IN PICS: A visit to the 1900s railway in Paris that’s now abandoned

Have you ever heard of the petit ceinture of Paris? 

The petit ceinture (literally the “little belt”) is the name of a railway line around Paris, that was in use until 1934.

Nowadays it’s abandoned and ripe for a Sunday stroll. (You only have to pass one sign that says ‘acces interdit‘, whatever that means.)

The pictures here were taken taken in the 12th arrondissement where the train line once ran through the former station Gare de la rue Claude-Decaen, which used to serve the Bois de Vincennes forest.

The tracks and the platforms are still there, but where trains once travelled, flowers and weeds have taken over, and graffiti artists have left their mark on the platforms.

As far as I can tell, the pictures below were taken in almost exactly the same spot, about 100 years apart. The fences in the foreground match, and the buildings in the background are pretty similar indeed.

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Parisians today are a little torn as to what to do with this intact but unused rail line (which can also be checked out in three other spots around the city – more on this later). Some people want it all turned into parks, others want it to run as a train line again, and some want to preserve it.

Others, like me, just want to take a little look.

And apparently I wasn’t alone. When I went there this week, I met an 87-year-old Parisian man who said it was his first time ever setting foot on the tracks, even though he’s lived in the city since he was a kid.

What’s weird, I thought later, was that he may have even travelled on the tracks as a passenger. He would have been four years old when it closed. I would have mentioned this to him but my maths is a lot better in hindsight.

Others came out to the tracks to explore, take pictures, and pick flowers.

Here are a few more before and after pictures from the Gare de la rue Claude-Decaen:

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Technically, at this spot in the 12th arrondissement you’re not supposed to venture onto the tracks, but the gate was literally open.

It comes off the end of a little park area which is at the very end of the Promenade Plantée elevated walkway. The park, according to the official Paris tourist site, is “a haven for a rare biodiversity of wild flowers and fauna” that boasts more than 200 species of plants and more than 70 animal species.

And it sure seems that way beyond the park and on the tracks. It’s really overgrown. If it wasn’t for the odd curious tourist or Parisian wandering around, you’d feel like you’d stumbled into some kind of secret garden.

All the pictures below (and above, in fact) are from the section in the 12th arrondissement accessible from  21 Rue Rottembourg.

Click to enlarge the pics, they’re all captioned.

As I mentioned above, there are also entrances to the railway in three other places in Paris, with the biggest section open to the public in the 16th arrondissement, between the Porte d’Auteuil and the Gare de la Muette. There’s another entrance in the 15th arrondissement at 99 Rue Olivier de Serres and one that opened in 2015 in the 13th arrondissement at 60 Rue Damesme. Full discloser: I’ve never been to these (yet).

And exciting news: More sections will open to the public in the coming years, in fact a full 10 kilometres-worth by 2020, says the Mayor. Keep your eyes peeled in the 20th, 17th, 14th, and 12th arrondissements.

Like Paris and its secrets? Check out our Paris Secrets section here. Why not start by learning about the intriguing chasse-roues that adorn many a doorway around the city. 

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