7603 at Vanves Malakoff, 22/05/17 (JW)
I woke up in my own bed in Birmingham, travelled behind 18 mainline electric locomotives and 1 diesel, and returned to my own bed that same night. All for less than the price of your average enthusiast railtour.
This is the second in my occasional series of “…In A Day” articles, focusing on day trips that can be made to experience continental railways without spending too much money or too much time away from home. In March we visited København, this time we visit Paris.
France’s capital is frequently cited as one of the best places in the world to visit for a romantic city break, however its appeal from a railway point of view is perhaps lesser known! However, it is an interesting destination nonetheless – although it’s fair to say that visiting Paris for its railways will take you away from the tourist trail.
Most obviously, Paris is one of two European capitals currently accessible directly by train from the UK; via Eurostar from London St Pancras, Ebbsfleet and Ashford. The city centre-to-city centre journey time from London is in region of 2hr 20min, which once travel to and from airports, check in and security time etc is taken into account, is faster than air.
If you do wish to make a day trip by air, though, you do have numerous options. Paris has two main airports – Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY) which are served by frequent flights from numerous British airports throughout the day. There’s also Beauvais (BVA) airport, to the north of the city, which doesn’t currently see flights from the UK.
27302 at Clamart, 22/05/17 (JW)
Loco Hauled Suburban Passenger Trains
Paris may not sit in the mind alongside Brussel, Zürich, Wien, Warszawa etc as one of the “great” European cities where large numbers of locomotives can/could be travelled behind in small amounts of time, but with numerous suburban routes served by intensive loco-hauled stopping trains, Paris will still give you a good return on this.
Much like London, Paris is served by multiple termini (seven – clockwise from the top: Nord, Est, Lyon, Bercy, Austerlitz, Montparnasse and St Lazare) each of which have a distinct character.
For the purposes of this article, I will only give a brief outline of loco haulage on suburban services, as “intercity” long distance services are far less easy to cover on a day trip, particularly when long distances (and consequently, expensive fares) are required to travel even just to the first stop.
Paris Nord, probably the first termini that most visiting Paris will arrive at (either directly on the Eurostar or on the unit from CDG airport) sees BB15000 electrics working regional services (roughly one an hour) towards Creil, Compiègne and St Quentin. However, these are generally non-stop to Orry-la-Ville-Coye – only about 20 minutes out of the capital, but which sits outside the area of validity of the tickets that I’ll tell you about slightly further on in this article.
15024 at Paris Nord on a sleeper from Hamburg, 02/09/07 (JW)
Since the high-speed line to Strasbourg (the “LGV Est”) opened, the amount of loco haulage at Paris Est has been much reduced, with TGVs via the new line replacing loco and stock via the “classic” line almost completely. Local services are also mainly in the hands of multiple units.
Exceptions are two weekdays-only peak-hour commuter trains in from La Ferté Milon in the morning peak (06:18 and 07:18 from La Ferté Milon), returning in the evening (17:05 and 18:05 from Paris). These are booked for BB67400 diesel locos, but there have been a number of recent reports of either of these being substituted by multiple units. The BB67400s are Pielstick-engined “Type 4” equivalents, the first of which entered traffic in 1969. In general, their sphere of operation has contracted year-on-year and these are now the last passenger workings that take them in and out of the capital.
67511 awaits departure from Paris Est, 22/05/17 (JW)
Other diesel action out of Paris is provided by the big six-axle CC72100 machines, again solely out of Est. These handle some of the Intercity services on the route to Troyes, Culmont-Chalindrey and Belfort, but are in the process of being replaced by bi-mode “Coradia Liner” multiple units and this is expected to have been completed by July, with all of the CC72100s gone by the end of the year. (Diagrams and recent workings can be found on the excellent European Rail Gen group, to which I encourage you to sign up and post, however do bear in mind that unit substitutions can, and indeed do, occur). However, for the minute, they represent one of the last places in Europe where you can travel on a “classic” diesel-hauled long-distance Intercity service, with mile after mile at 160km/h and up to 100 miles between station stops. On the other hand, this does make scratching in many locos quite difficult and time-consuming. Personally, I’ve tended to only use them for long-distance journeys – over 300 miles to and from Mulhouse, for example; though they now only run the 275 miles to Belfort – still a fair old journey! (Edit: retained for posterity, but these locos eventually finished on passenger in August 2017).
