A century ago, Paris had tens of railway stations. Most of them were small ones along the circular line, “La Petite Ceinture” (the small belt), created just inside the then relatively new Thiers wall (see previous post) in the mid of the 19th century. The purpose was to link the major railways stations between each other. Most of these tracks and stations were abandoned in the 1930’s; the metro had taken over the job. A few of the “Petite Ceinture” stations are however still in operation, used by certain faster metro lines (RER).
The major stations for far distance destinations were built between 1837 (Gare St. Lazare) and 1849 (Gare de Lyon) in their first version, rebuilt and extended later. The ones remaining today are thus the six you can see on the plan above. I already posted about Gare St. Lazare, Gare de l’Est, Gare de Lyon and Gare Montparnasse. To finish with the stations, this post will cover Gare d’Austerlitz and Gare du Nord. (Another major station building was of course the Gare d’Orléans, built for the 1900 World Exhibition, abandoned as a station in 1939 and now the Orsay Museum (since 1986).)
Gare d’Austerlitz (another Napoleon victory, sorry) dates from 1840, with some extensions a few decades later. It’s the smallest of the big Paris stations and serves basically the southwest of France, but also Spain with direct trains to Madrid and Barcelona - you can read “Salida de Trenes” on the advertising board. For the moment there are no high speed trains (TGV) from this station. Today, if you want to go by a TGV to the southwest you must use Gare Montparnasse. Gare d'Austerlitz is now rebuilt to take over some of the TGV traffic from the other, overloaded, stations. It will take a couple of years.
The station is also used by the metro – one line goes through the station over ground. One (fairly) quick metro line (RER) will take you to the Orly airport. (See also the top picture.)
If Gare d’Austerlitz is fairly modest when it comes to the number of passengers, Gare du Nord has the highest number of passengers on the European continent, 180 million per year including the metro passengers. The basic part of the present station dates from 1864 replacing a first one from 1846. (The original facade was moved to serve for a station in Lille – still there). A lot of extensions and modifications have taken place later including a glass construction which covers local train tracks and the quick metro lines (RER).
The destinations are mostly north and northeast of Paris and include also the Benelux countries and parts of Germany. (Here you can read “Abfahrt” on the advertising board.) This is where you will find the fast trains (TGV) to Lille, Brussels (Thalys), London (Eurostar)! It takes now 2 hours and 15 minutes only to reach London (St. Pancras) via the Channel Tunnel (the “Chunnel”) and about 1 hour and 20 minutes to Brussels (with extensions to Amsterdam, Cologne...). Some people today work in Paris and live in Brussels (cheaper).
You can also go to the CDG airport from here, but the service is not yet comparable to what e.g. London can offer (Heathrow Express). It’s planned.
Time to wish you a nice weekend! When you read this, I’m probably already on my way (or have arrived) to the south of France for a long weekend and a blogger meeting. I will not post on Monday and will not have the time to visit your blogs. Should be back in “normal service” mid next week!