diamond geezer

 Monday, April 15, 2019

Pré St-Gervais
ligne 7bis, XIXe arrondissement
Trafic annuel entrant par station: 367,131
The 3rd least used Métro station in Paris

When in Paris, why not visit its three least used Métro stations? Number three is on the northeastern outskirts of Paris, not so far from number two, almost on the edge of the city. To reach it you take line 7bis, which is a peculiarity in itself (as the name suggests). Originally this was a branch of line 7, but was chopped off in 1967 because it was significantly less busy, and trains now shuttle around a handful of stations. On the onboard diagram the line looks like a paddle, but in real life it better resembles a wriggling sperm, with four stations forming a one-way loop round the head and the other four forming a tail. Pré St-Gervais is the station at the nose end, indeed it's the timetabled eastbound destination (despite the fact that services arrive, carry on and head back).

Trains run into a single platform, commonplace in London but a rarity here, They don't hang around, so the handful of waiting passengers leap up off their blue plastic seats to head off towards Danube and Botzaris. There's no reason to linger. The only way out is up a flight of steps and along a bright tiled passageway, where you could then take further stairs but far better to take the lift. Going up. It's then a short walk past the ticket office and then a final flight to emerge in a quiet part of town beneath an old Métro sign. Most Parisian stations are far from step-free.

Five roads meet at the adjacent road junction, the local housing neither too old nor too new. A few old souls are hunched over on white plastic chairs outside the Bar Du Metro Brasserie. The temperature flashing up on the pharmacy's green cross is five degrees too optimistic. The greengrocer at the corner shop shuffles a few trays of wholly mundane fruit and veg. In the park on the hill a posse of four police officers on bikes stop to talk to some reclining teens, then pedal off. From the summit there's a fine view across the périphérique into the banlieues, densely packed to the horizon. A tram wiggles round what was once the city wall, heading somewhere more useful.

It's partly Pré St-Gervais' borderline location that keep its numbers down, and partly its train service being a one-way loop to nowhere much. But this was not always so. Between 1921 and 1939 an extra rail tunnel was opened between Pré St-Gervais and Porte de Lilas, allowing a more useful shuttle connection to link up with line 3. This operated again between 1952 and 1956, but Porte de Lilas now had a direct connection to the city centre via new line 11, so the underused link was permanently mothballed. But the tunnel's still there, and so is a totally unused tunnel connecting the other way, which is where one of Paris's most elusive ghost stations is to be found. [tunnel map]

Haxo is a brilliant name for a station, or would have been had it ever opened. It was planned as the eastbound twin to Pré St-Gervais, and is located (out of sight) just 100m down the road. But no connection to the surface was ever made, so no trace exists at ground level, only a scrappy raised terrace covered by evidence of exercised dogs and far too many pigeons. Neither is it visible from a passing train - all that can be seen is the entrance to the tunnel that eventually leads there. The only way to reach Haxo is via illegal adventuring, or as part of an occasional film crew in need of an authentic disconnected platform.

There are longstanding plans to reconnect line 7bis and line 3bis to create a brand new line, notionally numbered 19. This would create a more useful arc through the 19th and 20th arrondisements, linking Gambetta to (almost) Gare de l'Est. The two tunnels are disjoint, so the new line would pass through Pré St-Gervais in a westbound direction and Haxo heading east. Should this ever happen, the existing platform at Pré St-Gervais would be taken out of service and the parallel shuttle platform used instead. But newly-opened Haxo would instantly become one of the least used stations on the Paris Métro, because drawing an obvious line on a map isn't the same as running a profitable railway, so don't expect any expensive de-ghosting any time soon.

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