Paris Est also sees BB15000 action on local services – the fairly infrequent services to St Dizier and Bar le Duc are powered by them – however these are generally non-stop to Chateau Thierry, 45 minutes distant, which again sits outside the area of validity.
7613 arrives at Versailles Chantiers, 19/10/14 (JW)
Moving round to Montparnasse, we find much more loco haulage. In fact, the corridor between there and Versailles Chantiers – 10 miles containing 7 intermediate stations – sees a 15-minute frequency of loco hauled stopping trains in both directions through the day. These are all electrics, with duties shared between BB7600 and BB27300 classes hauling double-deck “VB2N” stock. The former are, like the BB15000s, classic Paul Arzens-styled “broken nose” machines, a 14-strong fleet converted from BB7200s a few years ago purely for these duties. They are 1,500 v DC locos, meaning that they can only work services to Plaisir Grignon and (primarily) Rambouillet. The routes beyond Plaisir Grignon are electrified at 25,000 v AC, so are the preserve of dual voltage BB27300 “Alstom Prima” electrics, built about 10 years ago, which do also turn up on some Rambouillet services.
Some “classic” BB7200s can be found on some services between Montparnasse and Le Mans, which are non-stop from Montparnasse to Versailles Chantiers, however these in the main seem to now be units.
The rule out of Montparnasse is for the locos to be on the country end working in push-pull fashion, necessitating a walk to the front of the trains from the blocks to see which locos are on them – although there is also a footbridge between some platforms midway down the platform, which makes this a little less awkward.
27316 passes Clamart on a semi-fast to Dreux, 22/05/17 (JW)
Mention a little while back of Mantes la Jolie brings us nicely onto the next terminus round – St Lazare – as BB27300-powered trains also run from Mantes la Jolie into there. This means that it’s perfectly possible to travel between Montparnasse and St Lazare entirely loco-hauled, but this will take you several hours as opposed to a quarter of an hour on the Metro!
Although some of the last remnants of the doomed BB17000 class of electrics have been seen working out of St Lazare as recently as earlier this month (May 2017), the general rule now is for all of the loco haulage on suburban services in and out of St Lazare to be BB27300s.
There are actually two routes to Mantes la Jolie from St Lazare – both worked by BB27300s – the quicker, southerly route via Poissy and the slower, more northerly route via Argenteuil and Meulan Hardricourt each seeing 30-minute frequencies. The latter shares the route as far as Conflans Saint Honorie with the services along the route towards Pontoise, Boissy l’Aillerie and Gisors, which also operate at a 30-minute frequency – so there’s a combined frequency of every 15 minutes between St Lazare and Conflans.
By the way, more helpfully than Montparnasse, locos here are on the blocks end which means waiting at St Lazare for your specific painted number to appear is far less strenuous!
27303 departs Bellevue, 19/10/14 (JW)
One thing you may notice is a discrepancy between the numbers painted on the sides of the locos in the pictures and videos here, and what I refer to them as. Quite simply, in recent years SNCF has adopted a locomotive numbering convention that reflects its sectorisation, and now has numbers are up to six digits long where the first references that loco’s sector (e.g. “807603” is BB7603 belonging to Transilien (“8”); “115064” is BB15064 belonging to SNCF Voyages (“1”), and so on). To keep things simple, I’ll refer to these locos by their pre-sectorised numbers here.
In terms of the class numbers of mainline locos themselves, the letters reflect the wheel arrangement (e.g. BB, CC, A1AA1A etc) and classes between 0000-9999 are DC electrics, 10000-19999 are AC electrics, 20000-29999 are dual voltage electrics, 30000-39999 triple voltage electrics, 40000-49999 quadruple voltage electrics, and 60000-79999 diesels.
