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European Railroad Discussion > Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest

Date: 02/01/20 19:07
Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: F7sForever

Concluding my series on Paris TGV stations with the granddaddy of them all: Gare du Nord. Not only is Paris' North Station the town's biggest, it is Europe's busiest station. Even so, the 220 million passengers it sees annually only ranks it 23rd in the world, with the others all in Japan. Shinjuku Station in Tokyo sees a mind-boggling 1.26 Billion (!) passengers per year to lead the list. By comparison, New York Penn Station is the busiest in North America, and its 69 million annual passengers didn't even crack the top 100.

Like two of the other three TGV-hosting stations, Gare du Nord is an international station. But in keeping with the theme, it's on a much grander scale. The station sees daily high speed train arrivals from the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands. And with its rail connection to Charles de Gaulle airport, Gare du Nord is the gateway for a host of international travelers arriving by air. Both of my trips to Europe started with an arrival at CDG, and an RER train into town. So like countless others, Gare du Nord was my first impression of Paris, and France. As well, a steady flow of TER and RER trains bring workers and businesspeople in and out of town to the northern suburbs and the smaller towns between Paris and the Belgian border. 

Gare du Nord was opened in 1864 on the site of an earlier station. (Interestingly, the facade from the original station was dismantled and taken to Lille in northern France, where it still exists today as the facade for Gare de Lille-Flandres.) The present station comprises 38 tracks, and sees 2,200 trains per day. And all of this is expected to increase dramatically as Paris hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics, and growth isn't expected to halt. The solutions are contentious. Traffic is often snarled in front of the station, and critics say current plans don't do enough to address that. As well, the current expansion plan is being executed in partnership with a local grocery giant, which is providing a lot of the funding. The revamped station will see a vast expansion of retail spaces, and will add miles of walkways and ramps that will likely make accessing trains even harder than it currently is.

The station sits at the heart of Paris' 10th Arondissment, a population-dense working class area that has over 100,000 residents squeezed into its three square kilometers (and no city parks.) Petty crime is rampant - even more so than at other hotspots in Paris. When I pass through the area, I usually move defensively, with my bags carefully locked and my wallet tucked away to deter pickpockets. And I never let my bags out of my sight. And even when I have my camera out and taking photos, I keep a wrist strap around my wrist and the neckstrap wrapped around my hand. 

Even so, I had one incident in November where a potential n'er do well peeled off of another group and started following my wife and I as we crossed the station. Because of her health, she walks a bit slower. So after a hundred feet or so, when he didn't pass us, I turned on him suddenly and gave him the angry face. He looked pretty surprised as he was so close behind me that he almost ran into me, but he turned and headed the other direction again quickly while I bent down to "tie my shoe." Not everyone has the benefit of large build and scary face, so paying attention is essential.

Gare du Nord serves as the terminus for LGV Nord, SNCF's high speed line to Lille and beyond. In adddition to a steady flow of TGV departures, the station hosts Eurostar trains from London's St. Pancras station, as well as Thalys high speed service to Brussels and Antwerp in Belgium and Rotterdam and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The station sees a number of TER regional trains, the previously mentioned RER line that connects Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, metro lines, and an above ground streetcar line. The photos that follow should give a sampling of the station traffic.

Photo 1: on my last night in Paris, I walked from my hotel near Gare de l'Est to both that station and Gare du Nord. A merciful break in the cold drizzle accompanied my trip between stations, allowing this photo of the exterior. 27 statues on the facade represent Paris at center, surrounded by Greek gods, along with figures representing a number of international cities, and the station stops on the Chemin de fer du Nord, the railway that the station was built to serve. Stuff like this is why I love Paris railway stations so much. Nov. 2019.

Photo 2: looking back down one of the platforms toward the original central train shed as we head toward our boarding door on a Thalys train to Amsterdam. Nov. 2019.

Photo 3: NeoDuplex 226 in Sept. 2017 was the first Duplex TGV I photographed, the first train I saw in Carmillon paint, and the first train I photographed inside the train shed. The original shed was a engineering marvel in its time, requiring steel beams imported from Scotland to support them.

Plenty more photos to come.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/01/20 19:32 by F7sForever.

Date: 02/01/20 19:12
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: train1275

Excellent !  And very true about the petty crime at Gare du Nord. It is really cool in many respects but rather nasty in others.

Good pics and write up.

Date: 02/01/20 19:17
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: F7sForever

Photo 4: the scale of traffic at Gare du Nord is conveyed by this lineup from the Eurostar waiting area, with Eurostar, Thalys, Izy, TGV, and several regional trains all taking on or disgorging passengers. Sept. 2017.

Photo 5: a pair of TER Picardie regional trains, one leaving as the other boards passengers. Sept. 2017.

Photo 6: Thalys 4533, a PBA, enters the station with an arrival from Brussels. Nov. 2019.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/01/20 19:31 by F7sForever.

Date: 02/01/20 19:19
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: F7sForever

Photo 7: the RER B Line runs above ground to Charles de Gaulle airport, but ducks underground just before it's Gare du Nord stop. The RER D Line also serves underground, connecting Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. Sept. 2017.

