it is better to serve the airport instead of the population ?
    The real transportation needs are not for CDG airport but for the population in the suburbs.

    Only three stations between inner Paris and Orly is a joke.

    I could made much more criticism.
    It avoid connection with many métro lines, serve almost unpopulated area but avoid very populated area… etc

    • Mason Hicks

      I haven’t seen solid plans for the extension of line 14 to the south. The most comprehensive plan that I’ve seen involved it taking over the Villejuif branch of Metro Line 7 and continuing from there. I have been informed that that plan has been fundamentally abandoned. The route that Yonah is showing is one I have never seen before. I suspect that there could be additional stops not yet identified. But remember also, that this line would be paralleled by the Tramway T7, which is currently under construction. I find some parts of the routing of T7 rather odd, but it does zigzag back and forth across the Line 14 route with the station at MIN Porte de Thiais being an important link between T7, Line 14, and the east-west TVM BRT route. I believe that we all can agree that the southwest (Orly-Versailles-La Defense) loop of the “Green Line” is a bad idea which is already adequately served by three branches of RER C and RER A, as well as TGV from CDG to Massy-Paliseau. The same CANNOT be said for circulating in the southeast quadrant of the Arc-Express from Metro Line 7, clockwise. That is a very difficult link to make now.
      As for prioritizing the airports over the population, I did not say that. However, I do acknowledge the need for better and more direct connections between business centers and the airports. I am not particularly familiar with the terrain between La Defense and CDG, so I want try to comment on serving the population in this region. I would prefer that the businessmen and businesswomen, traveling between the business centers and the airports do so by mass transit than by taxi. If they do not have direct access to the airports, they by nature will call for the cab. They do whatever saves them time. I do believe both the airports and the populations can be accommodated.

  • Mason Hicks

    Yonah,
    The other day, I was walking from my apartment in Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, just on the south side of the Périphérique from Paris, outside Porte d’Italy to my doctor’s office about a half mile to west in Gentilly. This route parallels inside the portion of the proposed alignment of the Arc Express by some 2 kilometers, (1.3 mi).The southeast quadrant is referred to as the “Orbival”.
    Along the way, I passed through the construction site where the freeway ‘A-6B’ is being decked over to reconnect the towns of Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, Gentilly, and Arcueil. The construction site is rather intensive. The street-level site is crazy. The southbound lanes of the ‘A-6b’ itself have been closed since the project commenced in January. A large trench, about three meters wide and what appears to be matching the full depth of the roadway entrenchment has been constructed along the west side of the route from street level, and there is also retention vaulting being put into place along the east side. You mentioned the extension of Metro line 14 being extended from its current southern terminus at Olympiads, in the 13th Arrondissement, south to Orly Airport. We’ve discussed this recently. Since the extension will probably not replace the south Villejuif branch of Metro Line 7, as was originally planned. The most sensible route then would be along the right-of-way of the ‘A-6B’. It seems to me that this current decking-over project would have presented an incredible opportunity to go ahead and construct the cut-and-cover tunnel and the station widening, either underneath or alongside the inbound (northbound) lanes of the roadway to be fitted-out later, when the project is ready to go. I understand that doing as I have suggested would’ve required planning and engineering far beyond what was scoped in the project and would’ve increased the project cost by something approaching an additional half of what it actually cost; and that’s only because they would be building a “cold-dark” tunnel under the highway, to be brought to life and fitted out in a later project, under a separate contract. However, the disruption of construction could have been largely confined to the current project; and when it comes time to extend Line 14, much of the tunnel would already be in place. It is also true that much of the existing construction of the existing line was constructed with a tunnel boring machine. It may be the case that the TBM that bored the Line 14 tunnel is still somewhere underground between Olympiad and Maison Blanche, ready to be started up again, but I somehow doubt that.
    We amateur transportation planners do tend to live in our own perfect worlds, but I often wish these projects were thought out more strategically and performed more efficiently.

  • I think I agree with Minato. If the point is to serve Orly, then there’s no need to extend M14; a new extension of the RER B could be enough. Detouring through residential Left Bank areas on the M14 would add just as much travel time as making more stops on the inner parts of the RER B, where constructing passing sidings at stations is impossible.

