The Grand Paris Express megaproject to build over 200km of new automatic metro lines, largely in the outer suburbs of Paris, has been underway since 2010. The Sarkozy government established Société du Grand Paris (SGP) to build the system using a series of civil engineering contracts, with an estimated budget (in 2010) of €22.6 billion and a target of having the network largely complete by 2024.

In late February 2018 the French Government announced a review of progress and a revised schedule for construction, as the projected cost of the project has risen to around €38.5 billion with completion unlikely before the mid-2030s. French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe announced a ‘more realistic’ time plan and indicated the government was seeking cost reductions of around 10% (€3.9 billion at current estimates). The project is being funded by local government in Paris and the surrounding area using local taxes dedicated to transport funding (70%), with central government contributing around 30%.

The government announcement has clarified the order in which the new lines will be opened and is clearly designed to ensure those routes most needed during the Olympic Games, to be held in Paris in 2024, will be open by then. This decision has not been universally welcomed, especially by politicians in areas that may have to now wait until 2030 for the new metro to serve their areas.


The overall plan is for four completely new metro lines, all of which either circle the city centre or extend the system into the outer suburbs, paralleling the new outer circle Line 15 further east or west of the city:

■ Line 15 – new 75km-long orbital ring line connecting La Défense with Saint-Denis in the north, Bondy in the east and Vitry in the south. To be built in phases, with the southern section (Pont de Sevres to Noisy-Champs) built first and open in 2024;

■ Line 16 – an eastern orbital line 25km long paralleling the new Line 15 to the east of Paris serving Aulnay and Chelles. To be built in phases, with the northern section (Saint-Denis-Pleyel to Clichy Montfermeil) built first and open in 2024, with the remainder opening by 2030;

■ Line 17 from Saint-Denis-Pleyel to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and then north to Le Mesni-Amelot. The short section from Saint-Denis-Pleyel to Le Bourget will open by 2024, extended to Gonesse by 2027 with the entire 27km-long line complete by 2030;

■ Line 18 from Orly Airport west to the major heavy rail interchange station at Versailles Chantiers. The section from Orly to St-Aubin via Massy is due for completion by 2027, with the 35km-long line opening to Versailles by 2030. There is currently no firm timetable for the last section of Line 18 around the western suburbs via Ruell and Nanterre to Saint-Denis.

The majority of the new lines will be in tunnel, although two lengthy sections of surface line are planned on Lines 17 and 18. In total 57 new stations are planned, with another 11 being rebuilt. Most stations will offer interchange with existing metro, RER or suburban rail/tram lines. SGP expects two million passengers to use the new network daily when it is complete, with trains running at two- to three-minute headways. The new lines will connect with the existing automated Line 14, which is being extended at both ends to form a new high capacity north to south route.

Existing Paris Metro operator RATP will operate the lines using a fleet of new rubber-tyred MP14 automatic metro EMUs being supplied by Alstom. A 15-year framework contract awarded by Île-de-France transport authority STIF and SGP in early 2015, worth up to €2 billion, will provide up to 217 eight-car EMUs for the Grand Paris Express routes plus replacement trains for existing Lines 4 and 11. All four new lines will operate automatically without drivers.


Tunnelling to extend the existing Line 14 from St Lazare station north to Saint Ouen has been underway since 2014, but groundwater problems delayed construction in 2016. The St Lazare to Mairie de Saint Ouen section and its three intermediate stations are now forecast to open in 2021. The 1.7km extension north east to Saint-Denis-Pleyel is under construction and due to open before 2024.

To the south, Line 14 will be extended all the way from Olympiades, the end of the most recent (2007) extension of the line, to Orly Airport. SGP forecasts the journey time from Orly to Olympiades will fall from 43 minutes using the RER and OrlyVAL connection today to 16 minutes using the new Line 14. The new line received its planning approval in July 2016 and construction work is underway. SGP is planning to have the line in use by 2024.

A firm €520 million order has been placed for 35 new MP14 eight-car trains to operate Line 14 services from 2019. These will replace the existing six-car MP89 and MP05 Line 14 fleet (which will transfer to Line 4). The order provides capacity for the Line 14 northern extension when it opens and is likely to be augmented by 37 more new trains before the Paris Olympics in 2024 to cater for the planned southern extension.

