Two stations in Paris, Saint Lazare and Gare du Nord / France

A new economic model for French stations


The French railway system

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**Organisation of the railways

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SMGG Study « Stations » - Bipolar model of the organisation of French railways -UIC 2013

The French railways operate on a double-headed system: the owner of the network is RFF (Réseau Ferré de France – the rail infrastructure manager), while operations are run by a public industrial and commercial institution (EPIC), SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français), which has different divisions for freight, high speed and stations.

**Structure of the French railway network

It is one of the most extensive networks in Europe, with a high-speed sector developed since the beginning of the 1980s and now 2 000 km long, and on which there is a predominance of passenger traffic over a declining freight sector, with 1 013 million passengers in 2006 and 10 billion tonnes-km of freight the same year. The network has a total length of 29 273 km (2006) including 15 687 km of electrified track (2006), most of which is standard gauge (1 437 mm).
The star-shape configuration of the network with Paris at its hub is highly centralised, and this layout is one of the current issues for the system, as it tends to make the towns and cities served by the high-speed lines more competitive while excluding those which do not have the benefit of this service. This has led to the establishment of new intercity services.

Governance and financing of French stations


  • Ownership: SNCF - the buildings and passenger areas.
    RFF: the platforms, track and access ramps.
  • Management: Gares et connexions, an SNCF subsidiary is in charge of the renovation and development of the network’s 3 029 railway stations, from where 2 billion journeys are made, and which have a surface area of 2 million m², with 180 000m² of commercial premises.
    AREP, Parvis and A2C are subsidiaries of Gares et connexions, in charge respectively of design and project management, the management of commercial premises and of real estate transactions.


  • Financing the construction and renovation of French stations: funds come from the French State and from local authorities, but examples of public-private station renovation partnerships exist in the form of PPP contracts.
  • Financing the operation of stations: funds come from SNCF through its Gares et connexions subsidiary, and from commercial revenue and station access fees.

The 2009 Keller report advised increasing the level of services and commercial opportunities in stations, and reflecting on ways of reducing the proportion of station operation financing that comes from SNCF and from subsidies.

Renovation policy for French stations - new trends

Following the Keller report in 2009 (a report by French Senator Keller on the « station of the future » or modern stations), a major programme to renovate the main French stations was undertaken by Gares et Connexions, with the aim of:

  1. modernising stations, after an assessment of the state of disrepair;
  2. preparing stations to be ready for the arrival of high speed;
  3. extending certain stations, to offer more services;
  4. encouraging intermodality;
  5. reducing the amount of public funding;
  6. meeting the challenge of sustainable development.

To achieve this, SNCF has doubled its funding, but has also considered new forms of financing or of partnerships for stations, which would significantly influence the way stations were governed.

Extract from the Keller report of 2009 ‘Propositions on the modernisation of French stations’:

  • Assert the status of the station as the centre of the town – a public area contiguous with its surroundings.
  • Develop ‘soft’ or active transport modes in stations – the station as a parking area for sustainable intermodal transport.
  • Create the post of station manager, a single contact for all carriers, station operators and local councillors.
  • Make substantial investment (between € 380 and €500 million/year by 2020)
  • Set up Gares et connexions, clearly separated from SNCF.

**The challenges of renovation

  • Urban: more effective integration in the city.
  • Sustainable: improve the energy efficiency of stations.
  • Financial: reduce the amount of public funding.

**French problems and difficulties

  • Level of services provided in stations very outdated.
  • Difficulties in financing renovation projects.

**The aim

  • To modernise French stations.
  • To extend stations in danger of exceeding capacity following the opening up to competition and the increase in traffic.

A new economic model for financing renovation programmes, leading to a new concept of French-style, highly commercialised station.

Case Study, Saint Lazare station

Geographical context

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Paris is a densely populated city with 2 243 833 inhabitants.
Economic capital of France.
Urban context: central.
At the heart of a dense urban fabric, next to another main Paris train station, Paris Est, forming a major rail hub in the capital.

Distance between main airport/station

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Distance between Saint Lazare station and Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport 15km – 20 minutes by suburban train.

Time on suburban trains from Paris to Orly airport - 30 minutes.

Station’s position on the railway network

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Regional gateway to North-West France

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Part of the ‘Parisian Hub’ system made up of 6 main stations.

Situation within Paris transport system

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The main Paris station in the new Greater Paris network.

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5 metro lines and line E of the RER suburban rail service.