    The circular service, which in this plan is the Red Line and the parts of the Green Line between La Defense and St Denis, is a great idea. (I am not familiar enough with the Paris suburbs to know whether the proposed route is good). But the Blue Line is just a sop to airport developers, common in many failed transit schemes.

  • Mason Hicks

    An extension of RER B, into Orly seems plausible to me… Alon, would you want to scrap the ORLY-Val in the process? I have always thought that ORLY-Val was a bizare idea.
    I haven’t studied this at all, but I think I would also consider a modification of the alignment to RER C2 to deviate away from Pont de Rungis Aeroporte d’Orly station to run directly from Orly Ville station into the airport. This station currently serves the service and hanger areas on the north end of the airport as well as the mercantile and warehouse areas of the Marché Internationale de Rungis so careful study of this would be warranted.

  • Mason Hicks

    I’ll make one more reference and I’ll shut up… Yonah posted an article in April of ’09 entitled “Paris Pushes Privately Funded Express Train to Airport”. (It appears on this page, under the heading: “You might also like:”)
    I went back and re-read it. If express airport rail service followed the format as described in this posting, I can find little fault with it. Can we agree on this?

  • Minato

    When I said that “only three station between Orly and inner Paris was a joke”, it was not against the idea to push the line 14 in Orly.
    It is a thing as it would not only serve the airport but also the new business district in construction near the terminal.
    We could even extend the line 14 a bit further in Athis-Mons

    My complain was against the low numbers of stations between Orly and inner Paris, in reality we would need something like 6-7 station instead of 3 to really serve this area.

    Unfortunately today no RER can be extended in Orly, the RER C has already too much branchs and adding a third branch in the already well used southern RER B would affect many passangers by decreasing the frequencies.

  • AlexB

    As amazing as the scope of the project is, the array of other improvements in the form of light rail lines, metro extensions, RER extensions, etc. is mind boggling. Many of them could be stand alone posts. If a tenth of all these projects were built in a US city, we would marvel at its progressiveness.

    Missing from this map are notes about where the main transfer points to the existing system are. I am also confused about the point of the project. Are the riders going to be mostly commuters that are taken out of their cars? If so, what are the employment centers? Are all the yellow areas existing commercial districts or are those areas to be developed?

    I like the idea of “better connecting the suburbs,” but there is often no reason to go from one suburb to another without a major attraction. Even so, most trip combinations can already be accommodated by the RER. If you look at La Defense, for example, the most direct route from most stops along the red line is by taking the RER through the city center. The is a big part of the problem with any circumferential line. There would have to be a pretty huge number of jobs along the red line for it to be successful. Are large numbers of people in Champigny Le Plant hoping for a faster way to get to Clichy-Montfermeil? Maybe that is the case, but I have no idea. I live in New York and I’d find it hard to believe there are a lot of people trying to get from Midwood to Bayside every day, for example. A map of job density to go along with the population density map would be useful.

    I get lost in a debate about people vs businesses without a clearer explanation of what is where. Not everyone is familiar with the organization of Paris.

    What differentiates the “Grand Huit” lines from the RER or Metro? Is it that they are a new technology or run by a different government body? Why can’t these be indicated as just new metro lines? Other metro lines are extended, but when line 14 gets extended, suddenly it’s a “Grand Huit?”

    • AlexB, New York is already spending almost as much money as Paris is planning to. If there are no further cost escalations, then SAS Phase 1, the 7 extension, ARC, and ESA will have cost $23 billion. The difference is that it gets much, much less value for money: those four projects total about 12 km of tunnel among them.

      The riders who this project is geared at are commuters. While you’re right that the RER is already quite good at serving La Defense, the project’s aim is to serve secondary centers, located all over suburban Paris. Part of it is for redevelopment; part is because these are existing job centers. You can find some data on this here on page 48, but it only names the 20 biggest communes by job numbers, and is based on 11-year-old data.

      • Nathanael

        NYC is suffering from numerous poor choices.

