Get On the New Métro and Drive!

photo: bar l'historie
On the rue de Tolbiac, this is the first bar-café I came to.

'Pretend' Driving Is Nearly As Good
As the Real Thing

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 19. October 1998:- It is not every day that Paris gets a new métro line, so I showed up for the first day's operation of the 'Météor,' or line 14, a day early. There I was at Madeleine all ready to go, and the 'correspondence' doors were still nailed shut.

The green light for the new line was last Thursday at 17:00, but even with President Jacques Chirac in attendance to smash a bottle of Champagne over the nose of the first train, there was a 90-minute delay, so I didn't see this on the TV-news at 20:00 either.

I am not really a 'first-nighter' but if events happen on days when I'm in downtown Paris and I'm in the mood, I'll try to take them in. I caught the aircraft on the Champs-Elysées a day early, but I showed up too early for the Gordon Bennett balloon race, and I have heard nothing of it since.

Once a métro line opens in Paris, they tend to stay around a while - so getting to ride one on the first day is no big deal. Riding on the second day of operation, is, of course, even less of a 'big deal.'

So, without pomp or ceremony, I made it through the 'correspondence' at Madeleine on Friday, to try out the 14-minute ride to Tolbiac, or the 'Bibliothèque,' which is the name of the end-station on the left bank.

I didn't see all of the new stations even though there are not many of them. The ones I did see, have very high ceilings and are quite grand, in a cool '90's WaterBar sort of way. There are shades of grey and there are rose and violet neons, and there are reflections too - with the rails enclosed in a glass-like tube.

This 'tube' affair is to keep passengers from causing accidental 'incidents techniques,' by falling on the rails. I watched closely to see how their sliding doors work - these are in sets of two, one on the tube-side and one on the wagon - and reckon these will also stop those late johnnies who try to jam themselves in through the doors as the train is departing.

The decor inside the wagons is nearly identical to the new trains running on métro line one, and like them, there are no doors between wagons. Unlike line one, line 14 has few curves - so if you are sitting near the joint of two wagons you will not get that pinched feeling you sometimes get on the line one trains.

There are fewer seats too. Another new feature is that these line 14 trains have no driver; they are fully automatic. I didn't think about it much in advance, but no driver means there is no driver'sphoto: tolbiac '13' line 14 cabin at each end of the train - and this means you can sit or stand where the driver usually is on all the rest of the métro trains.

In case you haven't been to Tolbiac before, there is a direction sign to help with orientation.

There is even a hand-bar to hold on to while you play automatic train driver. This is very neat, and I expect enthusiasts will want to ride back and forth all day doing the 'pretend' driving.

The line 14 trains go pretty fast because there are few curves and because there are few stations. The run from Châtelet to the Gare de Lyon is non-stop for example, and may be faster than an RER train making the same run.

Once you arrive at the end of the line, you are in a forgotten corner of the 13th arrondissement, with a lot of SNCF railyards between the métro exit and the Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand.

A set of narrow back-and-forth stairs leads up to the rue de Tolbiac, and there is also an elevator which shoots straight up to street level. On the street, the closest shop is an antique dealer, and its owner saw the President on Thursday.

He told me the bistro next door is a good one too. Further up the rue de Tolbiac there are a couple of mid-sized modern hotels and a few other antique dealers. It is a fair hike to the nearest intersection, to a café-bar and other signs of life.

Don't expect this tranquility to last too long. The modern art galleries in the rue Louise-Weiss are not far away, and now this whole - low rent still? - area is not far away from downtown either.

Going back, I tried to change at Châtelet to head west. Going east would have been easy, but it seemed as if I had to walk through tunnels nearly to Les Halles, just to get to the westbound métro line one. I think doing the transfer at Gare de Lyon may be easier, because I passed the closed entry to it when I went through there on Wednesday.

Just imagine: playing métro-train driver for the price of a green RATP ticket! It's one of Paris' cheaper thrills.

Premature Anti-Fascists

This is a title that was given to2,900 Americans by the US State Department, after they had volunteered to fight on the side of the Republican government in Spain in the 1930's.

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