**Saint Lazare station – key figures and accessibility

Date of construction: 1846 Number of metro lines: 5
Date of last renovation: 2002-2012 Number of RER suburban lines: 1
Total station surface area: 30 000 m² Number of bus routes: 27
Number of travellers / year: 100 million Number of metro stations with direct services from station: 111
Number of visitors / day: 450 000 Number of public parking spaces: 250 for cars and 50 for motorcycles
Retail space: 10 000 m² Cost of parking near station: €30 euros/day
Number of retail outlets: 80 Parking surface area: -
Restaurant space in station: 1 300 m² Cost of cycle hire: Vélib rental card €1.70/day
Infrastructure manager: RFF Presence of checkpoints in station: yes
Operator: SNCF Transfer time in station: 10 minutes
Number of tracks in the station: 27, no dedicated HS tracks. Number of trains/day: 1 600 (95% Île de France suburban trains) Mode of access:10% taxi, 30 % metro, 45% suburban trains, 15% pedestrian/cycle

**History of Saint Lazare station

A first provisional wooden station, called the ‘Embarcadère de l’Ouest’ was built in 1837 when the Paris Saint-Germain railway line was opened, followed by a second provisional but more solid structure in 1841.
A third station was built by the architect Alfred Armand and the engineer Eugène Flachat on the present site, Rue Saint Lazare, with a new layout which separated suburban and mainline traffic.
By 1867, it had become the leading Paris station, with 25 million passengers per year, making it necessary to carry out work to extend the station. This proved to be the first in a long series of enlargement projects carried out up to 1971 when it was declared a National Heritage site.
During the 1970s, the station was modernised to a limited extent: a shopping arcade was created in 1974 in the basement of the concourse, remote display screens were installed, as were escalators leading to the platforms to improve connections with the metro.
Since 1970, in spite of the RER A suburban railway taking over two of its branch lines, traffic has increased in the station. However, unlike the other main stations in Paris, no underground suburban station has been built with corresponding major modernisation work, as has been carried out at the Paris-Austerlitz, Paris-Nord or Paris-Gare de Lyon stations, nor have any infrastructure improvements been made linked to the arrival of HS trains.

**Renovation of Saint Lazare station

Progress status: complete

Duration: 10 years (2002 -2012)


  • 2003- 2007: work on the transverse platform
  • 2006-2008 : work on the urban area around the station
  • 2009-2012 : work on the passenger building

Financing: public-private partnership (PPP)


  • SNCF /Gares et connexions
  • RFF
  • Local authorities
  • City of Paris
  • A private property developer, Klépierre

Conclusion / expected outcome

  • New opening hours: shops open until 10pm
  • New visitor capacity: 450 000 per day
  • New surface area: 30 000 m²
  • New retail surface area: 80 retail outlets and 10 000m²
  • New situation within the city: creation of new access points into Rue d’Amsterdam.
  • Level of automation in station: 50%.
  • Level of outsourcing: -%.
  • New facilities:
    • Outlet of a major retail chain
    • New shopping centre

**The Saint Lazare station renovation project

Following a call to tender by SNCF in 1998, which was won the same year by a consortium comprising Klépierre and Spie Batignolles Immobilier, it took 15 years to prepare and complete the project, including 3 years for construction site preparation work. This was a major construction project fraught with difficulties due to the nature of the building (a heritage site with numerous technical constraints), as well as the daily passage of more than 450 000 people through the station.

First stage 2003-2007

Work focused on the transverse platform, creating a single-level, homogenous floor for the whole platform. The architectural heritage was preserved and enhanced by restoring the building and installing new information display screens.

Second stage 2006-2008

Widening the passage from the station to Rue d’Amsterdam and creating a genuine side entrance improved access to the station and made it safer. A new mainline sales outlet was also created.

Third stage 2009-March 2012

Improved pedestrian flow in the station and constitution of an interchange on the level of the metro. Creation of 250 underground parking spaces, as well as 10 000 m² of retail and service space. More than 80 shops, service outlets and restaurants were opened on 21 March 2012. The retail space in the station provides travellers and visitors with improved service and convenience.