An extension of the existing Line 11 south east from the current terminus of Mairie des Lilas to Rosny-sous-Bois on the future orbital Line 15 is also under construction, with opening planned for 2023. A further extension from Rosny-sous-Bois to Noisy-Champs on future Lines 15 and 16 is planned but not yet funded.


The 2024 Olympic Games in Paris will see the existing Stade de France in Saint Denis, north of the city centre, being the main stadium. The Olympic Village and other facilities will all be located in the same area in the vicinity of the new Saint-Denis Pleyel station, to be served (eventually) by all the new Grand Paris Express metro lines.

By 2024 it is currently forecast Line 14 will be open from Saint-Denis Pleyel all the way to Orly Airport in the south. Future outer circle Line 15 will be open in the south of Paris only (connecting with Line 14). Lines 16 and 17 are due to be open for short sections from Saint-Denis Pleyel to Clichy-Montfermeil and Le Bourget (site of the planned Olympic media centre) respectively in time for the Olympics.

Olympic ambition: Line 15 construction progress at Clamart on 1 July 2017, where the new metro will pass under the Paris Montparnasse – Chartres line. The distance of the new orbital line from central Paris can be seen as the Eiffel Tower is visible above the passing regional train, hauled by SNCF loco No 827306. In the immediate foreground a small part of the 7,000-tonne prefabricated future metro station is seen, which includes track bed for the main line. This was moved into position, replacing the temporary bridges the train is seen on, during a complete blockade in August 2017.
Keith Fender
Keith Fender


Following the French government’s announcement of plans to reform national rail operator SNCF and terms of employment for future employees (p82, last month), a series of national rail strikes has been called by all the unions representing French rail workers.

The unions object not only to the content of the reform package but also the government’s intention to implement the changes by decree (the necessary legislation was introduced into the French Parliament in March). The unions have also strongly promoted the idea that the reform plan is the beginning of privatisation for SNCF, something the government has explicitly ruled out, although tendering of passenger services – required by EU law within three years – is regarded as a form of privatisation by some unions.

The first strike on 22 March was co-ordinated with strikes by multiple groups of workers in other industries protesting at a range of government policies. A series of ‘rolling strikes’ has been announced by the main rail unions, with two-day national strikes followed by three days without strikes; these began on 3 April and are due to run on that basis until late June. In the initial strikes not only were French domestic services badly affected but so were Eurostar and Thalys high-speed services, which historically have not been affected by French domestic strikes. Very few other international services operated, with a limited service to Germany and none to Switzerland, Italy or Spain.

A limited basic domestic passenger service is required by law in France even during national strikes. Provision of this, and it appears participation in the strikes, has been patchy, with some areas having almost no trains but a better than minimum service running on some lines in other areas. Media reports suggest around one-third of SNCF employees were striking and therefore losing pay. Public opinion appears to be with the government, with opinion polls for newspapers showing two-thirds of the population supporting the government rather than the striking unions and over half thinking the strikes were not justified. Some of the unions supportive of elements of the reform package have called on the government to compromise, although the current proposals actually represent a significant compromise on some of the more radical proposals in the Spinetta Report commissioned by the government last year.

Disruption to passenger journeys has been significant, but the damage being done to the already precarious French rail freight market may turn out to be terminal for some staple traffic flows. Major steel maker Arcelor Mittal announced it would cease using rail until the strikes ended, with the implicit danger that some traffic switched to road transport may not return to rail. Customers moving aggregates and grain also reported major disruption to their business from the first strikes. Fret SNCF, the heavily indebted loss-making state railway freight subsidiary, saw 70% of its drivers on strike in early April.

For private freight operators, whose staff are not on strike, the effects are potentially worse. The Managing Director of one firm told Modern Railways it was ‘a disaster’, as without SNCF signalling staff at work few trains can run and without substantial funding from parent companies some French private freight companies may become insolvent, a by-product of the strikes some of the unions involved might welcome.


French freight operator CFTA, owned by French transport group Transdev, has obtained a safety certificate to operate passenger trains on the national rail network in advance of tendering for regional passenger services. Transdev is a significant operator of regional rail services in neighbouring Germany and is 70% owned by the French government owned bank Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations.