FOR most major cities with large established urban rail networks, the need to bring stations, infrastructure and rolling stock up to modern standards often takes precedence over extending the system. In this regard, Paris is something of an exception. Alongside heavy investment in the modernisation of the extensive metro and RER networks, a massive expansion of the urban rail system is underway in the Ile-de-France region which will have a transformative impact over the next 15 years.

Clichy MontfermeilAccording to IRJ’s online data portal, 412km of new urban rail lines are currently planned or under construction in the Paris area. The flagship project is the 205km Grand Paris automated express metro, which will encircle the city with 68 stations. When the €24.9bn project is completed in 2030, 90% of the population of Paris will live within 2km of a railway station and more than two million people will use the express metro each day.

Grand Paris is an ambitious programme which seeks to stimulate the sustainable development of employment and economic activity with the aim to maintaining or enhancing Paris’ position as a leading global city. Public transport is at the heart of this vision, providing fast, frequent and sustainable links between Ile-de-France’s main economic centres and supporting local development projects, which will be clustered
around stations.

In 2010 legislation on Grand Paris created a new public entity, Société du Grand Paris (SGP), to manage planning, procurement and construction of infrastructure and the acquisition of rolling stock.

The vision for the metro evolved around three strategic goals. First, SGP and the other project stakeholders are seeking to create a new universal public transport offer that provides easy and fast suburb-to-suburb travel, providing a genuine alternative to the car. The network will help to give the city a sustainable framework for future economic growth, with better links between residential areas and key economic hubs. The second aim is to improve the circulation of both people and skills, opening up the Ile-de-France region nationally and internationally. Thirdly, the project seeks to make Paris a leading city in environmental regeneration, the development of public transport, and the protection of nature.

Grand Paris is an ambitious response to a problem that has troubled the French capital for decades. While Paris boasts good arterial rail links from the centre to the periphery, connections between the suburbs are poor. As a result, suburb-to-suburb travel often comes down to an unappetising choice between queueing in traffic on choked orbital roads or interlining on the urban rail network via congested city centre interchange stations. Either way, journey times are slow and this has helped to isolate disadvantaged neighbourhoods from the city’s economic hubs. “Grand Paris Express gives public transport to some of the poorest areas of Paris,” explains SGP president Mr Philippe Yvin. “In a city you have to ensure there is good access to mobility and this is very important for social cohesion.”

To ensure the benefits of this huge investment in the rail network deliver the desired local benefits, urban development is being coordinated on a regional basis. The Territorial Development Contracts (CDTs) agreed between the French state and local authorities are a key component of Grand Paris. These planning and scheduling tools enable the local components of Grand Paris to be broken down and implemented in parallel with the construction of the express metro. SGP has a mandate to carry out town planning activities in municipalities that have signed a CDT.

The urban development goals match the metro in the scale of their ambition, calling for the construction of up to 300,000 new homes in a city where affordable housing is in chronically short supply and stimulating the creation of 120,000 jobs. To this end, Grand Paris also identifies specific areas as clusters for strategic economic development. These include Saclay (innovation and research), La Défense (finance), Saint-Denis Pleyel (creativity), Le Bourget (aerospace) and Marne-la-Vallée (sustainable cities).

The project encompasses the extension of two existing lines and construction of three completely new lines. Construction began in June 2016 on the 5.4km eastern extension of Line 11 from Mairie des Lilas to Rosny-Bois-Perrier. The €1.3bn project is due to open in 2022 and services will be operated by an entirely new fleet of five-car trains running at minimum headways of 1min 45sec. Nine other stations on Line 11 will be upgraded to accommodate 10-car trains.

Line 14, the city’s first automated metro line, will be extended north from St Lazare to Saint-Denis Pleyel and south from Olympiad to Orly Airport to create a new high-capacity north-south metro corridor through the centre of Paris, with services running at 85-second headways at peak times. The extension to Orly is being managed by Paris Transport Authority (RATP), which will continue to operate the line after the project is completed in 2024.

The circular Line 15 will be 76km long and will relieve congested sections of the urban rail network in central Paris by directly linking the capital’s suburbs. Rolling stock will be 2.8m wide - a similar width to RER trains - and the line will have a commercial speed of around 65km/h, with a maximum speed of 120km/h. Services will operate at two-minute headways during the morning peak and the journey time for a complete circuit of Line 15 will be around 1h 20min. The line will interchange with all existing metro lines as well as the RER and light rail networks.

Line 15 is divided into three sections. Construction began last year on the €5.7bn Line 15 South, which will become the first operational section of the express metro network when it opens in 2022. Running underground for its entire length, the 33km line will include 16 stations serving 22 municipalities with a combined population of more than a million, connecting Pont de Sèvres with Noisy-Champs in 35 minutes. The line will significantly reduce journey times between the suburbs of southern Paris, cutting Champigny Centre - Issy RER from 1h 26min to 27 minutes and Vitry Centre - La Défense from an hour to 30 minutes. Daily ridership is forecast to be around 300,000 passengers, with each train accommodating up to 1000 passengers.

Civil works on Line 15 South are divided into five sections ranging in length from 4km to 8.4km, with two further contracts for the construction of Fort d’Issy-Vanvers-Clamart and Noisy-Champs stations. All of these contracts have now been awarded and construction was officially launched with a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of Fort d’Issy-Vanvers-Clamart station on June 4 2016.