A non-exhaustive map showing most of the routes described in this article (JW)
There are actually a couple of rover-type tickets available for unlimited travel in the Paris area, but the best value is the RATP Mobilis ticket (link in French). Mobilis tickets are available from RATP ticket machines however these machines oddly tend to take only coins or cards – I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to carry €17.30 in change with me if I can help it! These tickets can also be purchased over the counter using notes, however, and that is what I did at Paris Nord – it took about two minutes and was a very simple transaction.
Mobilis tickets are priced on a zonal basis, and the official zonal map can be found here.
||Price (GBP) *
* Conversion based on 25/05/17 exchange rates
If you wish to travel on the BB67400-hauled commuter trains out of Paris Est, then you will need to purchase a zone 1-5 ticket, purely because the trains’ first stop at Meaux sits within zone 5.
Just a note on the Mobilis ticket – what you aren’t told is that it is only valid once you have written on it – date of use, first name and surname. Be warned! (Although I must say that it was not looked at all day, only serving a purpose to get me through barriers).
15064 at Paris Nord, 22/05/17 (JW)
Safety & Security
I feel I need to add a note on personal safety here. The November 2015 terror attacks in Paris are still fresh in the memory, as are the “Charlie Hebdo” killings and numerous other terrorist actions in and around the city since 2013. Additionally, my A-Level French well over 10 years ago contained a solid two months’ work on how dangerous the Paris banlieue (suburbs) are and how they are apparently no-go areas, and the press frequently back this assertion up.
I can honestly say that I’ve never felt unsafe anywhere that I’ve been in Paris, although a degree of caution and “street smarts” (to use an awful Americanism!) are helpful in any capital city – particularly when it comes to beggars, pickpockets etc.
What is true about the suburbs is that unlike certain other capital cities – London, Berlin etc – many suburbs are in effect quite deprived self-contained settlements, rather than dormitories for the city, and consequently they have little in common with the picture-postcard tourist trail around the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Élysées, etc. Bashing the suburban trains – particularly if you follow my itinerary at the bottom of this page – will most likely take you into the suburbs at some point. Purely through habit in such areas, I wouldn’t tend to show off expensive camera equipment, simply not to draw attention to myself, but this isn’t something I would say is specific to Paris.
By the very nature of this article, it does not cover travel on trains late at night, and from experience the outer parts of the city do take on an edgier character at those times.
As ever, I would not take the liberty of assuming that all readers would wish to approach their day in the same manner that I did. However, here is a brief run through of how I chose to approach my day (Monday 22nd May 2017).
In order to apply some structure to the 8 hours or so that I had in Paris, I elected to first head over to St Lazare station to travel behind as many electric locos as possible on the routes out of there; then to Montparnasse for more of the same; and finally over to Est to have a slower-paced look at the diesels, before a meal and then my Eurostar home.
3014 at London St Pancras, 06/04/14 (JW)
The journey to Paris was uneventful; I arrived at St Pancras with far more than the minimum 30 minutes check in time required, and my Eurostar rolled into Paris Gare du Nord spot on time at 11:47; local time.
Having purchased my ticket at the RER ticket office down the stairs to the left-hand side of the blocks, I continued through the passageway to reach Magenta station, where I stepped straight onto one of the frequent EMUs through to the terminus of Haussmann-St Lazare, which sits beneath the terminus station of Paris St Lazare.
Ferrotract Vossloh G1206 no.1552 (276038), Paris St Lazare, 22/05/17 (JW)
In the spirit of riding behind as many locos as possible, I chose to ignore the Mantes la Jolie via Poissy services, and focus on the 15-minute-frequency corridor through Argenteuil and Conflans Sainte Honorie. I chose two stations – Val d’Argenteuil and Cormeilles en Parisis – 2.2 miles apart, which allowed me to spin up and down between them travelling on every service in both directions, until the BB27300s that I’d had heading into town started to reappear coming back out. Neither of these stations are “good for a fast leap” with lengthy subways between platforms, meaning that you do rely on good punctuality to be able to continue to do this, but I had no problems.
