When rail transport developed in the middle of the 19th century, the different railway station in Paris were serving different more or less independent lines, specialising in different directions, to the west, to the north, to the east, to the south. The government had military reasons to wish interconnections between these independent lines, but there was obviously also a need for passengers transferring through Paris e.g. from the west to the south to reach the other station without getting lost in the city traffic, still horse ridden. Between 1852 and 1854, most of the connections were created, by what was to be called the “Petite Ceinture” (little belt). Some additions took place until the end of the 19th century. As from 1900 and the following decades, the metro system was built and the “Petite Ceinture” lost its importance, to finally be more or less abandoned in the 1930’s. Some smaller parts were used later and today an express metro line (RER C) is using part of the western “Petite Ceinture”, but most of the tracks are abandoned. In red you can see the "Petite Ceinture", in green the different intercity lines and stations of which today remain Gare Saint Lazare, Gare du Nord, Gare de l'Est, Gare de Lyon, Gare d'Austerlitz and Gare de Montparnasse.
Some of the numerous stations have been transformed to restaurants, shops… but many are also just abandoned and wait for demolition or better use. Here are some views of what the old railway line looks today, partly abandoned, partly covered… and to a small extent open for walkers. (Some other views to be seen in a previous post – here.)
A new part of the “belt”, in the south, was opened to public late last year. I took a walk – a dark and dull winter day. (Compare with the old steam train on the same trace some decades ago.)
There were some ideas to make use of the “Petite Ceinture” with its tracks and tunnels, when it was decided to build a tramway (partly opened in 2006, works still ongoing) more or less following the same trace, but for some reasons (connections to the metro system…) it was decided to build it in parallel, following the Boulevards des Marechaux (Marshals).
One of the stations, “Vaugirard-Ceinture” is still there, today partly used for private flats, partly for different social activities.
You can follow the trace of an old bifurcation, alongside some new apartment buildings, leading to a metro workshop (today connected differently, underground).