Gare du Nord station is one of Paris’ most iconic symbols and a crucial connection point for rail travel in Europe, especially thanks to the Eurostar service connecting the French capital to the UK and the Netherlands.
Originally built in 1846, Gare du Nord has experienced increasing traffic over the past decades and has now become the busiest railway station in Europe, able to accommodate around 700,000 people every day.
But the station has been struggling with capacity issues for a while. The flow of travellers is forecast to increase to unprecedented levels in the years leading up to and during the summer of the 2024 Olympic Games, when an extra 100,000 people are expected to use the station on a daily basis.
This led French national rail operator Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF) to kick off a six-year-long project to revamp the station in time for the event. The proposed transformation of Gare du Nord will see the hub treble its size and acquire a new, more modern look that better fits its role for the European city of Paris.
Working in partnership with contractor Ceetrus, SNCF’s Gares et Connexions division will draw its inspiration from London’s St Pancras International and aims to turn Gare du Nord into a ‘symbolic station of the 21st century’, able to accommodate as many as 900,000 people every day.
According to the operator, the revamped station will feature an enlarged departure hall, an extended Eurostar terminal, major accessibility improvements and a new station front on Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis. The works are estimated to cost around €600m and should be completed by mid-2023.
A much needed expansion
Gare du Nord underwent its biggest renovation between 1861 and 1864, at a time when trains started becoming the main means of transport for the French population.
Works were carried out under the supervision of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, who was also responsible for the urban renewal programme that gave Paris the appearance that has remained almost completely intact to the present day.
However, legend has it that a dispute between him and the designated architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff led to parts of the operation to be called off. After the station’s iconic façade reached completion, Hittorff’s plan to build a large avenue linking the station to the city centre was cancelled, and Gare du Nord was left with the poor access and lack of space that linger to these days.
Over 150 years later, the station will undergo its much awaited expansion. The public walkways will more than double, with the floor area planned to increase from 15,000m2 to more than 37,000m2. The overall surface of the station will be expanded from 36,000m2 to 110,000m2.
The Eurostar terminal will be larger as SNCF aims to improve how border controls are handled in the aftermath of Brexit. Major accessibility improvements will lead to a redesigned bus station and more parking for bicycles.
Paying tribute to 19th century Paris
Early designs by two different groups of architects, Valode et Pistre and Wilmotte, show that the new Gare du Nord will be a tribute to Haussman’s era of urban redevelopment. This will be translated into a reinterpretation of the new departure terminal in 19th century style, featuring an 18m-wide gallery and a 300m-long passageway covered by a glazed roof.
The interior façade of the hall will also be restored to its original state, while the space inside the station will be destined for commercial, cultural and co-working activities.
This area will be called ‘Transilien’ as it provides access to the Transilien platform, as well as Eurostar, TGV and RER.
Investing in the environment
The revamped Gare du Nord will bid to set new environmentally-friendly standards thanks to the introduction of 7,000m2 of public green areas, ecological energy production and 1,200 parking spaces for bikes.
SNCF is also planning to make space for solar panels spread over 3,200m2. The fourth and fifth floors of the station will be turned into a public garden offering spectacular views over Montmartre.
According to the operator, the entire renovation project will be carried out with particular attention to the neighbouring area. Within this framework, SNCF will put in place mechanisms to preserve air quality and install acoustic screens to keep noise pollution down to a minimum.
A sense of community for the neighbourhood
During a press conference held in July to present the project, rail bosses often reiterated that the ultimate goal is to create a station inside the city and a city inside the station. In practical terms, this means that Gare du Nord will be used to create a sense of community for the neighbourhood, serving as a meeting point rather than a mere intersection between two destinations.
This concept will translate into building an area dedicated to sports, a move that will illustrate ‘the role of urban sports in people’s lives’ and promote social activities.
Possibly the most interesting part of this plan is a 1km-long trail track – the first of its kind in the world – that allows for jogging on the station roof next to the public gardens.
In addition, SNCF is planning to build a basketball court, a golfing ground, and areas to practice paddle tennis, while dedicated cloakrooms and changing rooms will enable passengers to safely put their belongings away and shower.
About 27% of the new spaces will be destined for restaurants and 37% for boutique shops, as part of the company’s plan to integrate the station into the rest of the city. A theatre, a co-working space and a nursery will also be built both inside and near the station.