We talk about it all the time, but what really is the Grand Paris Express? The Grand Paris Express is a wide-guage, automatic suburban metro network project, designed to connect Paris’ suburbs to each other without going through the centre in order to lighten the load on the existing network, which is mostly arranged radially, and all this thanks to four new lines which will connect major regional centres without interruption. OK, OK, OK! Let’s try again. The Grand Paris Express is this. And this. And this. Right now, though, it looks rather like… this. And we’re still FAR off from this. In any event, the Grand Paris Express is this. 200km of brand-new metro in Île-de-France, doubling the current network’s track mileage. It’ll be 100% automatic, 100% accessible to people with reduced mobility, fast, and frequent [French pun: it’ll terrify Caen]. But why the Grand Paris Express? To answer that question, let’s go back in time to— woah there! Way too far! … Not quite… Still a lot further to go… There we go! The end of the 19th century. In those days, Paris had two belt railways: the Petite Ceinture (Little Belt), opened in 1869, which bordered Paris city proper; and the Grande Ceinture (Big Belt), opened in 1886, which formed a large circle out in the suburbs. The Grande Ceinture has always had marginal passenger service compared to its freight services, the main reason for its existence. As for the Petite Ceinture, although originally constructed exclusively for freight, it had a fair number of passengers from the end of the 19th century into the early 20th, with a peak of 39 million passengers during the 1900 Paris Exhibition. The Petite Ceinture has several architectural gems like Point-du-Jour station and its attached viaduct, that inspired the Paris Metro. It was then the Metro that would kill the Little Belt, bit by bit, as its passenger numbers dwindled, little by little. The Petite Ceinture closed its doors to passengers in 1934, and was finally entirely abandoned in the ’90s. Passenger service on the Grande Ceinture never really took off, and would soon be cancelled outright, however ideas would surface in the ’90s for “express tram” projects, but that’s not the topic of this video. It’s in the ’60s that the need for a rapid suburb-to-suburb network arises. The regional master plans from the time, the same ones that gave us the RER, called for the creation of a new rail beltway to connect the different radial lines and notably the RER. It was never to see light of day; always being proposed, but never realized. In the end, there was one entire loop of beltway built, although it was in the mode of the day: the A86 autoroute. The circular metro project quickly came back in the form of an elevated line, right over the new autoroute. NO! In the beginning of the ’90s, new suburb-to-suburb transportation projects emerge, the only among them to partially see the day being the “Grand Tram,” a tram beltway project around Paris. It gave birth to the tram lines T1, T2, and to the Trans-Val-de-Marne BRT line, but would never be finished. The project itself called for the construction of a circular metro line, but this was never included in the master plan because of its cost; the whole budget already being allotted to the RER E and Line 14 of the metro. NO MONEY Orbitale then launched 3 other projects that would become more concrete These three projects were: Orbival, Métrophérique, and Arc Express The first was launched in 2006 by the General Council of the Department of the Marne Valley, which created a company intended to build a line connecting all the rail lines in the Department and its close neighbours in 15 stations. It was then that the timeline accelerated for a Parisian rail beltway The RATP proposed the Métrophérique, a line forming a circle of Paris a few kilometres out from the Périphérique, with the goal of desaturating the network within Paris proper. The Region then added its two cents by criticizing the RATP’s Métrophérique, and proposed the Arc Express, its own project which was, largely, the same thing, just this time from the Region, the ones behind the master plans – the RATP just operates the network. This was estimated to open in full in 2030, but short of being adopted, the project finds yet more competition, this time from the final boss: the French government. The Sarkozy government launches the “Grand Paris” project, a network of 3 lines serving the major economic centres of the region: the Orly and Roissy (CDG) airports, Saclay, and La Défense, with a higher speed than the other proposals. the estimated opening date being in 2023. We are now at 2010: the two projects are in tough competition. Public debates happened simultaneously, including several where the two projects were represented together. Arc Express