In all, I was out of St Lazare for 1hr 43min, and in that time made 10 separate moves resulting in 9 individual locos for haulage.
27350 at Cormeilles en Parisis, 22/05/17 (JW)
Apart from the BB27300s themselves, there were a couple of other items of interest to be seen. First up was orange centre-cab Vossloh G1206 (1552 / 276038) leased to Ferrotract which was sat in the sun in one of the platforms at St Lazare (photo above).
Also, on the left-hand side of the train between Argenteuil and Val d’Argenteuil was a small engineer’s yard which contained another Ferrotract G1206 (1573) and, notably, two ex-Deutsche Bundesbahn V100 diesel-hydraulics, both now with Eurovia Travaux Ferroviaires (ETF) – “512-3” (211164) and “524-8” (211136).
Here’s a very rushed photo of the latter!
Ex-DB V100 diesel-hydraulic no.211136, Val d’Argenteuil, 22/05/17 (JW)
Additionally, perhaps of interest to some UK enthusiasts, was a Euro Cargo Rail EWS-liveried Class 66 GM diesel which passed Val d’Argenteuil at approximately 13:40 with a long freight train heading away from Paris.
Having arrived back at St Lazare, I wasted no time in heading down to the Metro to catch line 12 directly to Montparnasse – or, rather to Montparnasse Bienvenue station, which purports to serve Montparnasse terminus, but it’s quite a long walk through the underground passageways to reach it!
From Montparnasse, the first stopping train departure was the 14:50 to Mantes la Jolie which was headed by 27309, which I required for haulage, so that set the tone for the next hour or so. Again, the stations along this route are served by loco-hauled trains at 15-minute intervals in both directions, so again I picked two stations (Vanves Malakoff and Clamart, 0.9 miles apart) that allowed me to travel up and down between them on every one of them.
To refute the myth I didn’t do any sightseeing…….! The view from Clamart station.
This was achieved at a marginally better pace as the trains at these stations stopped either side of island platforms – no subways or footbridges to contend with!
Again, I made 10 separate moves and travelled behind 9 different locomotives – 7 of them BB27300s again, but the highlights were two BB7600s (admittedly only for very short runs).
I could have continued with my “scratching spree” – I’m confident that 30 or even 35 different locos for the day would have been very achievable in the time I had, if high volumes of locos was my only aim – but having spent the first half of my time on very short runs with relatively new, relatively unexciting traction, I decided that I would now like a longer run with something older and louder.
27310 rolls into Vanves Malakoff, 22/05/17 (JW)
As a result, I headed over to Est on Metro line 4, again a direct journey (for reference, this route also links these two termini with Nord, making it quite a useful one for our purposes). However, “direct” does not necessarily equate to “fast”, especially in the rush hour. Less than 4 miles as the crow flies, there are 13 stations to call at, and this took 26 minutes.
I still arrived in good time for the 17:05 to La Ferté Milon, with 1971-built 67511 at its head, which I caught to its first stop of Meaux, a distance of 27.4 miles. This was a really enjoyable journey – I was able to sit about 10 feet behind the loco, which was hauling two five-car “RIB” sets, with the window pulled down to forehead level even in a seated position. The loco was worked fairly hard, with the 120km/h top speed of the stock being exploited fully, and the scenery further out as the route criss-crosses the Marne river is quite pretty. And all this on a really sunny afternoon to boot – definitely the highlight of my day. (Check out this link for a bashing report of a trip in 2014 which includes some videos of BB67400s).
In a classic case of “after the Lord Mayor’s show comes the dustcart”, my loco haulage for the day was now over, and an EMU soon shuffled in to take me non-stop back to Paris.
67522 passes outside Paris Est, getting into its stride with the 18:05 to La Ferté Milon, 22/05/17 (JW)
Just outside Est station, 67522 stormed past with the 18:05 departure. This is not timed to make at Est, it’s a minus 4 – if you wish to travel on both the 17:05 and 18:05, you need to stay east of Meaux.
