Freezing in winter and boiling in summer, poorly signed, dirty, uncomfortable, impersonal: these are just some of the many criticisms levelled at the French capital’s iconic train stations by economist Jacques Attali in a scathing blog piece published recently in the L’Express newspaper.
Attali, a former adviser to President François Mitterand, and now an outspoken author and blogger, also blasted the stations in Paris for everything from their poorly-located toilets to their terrible restaurants, and their lack of charging stations for computers and mobile phones.
These complaints will ring true for many rail passengers forced to commute in Paris, but the national rail company has now hit back at Attali defending the ‘gares de Paris', and outlining the comprehensive measures it is taking to improve them.
Here’s what the head of station management Patrick Ropert with the embattled SNCF told L’Express about the Paris section of a station network used by some 10 million people a day.
Gare du Nord
The Gard du Nord is undergoing a €75 million revamp which will last through to 2018. The project will see the station get a full overhaul and regain its former architectural splendour.
(The Gare du Nord: once dubbed "the squalor pit of Europe". Photo: Hugh Llewelyn)
This iconic station will see a two-stage overhaul, with the first taking place in 2017 and the second in 2019. SNCF will spend €170 million in a project which will see the station fitting in far better with its surroundings.
Gare de Lyon
Paris’s Gare de Lyon was expanded in 2013, with a majestic, new glass roof put in place. Another €50 million is earmarked for restoration of the historic building, with the concourses and other public spaces set for remodelling from 2015 to 2017.
This station is at the centre of a project being carried out by Paris authorities and is the target of a €200-million project which includes the renovation of the historic hall, and a complete overhaul of the station surrounds.
Gare de l’Est and Gare St Lazare
These two stations have been renovated in recent years — the Gare de L’Est in 2007, and St Lazare in 2012, the latter at a cost of €250 million. The ‘new’ Gare St Lazare has set a new global benchmark, and was awarded Brunel Award from the French Design Institute. Both the Gare de l’Est and Gare St Lazare will see further works in 2016.
(Chaos at Gare St Lazare during an RER strike early in 2015. Photo: BIlly Florian/Twitter)
The detailed response from the SCNF amid widespread criticism of the French capital's rail system.
While the SNCF was recently rated the fourth best railway network in Europe by a US Boston Consulting Group, commuters aren't so enamoured. In March, a group of disgruntled commuters told The Local they planned to sue rail authorities over delays suffered while travelling in and out of Paris.
The criticisms from Attali also come in a summer which has seen tourists to France dealing with striking taxi drivers and farmers. Ferry and train services between the UK and France have also been heavily affected by industrial action by French workers.
In June, the French government announced grand plans to try and boost the number of international visitors to the country to the 100-million mark. Plans include an investment fund for hotels and information campaigns designed to teach people in the hospitality industry how to make international guests feel more welcome.