Building four new underground (“Metro”) lines and extending two existing lines, laying 200 kilometres of extra tracks, creating 68 new stations and setting up seven technical centres – the Grand Paris Express project is obviously aimed at reinventing the Greater Paris transit system, but that’s not all! As Europe’s largest transport infrastructure project, the Grand Paris Express will reshape the outlying suburbs, bringing suburban populations into the fold of the new Paris metropolis.
Tunnel-makers, engineers, property developers, geographers, sociologists and entrepreneurs – a wide range of trades are coming together to create the “Metro of the 21st century”. We met up with three engineers who are working every day to make the Grand Paris Express a success.
Building Paris beyond the city walls
Nicolas Simonin, Head of the ET&I business at Assystem France, is proud to be working on Europe’s largest transport infrastructure project: “The Grand Paris Express is a once-in-a career project. The only equivalents today are in China or the Middle East”, he says.
Drawn to project management “like a conductor to music”, Nicolas loves the idea of transforming a dream into reality. His passion for learning and discovering new regions and professional domains have always led him into uncharted territory. “Working in engineering satisfies my curiosity on a daily basis”, he adds.
The Grand Paris Express brings with it not only technical but also societal challenges. “This project – which combines transport, infrastructure and urban planning – is designed to link unserved Paris suburbs to the city and create connections between them. Construction of the city is taking place beyond the physical borders of present-day Paris, the ‘Périphérique’ ring road”. By 2030, we will have doubled the capacity of the Paris Metro and reshaped the cityscape as we know it today”. Nicolas likens the project’s impact to that of Haussmann’s renovation of Paris in the nineteenth century.
Nicolas personally suffered for many years from the Greater Paris region’s transport problems. “Living near Rambouillet, in the south-west suburbs of Paris, it was impossible to judge how long it would take to get into the city, even leaving a bit earlier every day. In the end I decided to move to the Dordogne and commute to Paris weekly by train. The Grand Paris Express will make the public transport system in Greater Paris much more fluid and predictable and the suburbs will obviously become a much more appealing place to live.”
“Giving Paris an advantage in the competition between Europe’s capital cities”
For Claude Laborie – Head of Local Project Management Consultancy for the company leading the project, Société du Grand Paris – the Grand Paris Express is essential for Paris to keep up with the world’s other major cities. “Today, Paris accounts for 30% of French GDP and just under 20% of the country’s population. The Grand Paris Express will enable the city to consolidate its role as France’s economic centre and stay firmly in the race to be one of the world’s top cities, alongside the likes of New York and Tokyo”.
Paris’s public transport system is currently star-shaped, which means that people travelling from one suburb to another have to pass through the city centre. This saturates the railway lines and makes journey times longer. “Some students prefer to go to university in central Paris rather than in a suburb closer to home that’s poorly served by public transport.” The new Grand Paris Express lines for the outskirts will enable people to travel more quickly around Paris without having to actually enter the city, a bit like London’s “Circle Line”. “With an average speed of 55 km/hour compared with 21-39 for the current Metro lines and 49.6 for the RER A suburban rail link, the new Metro will be a mix of the current Metro system, Line 14 (driverless trains), and the RER suburban rail link in terms of speed and passenger capacity.”
Claude thinks that the Grand Paris Express will be extremely beneficial for Paris. Its airports will be more easily accessible, new business centres will develop and soft modes of transport will mushroom in the vicinity of stations. Greater Paris as a whole will become more appealing. “The Metro is the visible part of a project that’s going to totally transform Paris. The 68 planned new stations will be nothing like the current Metro or RER stations and will encourage the creation of shops, hotels, offices and cinemas. These new hubs of life will drive not only the region’s future economy, but also its cultural development”.
“Seeing Paris as a region rather than just a city”
After working for six years in the nuclear sector, Mathieu Gay wanted to be involved in a project that affects people’s daily lives. He now works for Société du Grand Paris on enhancing the management of costs, risks and project lead times. According to Mathieu, “the Grand Paris Express will redefine travel within Greater Paris as well as re-energising the city’s suburban towns and creating connections between them. Although the GPE is a long-term project, I can see how my work will have a tangible impact on the everyday lives of the people who live in the suburbs of Paris.”
Mathieu adds “Today if you want to go from Versailles to Orly, it takes fifty minutes at best and several changes of transport. When the Grand Paris Express is completed it will be a thirty-minute direct journey. The new Metro will take the pressure off the existing network, particularly Line A of the RER, which is the busiest line in Europe, serving more than 300 million passengers a year, and is reaching its limits in terms of capacity. Lastly, the GPE will create connections between Greater Paris’s main towns, which are currently much too isolated, such as Marne-la-Vallée, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, Orly and Saint-Denis. The region’s residents will gain not only in terms of journey times but also quality of life.”
The Grand Paris Express is a paradigm shift for the Greater Paris transit system. “Currently, the city’s rail system serves 2 million people spread over 20 Parisian arrondissements. This will increase to 10 million residents across the entire region once the project is completed. It is also extremely important from an eco-perspective. Transport is a major issue for the future and Paris needs to be able to provide a credible, reliable and clean alternative to cars.”
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