You may wonder, then, why I didn’t do this myself, especially as 67522 was also required for haulage. There were two reasons; one was the fact that if you travel on the 18:05 beyond Meaux – even just to its next stop of Trilport, 6 minutes later – you wouldn’t get back to Paris in time for the 20:13 Eurostar, my train home on this day.
Just in time to see 72189 depart with the 18:12 to Culmont-Chalindrey, 22/05/17 (JW)
The other reason was that I hoped to get back to Paris in time to witness the departure of IC11743, the 18:12 to Culmont-Chalindrey, which is still booked for haulage by one of the popular big CC72100 class diesels. I managed this, just about (as you can see, the photo wouldn’t win any awards!) but I was pleased to stand and enjoy watching it leave, as I suspect this will be the last time I see one here. I’ve got great memories of long distance blasts with these engines to and from Belfort and Mulhouse from days gone by, and I will miss them.
As IC11743’s tail light disappeared into the distance, I had just two hours until my Eurostar departed (so, 90 minutes until check in for it closed). Rather than head off elsewhere looking for more loco haulage – and risk making it tight for my train home – I went for some food and a beer and then had a look at the electrics sat on the blocks at Nord before finding my train back to England.
22321 and 22342 sit at the buffer stops at Paris Nord, 22/05/17 (JW)
The 19 different locos that I travelled behind during the day was nowhere near my personal record of 56 in a day trip (Birmingham to Brussel and back when I was 18 and had considerably more stamina!) but I was still entirely happy with a varied and interesting day.
Here is my “move” for the day:-
||1R00 05:00 Wolverhampton – Euston
|London St Pancras
||9010 08:31 St Pancras – Paris Nord
||19176 11:34 V. sur Marne – H. St Lazare
|Haussmann St Lazare
|Paris St Lazare
||31071 1227 St Lazare – Boissy l’Aillerie
|Cormeilles en Parisis
||36862 1152 Mantes la Jolie – St Lazare
||36873 1242 St Lazare – Mantes la Jolie
|Cormeilles en Parisis
||37064 1156 Gisors – St Lazare
||31073 1257 St Lazare – Boissy l’Aillerie
|Cormeilles en Parisis
||36870 1222 Mantes la Jolie – St Lazare
||36881 1312 St Lazare – Mantes la Jolie
|Cormeilles en Parisis
||31080 1305 Boissy l’Aillerie – St Lazare
||37083 1327 St Lazare – Gisors
|Cormeilles en Parisis
||36874 1252 Mantes la Jolie – St Lazare
|Paris St Lazare
||65623 1450 M’parnasse – Mantes la J.
||65626 1355 Mantes la J. – M’parnasse
||65425 1505 M’parnasse – Rambouillet
||65428 1422 Rambouillet – M’parnasse
||65527 1520 Montparnasse – P. Grignon
||65530 1456 P. Grignon – Montparnasse
||65429 1535 M’parnasse – Rambouillet
||65432 1452 Rambouillet – M’parnasse
||65631 1550 M’parnasse – Mantes la J.
||65634 1455 Mantes la J. – M’parnasse
||17255 1705 Paris Est – La Ferté Milon
||17160 1704 Chateau Thierry – Paris Est
||9059 2013 Paris Nord – St Pancras
|London St Pancras
||9G48 2230 Euston – Wolverhampton
I introduced this article by asserting that it was a relatively cheap day out (in comparison to a railtour) and here are the numbers to support that.
Virgin Trains ticket Birmingham Intl to Euston = £6.00
Outward Eurostar ticket = £19.00
Rover ticket = £15.00
Return Eurostar ticket = £19.00
Virgin Trains ticket Euston to Birmingham Intl = £6.00
Total = £65.00
The £19.00 each way Eurostar tickets were obtained as part of a limited-time online special offer, but these are worth keeping an eye out for as they make cross-Channel travel much more affordable. Additionally, my Virgin Trains tickets were both purchased in advance online and considerably cheaper than the equivalent walk-up fares.
Again, I’ve elected to leave petrol, parking and sustenance out of the equation, as these would be costs associated with most days out regardless of destination, but even with those taken into account, I’m sure you’ll agree it was still a good value day out.
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