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Brief history of the Paris metro

Paris and its surroundings Île-de-France Paris

Brief history of the Paris metro © Jacques Demarthon / AFP

The Paris metro is the only one to have offered a choice of two classes on its network. The "first class" service existed until 1982. © Jacques Demarthon / AFP

The Paris metro has 214 km of lines, used by almost 1.4 billion travellers every year. Below is an overview of the success of an adventure over 100 years old.

The deterioration in driving conditions in Paris with the increased number of cars, the example of foreign capitals, such as London, New York and Budapest and the imminence of the 1900 Universal Exposition were at the origin of the Paris Metro. Fulgence Bienvenüe, an engineer at Ponts et Chaussées, created the project, which was adopted by the Municipal Council on 9 July 1897. Work started on 4 October 1898, as part of an agreement between the City of Paris and the Paris Metropolitan Railway Company (CPM).

The network

Line 1, which opened on 19 July 1900, connected the Porte de Maillot to the Porte de Vincennes and provided a service to the summer Olympic Games organised in the Bois de Vincennes. Parisians immediately loved this new means of transport. In 1901, Fulgence Bienvenüe planned an additional network of lines which would not leave any point in Paris more than 500 metres from a metro station. Work quickly began on lines 2 and 3 and then 4 and 5, etc.

To create access to Cité and Saint-Michel stations, on the edge of the Seine, the architect Léon Chagnaud exercised great ingenuity... The construction of the tunnel between the two stations was completed with the aid of metallic caissons of 20 to 40 metres in length, assembled on the bank and gradually driven into the river bed. This extremely spectacular operation attracted a number of curious onlookers. To allow the boring of the tunnel designed as a pipeline connecting the two stations, fifteen metres beneath the bed of the Seine, the ground was frozen with a calcium chloride brine at -24°C.

The first six lines were opened to the public in 1910. Immediately prior to the First World War, the 91km-long network included 10 lines and carried 467 million travellers. During the 1920s, the increase in the population of the outskirts of the capital led to a new agreement between the City of Paris and the département of La Seine. The following decade saw the network continue to grow, in particular through the extension of the lines to the suburbs (lines 1, 12, 9, 11, etc.). During the Second World War, several lines were extended despite the shortage of electricity. At the end of the war, the damage caused by the bombings made considerable investment necessary. The Law of 21 March 1948 created the Régie autonome des transports parisiens (Paris Transport Authority - RATP), which was responsible for operating the underground and overground networks.

A new milestone was passed in 1998 with the new line 14, the first major metro line in a world capital with no driver, accessible via entry doors on the edge of the quays, guaranteeing security.

In the near future, the Greater Paris Metro project, with its 155 kilometres of new lines, inter-connected with the existing network, will offer thousands of Ile-de-France residents ever faster journeys even further afield, in order to provide Greater Paris and its 12 million inhabitants with a fitting transport network by 2040.

The ticket

The ticket was created, quite logically, with the first line, and 30,000 were sold on the first day, costing 15 centimes for second class. In 1900 alone, 17 million passengers used a ticket. Until the current turnstile system was introduced in 1973, tickets were perforated: a ticket-puncher allowed you to enter the platform after punching a "little hole", made famous in the Serge Gainsbourg song Le Poinçonneur des lilas.

Beige, purple, yellow, green and finally white with a magnetic strip, the ticket will perhaps one day disappear, following the example of the Carte Orange (weekly or monthly), which has now been replaced by the Pass Navigo system.

The Paris metro is the only one to have offered a choice of two classes on its network. The "first class" service existed until 1982. After this date, the principal of first class was restricted to rush hours (from 9 am to 5 pm) and people with disabilities and pregnant women were allowed access to first class at all times. A single class system has been in place since 1991.