The €3bn Line 15 West will extend the line 20km from Pont de Sèvres to Saint-Denis Pleyel, the only station where all four Grand Paris Express lines will intersect. The western section of the line will include 11 stations, serving an area of 800,000 inhabitants as well as the financial district of La Défense, where there will be an interchange with the western extension of RER Line E. The journey time between Pont de Sèvres and Saint-Denis Pleyel will be 24 minutes, compared with 54 minutes at present. Construction will begin in mid-2018 and the Pont de Sèvres - Nanterre-la-Folie section will open in 2025, with the remainder of the line to Saint-Denis Pleyel due for commissioning in 2027. This will be the busiest section of Line 15, with forecast daily ridership of around 600,000 passengers.

The circle will be completed by the €3.5bn Line 15 East, which will link Saint-Denis Pleyel to Champigny Centre with 12 stations, all but one of which will be interchanges with other urban rail lines. The 23km underground section serves several former industrial areas in Bondy, Noisy-le-Sec and Bobigny which are undergoing regeneration. Civil works will begin in the middle of next year and the Saint-Denis Pleyel - Rosny-sous-Bois stretch will open in 2025, with the final section due for completion by 2030.

The 23km Line 16 will serve the northeast and east of Paris, connecting Saint-Denis Pleyel with Le Bourget RER station and Noisy-Champs. Services will be operate at a commercial speed of around 65km/h, with a journey time of 26 minutes between the termini. Headways of 3-4 minutes are planned in the morning peak.

Line 17 will cross 14 municipalities to the northeast of the capital, serving the 103 hectare Europacity development as well as the Parc des Expositions Paris Nord exhibition centre at Villepinte and two of the city’s airports. Line 17 trains will use a 5.5km section of Line 16 between Saint-Denis Pleyel and Le Bourget RER, where two island platforms will be constructed with Line 16 trains using the inner platforms and Line 17 trains calling at the outer platforms. The line will then continue northeast on a dedicated 19.5km alignment, serving Le Bourget Airport, Triangle de Gonesse, and Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport before terminating at a park and ride station at Le Mesnil-Amelot, which will draw traffic from the departments of Seine-et-Marne and Oise. Trains will reach Charles de Gaulle by 2024 and Le Mesnil-Amelot by 2030.

A depot for lines 16 and 17 will be constructed on the site of the former PSA car plant at Aulnay-sous-Bois. The depot is due to open in 2023 and will employ around 350 people.

On the opposite side of Paris, Line 18 will form a 35km arc around the south and east of the city between Orly airport and Versailles. The line will bring relief to RER Line B, facilitate access to the high-speed network and Orly airport, and improve public transport links in an area dotted with academic institutions and research centres. The 10-station line is forecast to carry around 100,000 passengers per day, spanning 14 municipalities in the departments of Yvelines, Essonne and Hauts-de-Seine. Civil works will begin on the €2.7bn project next year and the Orly - CEA Saint-Aubin section is due to open in 2024, with the remainder of the line to Versailles Chantiers scheduled for commissioning in 2030.


SGP says the express metro project is “an opportunity to build a new generation of stations that will take the best of what has been done around to world and meet the challenges of sustainable mobility.” Each station will need to carry a common identity while reflecting the environment of the district it serves and contributing to the appeal of the area and its development.

Key stations such as Saint-Denis Pleyel, Le Blanc-Mesnil and Aulnay-sous-Bois are signature structures designed by leading architects, but all stations will share common design principles to ensure consistent quality. The first priority is easy access to the network and each station will have an “open and airy” entrance hall leading into a public space, with short and intuitive passenger routes both within the station and in its immediate surroundings. The network will have nearly 40 interchanges with other lines, and quick and easy transfers will be essential at these stations. As a focal point for the areas they serve, stations will need to be attractive hubs for retail, culture, and services.

For each station SGP works with a local steering committee which includes elected officials and representatives of local businesses and residents to find solutions that meet the needs of specific areas. At present 37 different architecture firms are working on station designs.

SGP has a budget of €1.76bn this year (including €510m for upgrading of existing lines), a 58% increase compared with 2016, and the organisation will consume all of its working capital. SGP will therefore begin using the €700m in loans it has secured through Caisse des Dépôts and the European Investment Bank, and it will also go to the financial markets to raise capital.

Nearly 4000 professionals are already employed on the Grand Paris Express project and by the end of the year there will be 45 active worksites on Line 15 South. Within three years construction will be underway on all lines. Seven civil engineering contracts will be awarded this year, five on Line 15 South and two on Line 16, with a total value of more than €4.5bn. Under SGP’s procurement code, at least 20% of the work will be carried out by SMEs, ensuring the value created by the project filters down to local companies.

Tendering will start soon for a fleet of trains for Line 15 South and this contract is due to be awarded in April 2018, with deliveries starting in 2022. According to Yvin, a total of 950 steel-wheeled vehicles will be required for lines 15, 16, and 17. With the emphasis on capacity, the trains will be 2.8m wide, compared with 2.45m for the MP 89 trains currently used on Line 14.

In a break with previous practice, an open tender is planned for the contract to operate the network and Ile-de-France transport authority Stif will be responsible for procurement. Yvin says lines 15, 16 and 17 could all be awarded to a single operator, although the final decision will rest with Stif. Operation of Line 18 will be tendered separately.

The express metro is a bold initiative to address the current pressures on the Parisian transport network and tackle the mobility deficit in the most economically-deprived areas of the city, uniting the suburbs to unleash their potential. It also will also play a role in making a city which has become notorious for its air pollution a world-leader in sustainable mobility.