The most important steps
of the Petite Ceinture’s history
From the second half of the 19th century to the dawn of the new millenium, the Petite Ceinture railway line wasn’t built in one day.
France’s first passenger line is open in 1837, between the « Embarcadère de l’Europe » to the small city of Le Pecq. During the 1840s, the number of railways grows dramatically. But they’re not connected to a « central station » (and still aren’t to this very day).
Therefore, the Petite Ceinture is created around Paris, following a circular path, as to facilitate transit of freight between the main lines. It was also design to carry troops and soldiers, since it runs within the former fortifications, which were built a couple of decades earlier. Only later did it start to carry passengers.
Its importance rose regularly, helped by the Universal Exhibition which occurred in Paris every 11 years. The passenger service reached its apogee in 1900, where it carried a grand total of 39 million passengers.
Discover below the main dates of the rich history of this unique railway that surrounds the French capital.
A few days only after his coup d’Etat, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte signs the decree that gives birth to the Petite Ceinture railway line of Paris.
The first section of the Petite Ceinture opens on the left bank of the Seine river, from the Batignolles (North-West of Paris) to La Chapelle (North). Only freight trains run on the tracks.
East of Paris, the section between La Chapelle and Bercy is open. Freight train can now run between Les Batignolles (North-West of Paris) and Bercy (South-East). The Petite Ceinture Rive Droite line is now complete.
On the Western part of Paris, the Ligne d’Auteuil is opened to the public, running from the Saint-Lazare station to the Auteuil-Boulogne station (South-West of the capital). This line is the very first one to carry passengers in Paris.
The Charonne-marchandises stations opens, followed by the La Petite-Villette (Belleville-Villette) station in 1856. They are the first freight stations of the Petite Ceinture.
After being only circulated by freight trains for 10 years, the Petite Ceinture carries its first passengers on July 14, 1862. Nevertheless, only 5 stations are open : Batignolles, Belleville-Villette, Ménilmontant, Charonne and La Râpée-Bercy. The Avenue de Saint-Ouen and Bel-Air station open one year later.
Opening of the Petite Ceinture Rive Gauche line, on the left bank of the Seine River, linking the Rapée-Bercy (South-East) and Auteuil-Boulogne (South-West) stations.
To cross the river, the Western Railways Company builds the Point-du-Jour viaduct, a beautiful 175-meters long structure.
The station and this small section of tracks are circulated by trains coming from the Saint-Lazare station (via the Grenelle station). After the Exhibition, both tracks and stations are demolished.
A small section of tracks, located at the North-West of Paris, is open. Located between the Avenue de Clichy and Courcelles-Levallois stations, it allows trains to make a full loop around Paris.
The newly built Courcelles-Ceinture station becomes one of the most important nodes of the line.
The number of freight and passenger trains grows dramatically on the Petite Ceinture railway, which can hold it much longer. Therefore, a second circular railway, called the Grande Ceinture de Paris, is built at a greater distance from Paris. It’s first section opens in 1877.
At the dawn of the 1878 Universal Exhibition, the Grenelle junction and the Champ de Mars station are rebuilt. The architect in charge of the building, Juste Lisch, will later design some of the most prestigious railway stations in Paris (including the Gare Saint-Lazare and Gare des Invalides).
After several accidents and in anticipation of the 1889 Universal Exhibition, level crossing are finally removed. Infrastructure is moved either on embankments or in trenches. Construction takes places without interrupting the trafic. Several stations are rebuilt for the occasion.
Once again, the Petite Ceinture plays an active role in the 1889 Universal Exhibition. One of the most remarkable aspects is the Champ de Mars station, located just at the feet of the newly opened Tour Eiffel.
The Northern Company starts running its own trains on the Petite Ceinture, making two to three loops before returning to the Gare du Nord.
It is often considered as one of the very first metropolitan services in Paris.
To facilitate transportation for the 1900 Universal Exhibition, the Boulainvillliers junction opens on April 12, 1900. Trains can run from the Gare Saint-Lazare to the Champ de Mars station in only a quarter of an hour. To cross the river, a new curved bridge, the Pont Rouelle, is also built.
After half a century of debates opposing the City of Paris, and the French State and railway Companies, Paris metro is finally open. It is completely independent from any of Paris railway networks. It quickly becomes a huge competitor against the Petite Ceinture – and Paris’s tramways
Opened in 1867, the passenger service run by the Western Company comes to an end in 1902. Trains of the Northern Company – and those run by the Ceinture Syndicate – continue to carry passenger.
Due to multiple factors – including the expansion of Paris metro network, absence of modernization and cost-related measures pushing towards freight – passenger service is suspended on the Petite Ceinture, and replaced by a bus.
To allow construction of a inner-city highway – which was eventually never built – the Point-du-Jour viaduct is demolished, and replaced by the Pont du Garigliano.
After 3 years of construction, most of the former Ligne d’Auteuil is reopened. Now part of the RER line C, it forms the VMI branch (Vallée de Montmorency-Invalides). Modern double-decker trains replace the antiquated Standard train sets.
Exceptional circulation of a diesel engine (CC 72084) on the Southern section of the Petite Ceinture, in order to move some coaches from one tunnel to an other.
On the morning of December 14, 2021, the train makes its comeback on the Petite Ceinture.
Hauled by a diesel engine on the Petite Ceinture, on the Batignolles junction, it delivers sand and gravel twice a week to a nearby concrete factory, preventing the entrance of thousands of trucks within the city.
As you’ve now discovered, the Petite Ceinture’s history is the result of a long-term process, which nearly took half a century to complete. Please find a map with all of the Petite Ceinture’s section, along with their opening date. To download the HD version of the file, click here.
Did you know that we do group visits of the Petite Ceinture in English ? If you’re interested, give us a heads up !