        ARC is a great big misdesign thanks to institutional turf wars; the 7 extension is a great big misdesign intended to serve a now-nonexistent private development.

        ESA isn’t really a bad idea, but it shows definite signs of Not Planning Ahead, locking in obsolete technology, turf wars, etc.

        The SAS phase one is costing too much and taking too long, but it’s going to have more benefit than all of these other projects combined. :-P

        • The problem with ESA isn’t just the turf war. It’s that it costs $8 billion for a little more than a mile of tunnel. It actually has a higher per-km cost than ARC, which is only about even with SAS.

          • Adirondacker12800

            They aren’t just building tunnel. They had to rip out parts of Grand Central and build the new station. That ain’t gonna be cheap in Manhattan. Much more expensive than similar projects elsewhere but it ain’t gonna be cheap anywhere.

            They are burying parts of the costs for ARC in other projects. It’s around ten billion for everything between New York and Manhattan.

          • Adirondacker12800

            …New York and Newark…

          • Yes, the new station is part of the cost. All costs include stations, including those of subway projects two orders of magnitude cheaper.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Nobody is building subways for 20 million a km, not even in China. Building a two platform station in Barcleona is going to cost a lot less than an 8 platform station in Barelona. ESA and ARC are complex multiplatform stations being built in very complex urban settings they’d be expensive anywhere.

          • Two orders of magnitude less than $4 billion per km is $40 million per km, which is the cost of two separate projects, one in Madrid (the new tunnel to Atocha) and one in Seoul (a subway extension). Granted, small villages like Seoul and Madrid are nowhere nearly as complex as the worldly Coruscant New York, but they might still have something to teach New Yorkers.

    • Mason Hicks

      AlexB,
      As I wake up and read the update and your question, I see that Yonah has now modified his map to show population densities; (Very helpful; thanks Yonah). Keep in mind that most of the white areas are not empty, just heavily industrialized. Strangely, some of these areas are very heavily populated; with dead people. I’ve always been amazed at the sizes and densities of the suburban cemeteries. I cannot add to this any metric to help answer your question about cross-banlieue potential ridership other than to say that I’ve ridden many of the buses whose routes roughly parallel that of the proposed southeast quadrant of the Arc Express. The need is definitely there. At rush hour, these buses are generally already filled to standing room capacity as they leave their departure points. I’m fairly new here, and I do not yet have a good feel for where all these people are coming from, or going to. I am planning to pursue a Masters degree in program that takes place on two separate campuses: Université de Paris 12, in Creteil, and also the Université de Marne le Vallée, (east of Noisy Le Grande on the map). These two campuses are just over seven miles apart, but one cannot get from one to the other in less than an hour. In fact the fastest way to get between the two involves taking the RER or Metro back in to Paris, and two train transfers within the city. The section of the Arc Express that would completely solve this problem, is part of the commonality between the competing plans “Arc Express” and “Grande Huit”; meaning that it will probably be built first. Unfortunately, I can’t put off going back to school until after it is up and running. I sure wish it was on-line now.

      • Nathanael

        “Keep in mind that most of the white areas are not empty, just heavily industrialized. ”

        This is why you need a job density map too.

  • Minato

    This Grand Huit is too express, it doesn’t have enough stations and interchanges with other lines.
    It create some unnecessary direct route and avoid some key area.

    The Arc Express metro ring line on the oposite would not only serve as direct link but it would be like most ring lines by improving the interchange without passing by the center.
    So most people using the Arc Express subway ring would come from or lead to other metro, RER or suburban lines.

    A successful line needs three things.
    -Coverage (populated area, many jobs and a signifiant number of station)
    -Interchange (being in connection with every line possible)
    -Speed

    The Arc Express combines well these three factors
    -It serve many dense and key areas
    -It has many interchange
    -There would be about 1 km to 1.5 km between station allowing a good speed
    The Grand Huit do not, its only good point is the speed but if rapidity means avoiding many important areas it is not really positive.

  • […] yonah freemark – “huge automated transit project for paris is closer to realization&#822… [the transport politic] Published on Sep 07, 2010 Filed under: Current […]

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