Photo 8: the tracks farthest west at the station are in an enclosed paddock for Eurostar trains and passengers. They are reached via an overhead walkway at the front of the station, and by this point we had passed through customs for our trip to London, then spent time in a passenger lounge waiting for the call to board. The next 3-4 tracks over from the Eurostar paddock serves the Thalys trains from Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as Thalys' Izy low cost service from Brussels. Sept. 2017.

Photo 9: A Eurostar TMST train, half train sets 3222 and 3223.


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/01/20 19:57 by F7sForever.

Date: 02/01/20 19:22
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: F7sForever

Photo 10: north of the station, Rue de Jessaint crosses the tracks and provides a pretty good view of the comings and goings from the station. Shown here is a TER train approaching the station, while an original TGV PSE departs. Boulevard de la Chapelle is closer to the station, but the view of the station tracks is partially obscured by a service walkway closer to the tracks.

Photo 11: Boulevard de la Chapelle is a busy thoroughfare, with three lanes each way, straddled by an elevated tram line. So you're limited to one side of the street or the other. Here, looking back toward Rue de Jessaint, a TER regional train approaches the station while a Eurostar departs for London.

Photo 12: adding to the traffic, all trains that don't immediately reload and depart again travel to one of three nearby Technicentres for servicing and maintenance. SNCF Technicentre Le Landy (shown from train) is a few miles north of Gare du Nord, and handles the TGVs, Thalys, and Eurostar trains, with another servicing facility a bit further north in Saint Denis for TER and TransIlien trains.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/01/20 20:32 by F7sForever.

Date: 02/01/20 19:23
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: F7sForever

Photo 13: a Transport Express Regionale (TER) train enters the station led by a BB15000 series motor. Nov. 2019.

Photo 14: NeoDuplex TGV 209 sits while passengers crowd toward class-mate 205. Just minutes later, 205 would make an on-time departure for Lille, despite the apparent volume on the platform at that point. Because European travelers know how to get onto a train in a quick and orderly fashion. Nov. 2019.

Photo 15: Thalys PBKA arriving from Amsterdam, the last train I photographed at Gare du Nord during my last visit in Nov. 2019.

I hope this was an interesting and helpful look at Gare du Nord. If you missed the other installmemts in the series on Paris train stations, they can be found here:

Gare de Lyon: https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?17,4934609
Gare Montparnasse: https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?17,4946805
Gare de l’Est: https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?17,4949177

And as always, thanks again for reading! I still have a few European topics to cover between enjoying some of the other great content that is being posted here.


Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 02/01/20 19:44 by F7sForever.

Date: 02/01/20 22:01
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: gaspeamtrak

Jody that was very interesting descriptions about the station and the surrounding neighbourhood  and to look out for that petty cime that happens there if I ever make it over there I will know to be very careful there !!!
Picture # 4 is amazing with all the international trains!!! :):):)
Thank you for sharing this with us!!! :):):)

Date: 02/02/20 05:07
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: cricketer8for9

Gare du Nord's a take care area, but by no means a don't go area. I remember watching a Friday evening rush hour there 20 years ago and having a feelling of wonder that the whole thing was functioning properly with streams of passengers heading onto trains which kept appearing from the sidings or as arrivals from further north. And the sense that this was being done on trains, and high speed trains at that, was marvellous. 

Date: 02/02/20 12:12
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: ATSF3751

Thanks for sharing. My favorite is Gare St Lazare. Claude Monet immortalized the station and shed with with several paintings. 

Date: 02/03/20 08:55
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: pennengineer

ATSF3751 Wrote:
> Thanks for sharing. My favorite is Gare St Lazare.
> Claude Monet immortalized the station and shed
> with with several paintings. 

One of which can be viewed at the nearby Musée d'Orsay: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gare_Saint-Lazare_(Monet_series)

Date: 02/06/20 05:51
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: WrongWayMurphy

Mrs. murphy and I arrived at Gare du Nord from London last summer, and had a hotel about 2 blocks from the station.

We walked the distance each with a rolling suitcase, I noticed we were being shadowed on the way from the exit to the
hotel.  At a crosswalk, I suddenly turned around and stared the creep down, and he sheepishly went away.  I don’t know what he was up to, but that area in front of the station is full of ne’er do wells..

Date: 02/09/20 20:58
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: railstiesballast

Another asset at Gare du Nord is the series of historical murals in the foyers.
My wife and I stayed at a hotel maybe 3 blocks away and never had any problems.
Advice: keep looking about, carry your wallet in a safe place, pack lightly enough so you can run if you have to.
(We did, not from crime but to a close connection, at least twice.)

Date: 02/21/20 05:35
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: Frank30

Thanks for all these varied and wonderful shots.  Puts USA to shame.
Question for you. In picture #3 Neo Duplex 226, on the platform there appears to be
2 "pass through stations" next to a wide open space, then another "pass through",
what is the purpose of these machines??  I've seen other pictures where you can't
avoid going through one to continue down the platform.

Date: 03/08/20 11:54
Re: Paris Stations: Gare du Nord is Europe’s busiest
Author: F7sForever

The gates are used for platform control for certain trains, since the station serves multiple services. They can be opened or closed by the platform controller. The open space is a wheelchair/accessbility entrance for same. When they're closed, they require a ticket to open. The TGVs dont use this system, so they are usually open when a TGV is on the platform. 

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