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Cross section Paris Saint Lazare Station Metro-Source Level “Transport April 2013” -UIC 2013

Aims of the project

  • to rethink the intermodality of the premises, and to simplify movement through the stations
  • to improve the quality of service and increase what is on offer commercially in the station
  • to create a new, French style, replicable model of station
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Map of Paris Saint Lazare Station Metro-Source Level “Transport April 2013”
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Cross section Paris Saint Lazare Station Metro-Source Level “Transport April 2013”

Assessment of renovation of Saint Lazare Station (1 year on)

  • Expected results of this renovation work: increased station capacity (financed by retail services), to improve visitor access to, and flow through, the station.
  • Financing station renovation work: total cost €250 million, including €160 million of private funding (from Klépierre), through a PPP (public-private partnership) agreement, which gives the private developer a 40-year franchise.
  • New commercial opportunities: increased retail capacity in the station of over 10 000 m², and 80 retail and service outlets.
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    Paris Saint Lazare Station Shopping Arcades - UIC 2013

    Paris Saint Lazare Station Shopping ArcadesUIC 2013

  • Turnover of retail area before and after renovation:
    Before (2007): €1 680/m²/year. After renovation: €14 000/m²/year and rental returns up by 8.2%
    Opening of large retail outlets such as a 550-m² Carrefour City (convenience store), a 965-m² Virgin store and a 1 130-m² Flagship store.
  • Average time spent by visitors in the station before and after renovation:
    Before (2007): less than 15 minutes. After renovation: 22 minutes.
    The refurbishment has also made it possible to reduce by a quarter the time taken by passengers to reach their trains, and to provide a better information service to travellers on 300 information screens and boards in the station.
  • Future plans:
    Having established a reliable source of funding by exploiting the retail potential of the station, the next stage which began in 2010, is to increase and improve the integration of the station into the urban environment. This will be achieved by refurbishing the forecourts, but also by working hard to improve the quality of service provided in the station, examples being Gares et connexions’ idea of setting up nursery facilities in Saint Lazare, as well as a gourmet restaurant, a business centre, etc.
    The economic model used to finance Saint Lazare station is considered now by Gares et connexions to be a “transferable” one, as stressed by manager Rachel Picard (See Ville et transports interview, 09/04/2013). “We have 80 station renovation projects all over France in which we will increasingly offer new retail space”.

Case study, Paris Gare du Nord

Geographical context

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Paris is a densely populated city with 2 243 833 inhabitants.
Economic capital of France.
Urban context: central.
At the heart of a dense retail and service urban fabric (Neighbourhood of Gare du Nord)

Distance between main airport/station

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Distance between Gare du Nord and Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport 26km – 30 minutes by suburban train.
Time on suburban train from Paris to Orly airport - 45 minutes.

Situation of station within the railway network

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International hub for Thalys trains and the Eurostar line to London.

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Part of the “Parisian hub” made up of 6 main stations.

**Paris Gare du Nord – key figures and accessibility

Date of construction: 1837 Number of metro lines: 2
Date of last renovation: 2013-2015 Number of RER suburban lines: 6
Total station surface area: 105 840 m² Number of bus routes: 10
Number of travellers/year: 190 millions Number of metro stations with direct services from station: 46
Number of visitors/day: 450 000 Number of public parking spaces: 250 places for cars and 50 places for motorcycles
Retail space: 8 584 m² Cost of parking near station: €25/day
Number of retail outlets: 85 Parking surface area: -
Restaurant space in station: 3 433 m² Cost of cycle hire: Vélib rental card €1.70/day
Infrastructure manager: RFF Presence of checkpoints in station: yes
Operator: SNCF Transfer time in station: 8 minutes
Number of tracks in station: 44, no dedicated HS tracks, Number of trains/day: 1 900 trains including 200 long distance Mode of access:15% taxi, 32 % metro, 45% suburban trains, 10% pedestrian/cycle

**History of Paris Gare du Nord

The station was opened on January 25 1846 when the first stretch of the Paris-Nord to Lille line, the section between Paris and Clermont, was inaugurated and the company took possession of the station. On June 14 1846 the Paris-Nord to Lille line and the station were inaugurated. From 1861 to 1865 the Gare du Nord was rebuilt under the architect Jacques Hittorff . The station was renovated but above all extended over the years, with a change in the track layout in 1877, taking it from eight to thirteen tracks, then from thirteen to eighteen tracks in 1889, and finally up to 28 tracks in 1900. The underground station was developed between 1977 and 1982 , followed by a major change with the opening of the northern HS line and the launching of the TGV Nord (northern high-speed train) in 1993, and then the inauguration in 1999 of the Magenta station on the RER line.
One of the key features of the station since the arrival of high-speed rail is track specialisation:
track 1: serves mainly as a siding for engines awaiting departure or arriving from the yard
track 2: used when there are problems for trains to get into the station, as well as to hold trains awaiting departure
tracks 3 to 6: terminal for Eurostar trains to London via the Channel Tunnel
tracks 7 and 8: for Thalys trains to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany tracks 9 to 18: TGV Nord (northern HS train), mainline trains, some TER regional trains to
Picardy tracks 16 to 21: TER regional trains to Picardy tracks 30 to 36: station for Île de France suburban lines tracks 41 to 44 (underground): station for RER suburban lines

