Vive La Vitesse - Long live the speed

The Grand Paris Express is set to develop Greater Paris into a sustainable metropolitan area. Automation in particular could play a crucial role in optimizing the mobility equation of the French capital.

Line 14, Paris Metro: There’s no driver in this fully automatic, remote-controlled subway, rushing from station to station as if by itself. Those passengers standing at the front, staring into the dark, probably don’t realize that line 14 is just the beginning of something bigger. But hasn’t Paris always been a place for big ideas? Consider the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the La Défense business district to the west of the city. For most people, line 14 – which opened in 1998 – is just a subway line linking Saint-Lazare with the Olympiades. And yet it is much more. It is the base for the Grand Paris Express (GPE), currently Europe’s largest infrastructure project. The northbound driverless train line will be extended to Saint-Denis Pleyel by 2023 and will offer connections to lines 15, 16, and 17, which in turn will all become part of the GPE system. In the south, the route to Orly Airport via Maison Blanche will also be extended to connect to ring line 15. Completion is planned for 2027.

The Grand Paris Express is set to be a cradle for innovation that will drive transport and development projects forward.

Thierry Dallard, chairman of the Sociéte du Grand Paris board

More multimodal, more integrated

The GPE is one of ten projects to develop the French conurbation in the middle of Île-de-France into a metropolitan region, similar to Greater London. “The Grand Paris Express is set to be a cradle for innovation that will drive transport and development projects forward,” says Thierry Dallard, chairman of the Sociéte du Grand Paris board, which is planning and managing the project. The GPE focuses on fundamentally rethinking and redesigning the public transport network to match the scale of the metropolitan area.

It will provide Greater Paris with multimodal transport solutions and more integrated transport services, thus supporting a model for polycentric development. “From the eco-design of stations to the energy efficiency of the metro and the high-speed fiber-optic network, the Grand Paris Express will be a tremendous innovation accelerator, fueling the economic development and influence of Greater Paris throughout the world,” Dallard continues.

GPE removes approximately 150,000 cars from the congested roads

The GPE is intended to function as an automated transit network. With its 68 new stations and 200 kilometers of additional track, the Grand Paris Express consists of a ring route around Paris (line 15) and lines connecting developing neighborhoods (lines 16, 17, and 18). The four new lines circle the capital and provide connections with Paris’ business districts, research clusters, and three airports. These fully automated, driverless trains will run on the new network at an average speed of 60 km/h, nearly double that of the current Paris Metro network. With a projected daily ridership of 2 million passengers by 2026, Parisians will experience firsthand the effects of the new lines. The construction began in June 2015 and will be carried out in phases until 2030. It is estimated that it will remove approximately 150,000 cars from the congested roads of the French capital.

Restructuring the mobility equation

Marginal spots becoming the biggest interconnections in Europe

Up to 20,000 direct jobs are expected to be created every year of the project’s duration. And, to be more precise in terms of efficiency and time saving, it will take 34 minutes, rather than 53 to get from Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle Airport to La Défense. Similarly, it will take 15 minutes, instead of 66, to get from Orly Airport to the Paris Saclay University Campus.

But GPE does even more. “For the first time, it will offer wider mobility options to people living outside of the historical city center, while creating new mobility hubs and restructuring the future mobility equation for the whole urban area,” says Stéphane Kirkland, city executive, Paris at Arcadis.
The global design and consultancy firm for natural and built assets provides technical consulting and is involved in all project and program management services, while also managing the interfaces with other parts of the Parisian transportation system. “Saint-Denis Pleyel, for example, is going to develop from just another marginal spot along the railroad tracks to one of the biggest interconnections in Europe, linking rail, metro, GPE-lines, buses, and individual modes of transport,” says Kirkland.

The very fact of weaving the network as densely as possible is helping to prepare the future of mobility as a service.

Stéphane Kirkland, city executive, Paris at Arcadis

A digital metro highway

The most intelligent aspect of the project is that it is a better way of using the given territory. Kirkland continues: “We have a very dense and dynamic center, but we make poor use of the highly valuable real estate surrounding it.” Consequently, the project should have a huge territorial effect, increasing the value of all the land around. “And all of these GPE-hubs are tying together, connecting existing pieces of infrastructure and pushing other forms of intermodality. For me, the very fact of weaving the network as densely as possible is helping to prepare the future of mobility as a service."

Crisscrossing the Paris region, the Grand Paris Express will encourage people to switch from individual trips to public transport. This will not only help to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but will clearly contribute toward a more environmentally friendly capital region (the Grand Paris Express will save up to 27.6 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2050). As it is conceived and built as a “platform”, GPE is at the same time putting more options in the hands of users, as well as opening up future possibilities for the technologies that come on top of that.

“The construction site of the century”

It also provides an opportunity to harness new synergies between digital technology and transport. Traversed by a pipeline of optic fibers and equipped with data centers and cutting-edge Wi-Fi and mobile networks, the Grand Paris Express is also aiming to be the most digitally advanced metro service in the world. Thanks to this digital highway, users, companies, and local authorities will have access to a plethora of new, collaborative, and customized open-data services. In short, it’s a generational project, or, as Thierry Dallard puts it, “the construction site of the century.”