Current status of the Petite Ceinture circular railway of Paris

, by Bruno Bretelle

The current situation of the Petite Ceinture is a result of three official texts published between 2006 and 2015:

  • The framework protocol on operation of the Petite Ceinture, signed in June 2006 by Réseau Ferré de France (now the SNCF Réseau company) with the City of Paris, and applied until 2015 ;
  • The Master Plan for the Île-de-France region until 2030, published in December 2013 ;
  • The framework protocol on operation of the Petite Ceinture, signed in spring 2015 between SNCF and the City of Paris, and applicable until 2025.

In this article, we summarize the main points of these three texts. In addition, Réseau Ferré de France and the City of Paris submitted the future of the Petite Ceinture to a public consultation between December 2012 and February 2013. The results of this consultation provided the basis for the drafting of the framework protocol signed on April 2015. Thus we also study these results.

Map of the current situation of the Petite Ceinture railway
In blue, the stretch available for transport. In yellow, the stretch used by the RER C line. In red, the stretch demolished in 1960. In green, the stretch closed in 2008. Click to enlarge.

 The framework protocol of 2006

In the early 2000s, it was decided not to use the Petite Ceinture section in the South of Paris for both the establishment of the tramway line T3a and the extension of the T2 tram line, despite the interest of the Petite Ceinture in terms of greater flow rate and operating speed than the boulevard line. With the lack of new transportation projects for the Petite Ceinture in the short-term, Réseau Ferré de France (now SNCF Réseau), owner of the Petite Ceinture in name of French State, signed with the City of Paris a framework protocol defining the possible uses of the Petite Ceinture in the following years. This framework protocol allowed:

  • The creation in 2006 of four social integration projects for maintaining the platform of the Petite Ceinture, in order to preserve the railway gauge and thus operate trains at any time, to remove rubbish thrown on the tracks and manage biodiversity ;
  • The preservation and rehabilitation of former stations of the circular passenger service, through resale by Réseau Ferré de France of some of these buildings to the City of Paris or to private entities, and their transformation into places for cultural purposes (bars, restaurants or concert halls). This concerns the former passenger stations of Boulevard Ornano (today la REcyclerie), Avenue de Saint-Ouen (Le Hasard Ludique), Charonne (la Flèche d’Or), Pont de Flandre (La Gare) and Montrouge ;
  • The opening in august 2013 of a reversible promenade in the 15th borough, occupying the platform of the Petite Ceinture along 1.3 kilometers.

 The Master Plan for the Île-de-France region until 2030

The Master Plan for the Île-de-France region until 2030 was adopted in December 2013. It stipulates that the length of the Petite Ceinture will be maintained. Consideration of its rail vocation and uses will be based on the type of sections concerned (railway light transport, green corridor) while ensuring the reversibility of development. Finally, urbanization in their immediate environment must be compatible with the activities of these sites.

It should be noted that the maintenance of the reversibility and of the length of the Petite Ceinture was desired by the Île-de-France Region, while the City of Paris wanted to surreptitiously remove these passages and the reference to the freight transport by rail without informing the Region...

 The public consultation in 2012-2013

The framework protocol signed in 2006 had to expire in 2011 and then be renegotiated. In this context, a public consultation was organized in late 2012 by the City of Paris and Réseau Ferré de France (now SNCF Réseau). The variety of views expressed allowed the following consensus to be reached :

  • The reversibility of realizations in order to avoid preventing future of railway infrastructure developments ;
  • The maintainance of the continuity of the line ;
  • The compatibility of uses, particularly between rail traffic and the preservation of biodiversity, development of facilities and opening to the public ;
  • The protection of the biodiversity, despite several definitions of “biodiversity” ; the idea is to develop continuity and links with the urban ecosystem ;
  • The absence of construction on the Petite Ceinture ;
  • The desire not to trivialize a very unconventional site, which is aesthetic, rich in heritage and charged with a strong railway history.

 The framework protocol of 2015

Respecting the results of the public consultation of 2012-2013, a new framework protocol concerning the future of the Petite Ceinture of Paris was signed by the SNCF and the City of Paris in April 2015. Both confirm their will to preserve the continuity of the Petite Ceinture and the reversibility of any landscaping which could be performed, in order to avoid obstacles to the future potential of the railway.

The integration of the most part of the Petite Ceinture into the French national railway network is confirmed : “The Petite Ceinture belongs to the national French railway network with the exception of a stretch in the west of Paris, between Auteuil and La Muette, in the 16th borough, closed in 2008, and the section of the 17th borough between the Alphonse de Neuville street and the Pont Cardinet railway station, called the “Pereire trench”, closed in 2013.” We point out here that the Pereire trench is part of the former Auteuil line.

Thus, of the 31.5 kilometers of the full tour of Paris by the Petite Ceinture and the Auteuil line, only about 3.5 km are closed. The rest is still a part of the French national railway network, contradicting the use of terms such “abandoned” or “former”. Today, current urban operations (the ZAC Seine Rive Gauche in the 13th borough, the construction of the Rosa Parks railway station on the RER E line in the 19th borough, the ZAC Batignolles in the 17th borough) temporarily cut the tracks, thus preventing train circulation, but they don’t compromise the continuity of the Petite Ceinture.

The new protocol is based on three axes:

  • The commitment to promote the natural, architectural and landscape heritage, and to develop diversified uses,
  • The design of a shared program plan for the future of the Petite Ceinture,
  • The conditions of deployment of the program plan and of the availability of sites.

We detail now all three axes.

 The provision of natural, architectural and landscape heritage and the development of diversified uses

The extraordinary nature of the Petite Ceinture in the Parisian urban landscape is recognized. The protocol describes that every action must respect the landscape of the section concerned and highlight the story and heritage of the Petite Ceinture. The rail gauge must be preserved.

The future projects to accommodate new uses on the Petite Ceinture will be built on its unique character and potential, as well as its ecological qualities and climatic role. They will preserve the coherence of the landscape of the Petite Ceinture, to which the Parisians expressed their commitment during the public consultation.

 Design of a shared program plan for the future of the Petite Ceinture

The City of Paris and SNCF will develop jointly from now until the end of 2015 a multi-year program plan that will seek to identify the uses and activities that can be developed on sections of the Petite Ceinture provided to the City of Paris.

Analysis of the potential of the Petite Ceinture by the City of Paris
In red, interesting stretches for activities. Click to enlarge.

 Conditions of deployment of the program plan and of the availability of sites

Based on the guidelines of the program plan, on some sections, occupancy agreements will be granted to project developers, selected jointly by the two partners on the basis of calls for proposals. The financial product of these activities will be shared between the two partners on terms to be defined. The signatories will define in 2015 the form and modalities of a partnership tool for animation and specific valuation, which may be accompanied by other public and private operators.

These conventions for provision or allocation overlay will be granted free of charge by SNCF, the City of Paris pledging in return to support the development and maintenance of spaces opened to the public in this way, excluding expenses related to the rehabilitation of railway structures.

The first operation realized within the framework protocol is the public opening of a reversible walk in the 13th borough, for a length of around 500 meters, in autumn 2015.

 The position of our Association

Our Association welcomes the various preservation approaches, that we have advocated since 1992. The Petite Ceinture is indeed a rare railway resource to be treasured for the future. In the short term, we are not opposed to an opening to the public, provided that it is reversible as specified by this framework protocol. We propose to complete this opening, that is difficult to achieve on a stretch of 23 kilometers due to the presence of many tunnels, by low speed adventure trains. These trains allow the assessment of the railway DNA of the Petite Ceinture while protecting landscapes and especially vegetation from trampling. These trains would be similar to those we organized until 2003.