**Renovation of Paris Gare du Nord

Progress status: Ongoing

Duration: 2 years (2013 -2015)


  • 2013- 2015: Redevelopment of station space and access routes in the station
  • Post 2015: Extension work planned but yet to be defined

Financing: French Government, SNCF


  • SNCF /Gares et connexions
  • RFF
  • Local authorities
  • City of Paris

Conclusion / expected outcome

  • New opening hours:
  • New visitor capacity: 450 000 per day
  • New surface area:
  • New retail surface area: more than 1000m²
  • Level of automation in station: 50%.
  • New facilities:
    • Outlet of a major retail chain
    • New shopping centre

**The Paris Gare du Nord renovation project

The challenges of renovation

Paris Gare du Nord has the distinction of being a listed building, making any restoration work a delicate operation, but it also has problems arising from the existing space becoming congested while any expansion is limited by the lack of available real estate. The possibility of extending the station over the tracks, or some other architecturally challenging schemes to enlarge the station have been judged as needing very considerable financial investment. Station managers have told us that the question of funding this type of project has been discussed but it is not currently possible. It seems the challenge can be summed up as being how to increase station capacity and commercial profitability within the limits of the space available.

The current project

Pending any future enlargement projects, work will begin at the end of 2013 to redesign the interior of the station, with the aim of optimising its use by improving flow management and organising the retail and service areas more efficiently, maximising returns by making the most of the space currently available in the station. The work should take 2 to 3 years, and will be carried out in two stages:

  • reclassifying the various zones in the station;
  • increasing the retail surface area, adding up to 800m² of useable space.

The challenge of increasing the retail capacity of the station involves redefining the supply of commercial services. In this way it will not just be a question of increasing the area in square metres but above all of defining a new operating strategy in the station. Services provided will be adapted to the target customer type, and the station subdivided into zones, each corresponding to a different commercial ethos:

  • The Eurostar terminal, with exclusively international passengers and potential tourist and business customers, has been designed like an airport with top-of-the-range retail premises;
  • The city level: access to Thalys, suburban and regional trains, with specific service needs such as restaurants and shops for impulse buying;
  • The first basement (-1) level of the station: a transit area with very limited potential space;
  • The second basement (-2) level of the station: essentially suburban and commuter traffic, requiring in-depth work to define exactly which retail and other services are suitable for consumers passing through daily.

Description and stages of the renovation project

The Eurostar terminal: on the mezzanine level (+1) of the station, with 500 m² of retail outlets at present, but accounting for 20% of rental income, this is a part of the station with great potential and is the scene of lively competition between businesses, fighting for these few square metres of highly-prized retail space.

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Space is very cramped, with issues of flow management linked to safety and border controls with Great Britain. An average of 10 minutes is taken to pass through the three control bottlenecks before reaching the waiting areas in the terminal, where once again the space currently available is very limited. Work to upgrade this commercial space will take place between now and the end of 2013, moving upmarket with the arrival of prestigious retailers such as Ladurée.

The city level (platforms): there is a plan to reorganize the access area to the platforms to improve spatial legibility by:

  • redefining routes and concentrating routes into precise pathways;
  • improving the visibility of retail spaces by removing physical obstacles;
  • restructuring the retail area by realigning the shops and marking the different areas on the ground;
  • simplifying visual display boards in the station and reducing their spatial footprint;
  • and finally the idea of gaining 800 m² of extra retail space was raised, achieved by optimising the use of space but also by reducing ticket-office type retail space in the station and increasing the proportion of sales from automated ticket machines. This would gain 250 m² of useable space. Simply realigning the retail outlets could free up a further 150m² in an area which generates 40% of the rental income of the station at present.

The first basement level (-1): this transit area, renovated in 2012 with new retail outlets covering 200m², remains for Gares et connexions at present mainly a space where everyday services, such as medical laboratories and nurseries, can be found.


Use should be made of the transit potential of the area by relocating the waiting areas that were removed from the city level.

The second basement (-2): with heavy suburban traffic but also a third of the rental income of the station and two thirds of the station’s retail space. For this area, reclassification will consist simply of redesigning the commercial services, focusing more on major retail outlets.