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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