» Months after regional and national officials agree to a huge plan for improving suburb-to-suburb connections, final decisions are made on future stations for Paris’ future supermetro. Completion of the initial project is planned for 2025.
In the developed world, few metropolitan areas are as dependent as Paris on their public transportation networks. Of mechanized trips within and into the central city, transit holds a majority mode share; in the 11.5-million-person Île-de-France region as a whole, almost 60% of all trips are made by foot, bus, or train. Part of the reason is that despite a century of continued development in the suburbs, densities are high throughout: The Petite Couronne (the inner ring of suburbs, with a collective population of about 4.3 million), for instance, is about as dense as the City of San Francisco.
But as in most cities, the increase in population outside of the central city (which now houses only about 20% of the region’s inhabitants) has until recently not been matched by significant investments in the transit network. Most new lines have been built either within the central city, such as the Métro Line 14, or radially out from it, like the RER E. Over the past few years, smaller projects like new tramways and bus rapid transit lines have assumed prominence, but their slow speeds and limited capacities have done little to improve circumferential travel around the city.
With yesterday’s announcement of the final route choice for the Grand Paris Express, however, that situation is set to change. After what was apparently Europe’s largest-ever series of public meetings and months of debate between local, regional, and national officials, the largest metro expansion on the continent and one of the most massive in the world is now under development. The national legislature is expected to approve the project and its financing this summer.
Altogether, officials plan to invest €20.5 billion ($29.5 billion) on 200 kilometers (125 miles) of rapid transit lines, most of which will be completed by 2025. With an expected two million daily riders, the Grand Paris Express program will transform the commutes of a huge percentage of the region’s inhabitants by offering far faster connections between suburbs, allowing people to avoid transferring trains in the central city and saving them twenty minutes or more on many popular trips. Trains will be automated and some sections may run 24 hours a day, a first for Paris.
The Grand Paris Express plan is a compromise between the French central government, which proposed a project called Métro Grand Paris in March 2009, and the Île-de-France region, which had separately concocted its own plan called Arc Express. They agreed to merge their projects in January, though final route alignments were not agreed upon until this week. A strategic decision was made not to directly connect Paris with Charles de Gaulle Airport north of the city, a component of the original Grand Paris plan, because it was feared that this link would overcrowd the system; instead, commuters will be able to transfer to another line to get there or use the existing link on the RER B.
Of total funding for the new lines, €4 billion will be granted from the national government, €1.5 billion from local governments, €7 billion from loans, €7 billion from new taxes on commercial activity and real estate (€500 million will be collected this year alone), and €1 billion from existing taxes. The state intends to use eminent domain to redevelop land around each of the stations. It will use the funds it accumulates through sales and added-value taxes to help pay off debt.
Separately, the region and state will by 2025 fund €12.5 billion ($17.7 billion) in upgrades to the existing system, including the construction of several new tram lines and busways and the extension of the RER E to the west.
Construction is expected to ramp up quickly, with the Île-de-France region and its STIF funding agency beginning an extension of the Line 14 Metro north to St. Ouen in 2014, with completion set for 2017 or 2018. This project, labeled the Blue Line, will use Line 14’s rubber tire trains and travel at average speeds of 40 km/h and is intended to relieve crowding on one of the existing system’s most overbooked lines, the Line 13.
Soon after, the Société du Grand Paris, a national government entity, will begin work on the southern section of the Red Line, from Champigny-Centre to Nanterre. This project will feature steel-wheel trains and average speeds of 60-65 km/h (37-40 mph), quite a bit higher than most of the Metro network today.
By 2020, work should be underway on the northern and eastern sections of the Red Line, as well as the extension of the Blue Line south to Orly Airport and the Green Line from Orly Airport to Versailles. Due to lower expected ridership, the latter project will be a light metro more like Vancouver’s SkyTrain, featuring trains with a capacity of about 250 people each, compared to 1,000 on the Red and Blue Lines.
In addition, an inner-east section of the project, from Noisy-Champs to St. Denis-Pleyel via Rosny-Sous-Bois and a short segment from Champigny-Centre to Val-de-Fontenay, will be put under construction by the region (the exact routing of these lines has yet to be determined). The original national government plan did not include this component, but the region insisted on its inclusion to serve the densest sections of the inner suburbs.
Up to eight tunnel boring machines are expected to be in use in parallel.
In total, 57 stations are to be built, 44 of which will provide transfers to the existing system and seven of which will offer links to the high-speed TGV rail network.
After 2025, other sections, including a branch of the Green Line from Versailles to Nanterre, a connection from Val-de-Fontenary to Rosny-Sous-Bois, and a link between Les Agnettes and Nanterre via Colombes, will be put under construction, though their funding has yet to be assured.
The scale of ambition in this Paris region project is stunning, especially since the hope is to concentrate 95% of the region’s job growth and two-thirds of its population growth within areas adjacent to network stations. Thanks to hard-fought cooperation between the regional and the national government, funding is assured for most of the project, and the result will be a tremendously improved transit system for the region’s inhabitants, especially those who live outside of the center city.