French Connection

28 May 2009 (Last Updated May 28th, 2009 18:30)

Demand continues to escalate at the ever-growing Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport. Local and airport authorities have developed a strong focus on rail to enhance connectivity, as Alex Hawkes investigates.

French Connection

As one of Europe's busiest airports, Paris Charles de Gaulle requires extensive rail links to support its rapidly increasing passenger market. To complement major extensions to two of the airport's terminals, the Aeroports de Paris Group – which owns and manages the 14 civil airports and airfields in the Ile-de-France area – has implemented plans to extend its existing rail scope.

Charles De Gaulle airport is located roughly 25km away from the north east of Paris and in 2008 handled 60,851,998 passengers. A combination of road and railway networks supports the airport's vast customer base, half of which come directly to or from the city centre.

Furthermore, with 38% of the airport's passengers in 2007 using public transportation – which includes train, bus, group coaches and hotel shuttles – as their primary means of arriving at the airport, the role of rail in this equation is vital.

Presently, the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) high-speed train station, which is located in Charles De Gaulle's Terminal 2, is a major rail access points for commuters to the airport.

In 2007, approximately three million passengers used the high-speed network, which provides almost 60 direct trains daily to nearly 50 cities in France and surrounding European cities such as Brussels.

"Charles De Gaulle airport is located roughly 25km away from the north east of Paris and in 2008 handled 60,851,998 passengers."

The launch of the Eastern Europe high-speed TGV service, linking the airport's TGV to three new French destinations (daily return services to Strasbourg, Lorrraine and Champagne-Ardenne) in the same year became an invaluable addition.

For the director of Paris Charles de Gaulle airport René Brun, the TGV line has proved priceless since its inception in 1994. "The SNCF railway station at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport is served by the TGV South, West and North lines with connections to the Thalys network and SNCF mainline services," he says. "Strasbourg is now only two hours and 25 minutes from Paris Charles de Gaulle by train, Metz and Nancy an hour and a half, and Rheims in just 45 minutes."

The modern track

Such a high-speed long-distance network is complimented neatly by two rapid-express Réseau Express Régional (RER) commuter lines, which have been operating to the Parisian airport since 1976. The RER network blends together a modern city-centre subway and a pre-existing set of regional rail lines to serve Paris and its suburbs, while also offering multiple connections with the Paris Metro.

RER stations exist at Charles de Gaulle's Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 and they offer passengers access to central Paris within 30 minutes. "During rush hour, passengers are served with one train every eight minutes," Brun says. "By 2011, we plan to increase the service to one train every six minutes during rush hour periods as part of the implementation of the master plan for improving the RER B line.

"While the RER line enables Paris's city centre to be reached in only 30 minutes, the RER B links Charles de Gaulle to Paris and its suburbs. This means we also serve key areas such as Gare du Nord, Chatelet-les-Halles and Denfert Rochereau."

"RER stations exist at Charles de Gaulle's Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 and they offer passengers access to central Paris within 30 minutes."

The RER B is undergoing an extensive modernisation programme – known as RER B Nord Plus – which has been instigated by the French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Growth and Development, the public transport authority of Ile-de-France and owners of the French rail network such as Réseau Ferré de France and the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF).

The project aims to offer commuters a more frequent, reliable and comfortable service through the introduction of additional trains and renovation of existing equipment. As the largest railway project planned in the Ile-de-France region for the period 2008–2012, special consideration has been taken to maintain the flow of trains and therefore minimise inconvenience to passengers during the construction period.

In a bid to improve punctuality, areas of the track previously shared with other trains will become exclusive to RER B. Once the upgrade is complete, trains are estimated to start operating at a rate of one train every three minutes between Gare du Nord and Aulnay-sous-Bois, and at a rate of one train every six minutes on the Aulnay-sous-Bois/Mitry-Claye and Aulnay-sous-Bois/Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2 airport lines.

In the express lane

The enhanced service will no doubt strengthen connections from the airport to the suburban districts of Paris and a new CDG Express service will offer further options to air passengers. Construction of the direct, non-stop connection service between Charles de Gaulle airport and the popular Gare de l'Est station in downtown Paris began in 2008 and the service is planned to start in 2012. The line will be 32km long and the route is expected to take passengers to the airport in a maximum time of just 20 minutes.

"The CDG Express is closely modelled on direct express rail links found in other major cities worldwide, most notably the UK's Heathrow Express."

The CDG Express is closely modelled on direct express rail links found in other major cities worldwide, most notably the UK's successful Heathrow Express. Aimed at increasing the economic competitiveness of Paris and the surrounding region, the CDG Express is likely to have a strong appeal for business commuters. Once complete, it will operate all year round, with extensive opening hours and an anticipated frequency of one train every 15 minutes.

Rather than compete with the forthcoming RER B modernisation programme, the two projects are envisioned as working in tandem – offering customers a great choice of rail transportation while simultaneously easing pressure on the crammed travelling conditions of the RER line. Illustrating this, part of the modernisation of the RER B involves making track available for the CDG Express trains to use. Commissioning of the CDG Express link will therefore only take place after the modernisation of line B has been completed.

Combined, these developments are hoped to push forward Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport's bid to become one of the leading airports in the worlds. "Rail links are a key factor for Paris Charles de Gaulle's overall development, which is why Aeroports de Paris works closely with its partners to ensure progress remains," says Brun.