and Grand Paris, even though very similar in shape, differed in content: a close network for the first, and speed for the second. In 2011, the two projects fused their names together, giving us the Grand Paris Express – they didn’t have to search far for that one! The Grand Paris Express looks like this – 3 principal arteries: the Blue line, which is really just the existing line 14, extended at both ends, forming the backbone of the network; the Green line, a loop serving the Saclay plateau and its university and scientific centres; and the Red line, the most important, reconciling all the former projects: Orbitale, Orbival, Métrophérique, and Arc Express. It’s shaped like a great figure-six across the region. A fourth, the Orange line, is also planned to seal the deal for the east of Paris. In 2011, the estimated opening date for the whole network was pushed to 2025. In 2013, to reduce costs, the project was phased to be finished in 2030. The lines were adjusted and numbered, and it was at that moment that the current plans were unveiled. 200km of all-automatic metro, 68 stations, and 5 lines. The extended line 14, which connects Saint-Denis Pleyel to the Orly Airport on the north-south axis; the 15, a circular line near Paris, the principal corridor of the network; the 16, a bypass further out from the centre, from Saint-Denis Pleyel to Noisy-Champs; the 17, which connects Pleyel to the CDG airport and Roissy, using a a common trunk line with the 16; and the 18, connecting Orly to Versailles, via Saclay. The project also includes an extension of line 11 from Rosny to Noisy-Champs, formerly the Orange line. The 5 lines of this network will have a train frequency of 2 to 3 minutes in peak hours, and will be fully accessible to those with reduced mobility. Now, let’s talk about the rolling stock. The 14 will welcome new trains, 8-car MP14s, to accompany the predicted rise in passengers. The first of these trains will be in service by the end of 2019. The lines 15, 16, and 17 will have a completely different kind of rolling stock from the current network. Trains will be wider (2.8m), and will be powered by overhead wires. Where the trains on the 15 will have 6 cars for a length of 108m, the 16 and 17 will have trains half that length: 3 cars and 54 metres. As for the 18, the rolling stock will be different (there’s no image available): narrower and lighter, powered by third-rail, and composed of 3 or 4 cars. So, here’s the schedule of openings, as of right now, in March 2019. Next year, in 2020, the 14 will reach Mairie de Saint-Ouen station. In 2024, the essential lines for the Olympics will open: the 14 in its importance, the 16 from Pleyel to Clichy-Montfermeil, and very hypothetically one station of the 17: Le Bourget Airport. The southern portion of the 15 should open the following year. It’s in 2027 that the first section of the 18 will open between Orly and the Saclay plateau. The 17 will then go to Gonesse and its Europa City with its Auchan [retailer, sounds like “to the fields”], which is poorly named seeing as, well, it’s going to destroy the uh…. fields. Which leaves the rest to be opened in 2030: the full loop of the 15, the end of the 16, the 18 to CDG, and the 18 to Versailles. After that will open the extension of the 11 to Noisy-Champs, and the extensions of the 17 and 18 to Nanterre. However, the construction of these three sections becomes less and less probable in the short term. Other extensions of the Metro are planned to go with the Grand Paris Express, if not for other reasons. Line 4 will reach Bagneux in 2021, and the 12 will get to Marie d’Aubervilliers in the same year. The 11 will be extended to Rosny Bois-Perrier the following year, and the 10 will get to Ivry-Gambetta by 2027. Before 2030, line 1 will reach Val de Fontenay, the 7 Le Bourget RER, the 9 Montreuil-Hôpital, and the 12 Issy RER. After 2030, other extensions are planned: the 5 south to Place de Rungis and northwards to Drancy, and the 10 to Les Ardoines, in Vitry-sur-Seine. Voilà, what the map of the Paris Metro should look like from now to then. Though, today the construction of the Grand Paris Express remains a subject of great debate; the only lines guaranteed to be finished are the 15 and 16. The necessity to finish the 17 and 18 is more and more the subject of debate, because of the places they serve. This rendering of line 18 gives an idea of the density of some of the areas traversed by these lines. The cost of the project has already vastly exceeded 2010 projections of €22 billion, to a 2019 estimate of €35 billion. All in all, the fate of a circular metro line and its accompanying network remains difficult to foresee, and what happens at the construction sites in the south and east may define the future of the Grand Paris Express.