Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture: Abandoned “Belt Railway” Loops Around Paris

(Image: Éole Wind, cc-nc-sa-3.0.  See website)

Extending around a circular loop within the fortified walls of Paris is an abandoned railway that once connected the city’s five main lines. Completed in 1852, the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture has been partially abandoned since 1934 and completely silent for the last few years. The tracks and several stations remain intact, though its future is the subject of ongoing debate.

(Image: Thomas Claveirole, cc-sa-3.0)

Meaning “Little Belt Railway”, the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture was conceived in 1848 as a means of transporting and dispersing troops swifty around the city’s major fortifications. At a time of revolution in France and across Europe, the military became increasingly reliant on the expanding railway network.

(Images: Nicolas Vigier, cc-3.0)

France’s railways initially extended outwards from Paris like the spokes of a wheel. Five competing companies monopolized the routes, each reluctant to build connections to rival lines. As a result, passengers had to ride into Paris to change trains before heading to their final destinations.

(Image: Phil Beard, cc-nc-nd-3.0, see website)

This was particularly frustrating for the French military, and the Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture sought to counter the problem within Paris itself. Deals were eventually struck and the line was contructed to connect the city’s main stations, with a junction to Gare de l’Ouest, which was not physically on the route.

(Images: 1, 2, 3 by Jef Poskanzer, cc-3.0)

But despite its obvious utility, traffic gradually declined and the line was largely closed between 1924 and 1934. Only one branch – Ligne d’Auteuil – remained open and was electrified in 1925. It finally closed 60 years later. The line was seldom used thereafter and is now completely abandoned.

(Images: Nicolas Vigier, cc-3.0)

The future of Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture remains uncertain. Proposals to repurpose the abandoned railway as part of a tramway (known as Line 3) didn’t come to fruition, and railway enthusiasts have lobbied to protect the line and its remaining stations as part of France’s national heritage.

(Images: Nicolas Vigier, cc-3.0)

Unlike other countries – such as Britain – where thousands of miles of railway infrastructure were torn-up shortsightedly in the 1960s, France’s abandoned railways have often been replaced with improved lines. So the reality is that Chemin de fer de Petite Ceinture might not be needed, but it’s an important part of Parisian history that appeals to a broader audience than merely urban explorers.

Let us know your thoughts on the repurposing of this historic railway – perhaps a public park like the New York City High Line?

Keep reading – visit another abandoned Paris Railway turned pretty urban green space – the Promenade Plantée – and explore the city subway’s mysterious ghost stations.

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  • http://www.totorotimes.fr/ Meow • Japan & Urbex

    Let’s hope they will keep it there. This railway is lovely, even though there are hundreds of tramps around. They offer also a lot of easy access to the catacombs.

  • Loco2

    This is really cool, and we’ve now heard that you can now go to a gig at a club in one of the abandoned stations!

  • Tom

    Hey Jordy, that’s very interesting, I didn’t realise the catacombs could be accessed from the railway? Would that be the tunnels? Surprised the authorities haven’t done a better job of shoring up the entrances…

  • Tom

    Interesting stuff Loco2! Which station would that be?

  • Loco2

    It’s in a club called La Flèche d’Or which is within the walls of the old station Charonne (1867 – 1934). http://www.flechedor.fr/

  • Tom

    Great stuff, thanks for the info! I might see a follow-up article coming on :)

  • Loco2

    We beat you to it I’m afraid :-) inhabitat.com/7-ways-to-upcycle-a-train-station/

  • Tom

    Dammit, so you did :) Oh well, if I do feature it I’ll be sure to link back! By the way, I’ve been a fan of your site for a while and found it very inspirational in terms of cool ideas for both content and site development. There’s a very cool telephone box near where I live that’s now a library (it’s red but not one that’s been previously featured as far as I know). Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll send you some pics once I’ve photographed it!

  • http://twitter.com/encephalartos Geert Biermans

    In fact, New York’s High City line was based upon an existing park in Paris… created on an abandoned railway (in 1969). Funny enough, everybody thinks

    It’s called “La Promenade Plantée”, and it enables you to walk from Place de la Bastille all the way to Parc de Vincennes without crossing any major street. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promenade_plant%C3%A9e. Its starting point is behind the Opéra Bastille (location of the old terminal station Paris Bastille)

    It goes straight through, over and under the outer arrondissements of the inner city. It’s a very pleasant walk, and not well known by tourists so it is mainly used by locals. And the part near the Périphérique actually leads you through a old branch of the Petite Ceinture, through a few refurbished tunnels.

  • Loco2

    Thanks Tom but we’re all about the trains these days (less quirky content than before). If however, you stumble across a phone box that’s a train, or a train that’s a library we’re all ears!

  • Tom

    Hey Geert, thanks a lot for your email! We’ve actually featured La Promenade Plantée before: http://www.urbanghostsmedia.com/2012/03/promenade-plantee-paris-popular-urban-green-space-transformed-from-abandoned-railway/

    What a fantastic place! I must confess I didn’t know about it until after I’d found out about the High Line, which I’ve visited on a couple of occasions. I think it was an article on Treehugger.com that drew my attention to the Paris park, and it was great to discover. It’s been some years since I was in Paris and La Promenade Plantée is definitely on the list for my next trip. I’m love the design of both this and the High Line, and the fact that they’re different – La Promenade Plantée pretty, the High Line more industrial.

    I didn’t realise part of the park intersected with a branch of Petite Ceinture. That’s good to know, and would make for some great photos! Thanks again for your comment.

  • http://twitter.com/encephalartos Geert Biermans

    The part where it intersects with the Petite Ceinture is around here:
    https://maps.google.com/maps/place?ftid=0x47e67263f58ed989:0xbeeecaf8e85db6c1&q=Rue+du+Sahel&hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=48.846262,2.394075&spn=0.000014,0.000021&t=h&z=16&vpsrc=6

    You can still see the layout of the triangle, with new tower flats built on the intersection

  • Tom

    Very interesting – exploring old railways on Google Earth or maps can be quite addictive! It’ll be interesting to follow what becomes of the Petite Ceinture. It seems like an amazing opportunity for urban transport, especially since the rails are still intact, but maybe the transport system in Paris is that evolved that it’s obsolete – either way, very interesting!

  • http://www.totorotimes.com/ Jordy Meow • Totoro Times

    There are easy access to the sewers then to the catacombs from the south part of the railway. It was the case 7-8 years ago :) Now, I have no idea at all, but I’ll maybe pay the catacombs a visit with friends.

  • http://twitter.com/encephalartos Geert Biermans

    They’ve missed their chance when they decided to run the Tramway 3 on the boulevards instead of the Petite Ceinture.

    I imagine it would be a lot of work to keep all the tunnels and bridges up to operating standard, but it would have been nice to see the thing run on existing infrastructure.

  • http://www.harrop.info/ Mike Harrop

    As a kid in the early 50s I used to travel on the Orient Express from Milano, Italy (where my father worked) to boarding school in the UK. The train would stop for several hours in Paris, allowing passengers who were continuing to London to walk or metro across Paris and re-join the train at the Gare du Nord. Unaccompanied minors like myself had to stay on the train, now composed of only a few coaches that would be pulled by a tender round Paris on the Petite Ceinture, at snail’s pace, to be later hitched to the Paris-London “Golden Arrow”. With usually only one conductor on the train, it was fun… rather like a ghost train on a ghost line.

  • http://www.petiteceinture.org/ Petite Ceinture

    More information can be found for this not abandoned railway line here : http://bit.ly/1hJZEmM

 
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