diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Église d'Auteuil
ligne 10, XVIe arrondissement
Trafic annuel entrant par station: 177,017
The least used Métro station in Paris

The least used Métro station in Paris is down these steps.

We're in southwest Paris, north of the river, in the former village of Auteuil. This was swallowed up by the city in 1860, back when it most mostly home to nobility and vineyards, and has been a hangout for the nouveau riche ever since. It's pleasant without being overly snobby, and quiet without being dead. It's not the kind of place where you'd expect to find the least used Métro station. But there are reasons, and they're complicated.

We're near the tip of line 10, which was originally line 8 when it opened in 1913. The line ended in a loop, turning back at Porte d'Auteuil on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne. Line 10 took over in 1937, thanks to some tunnelling jiggerypokery elsewhere which need not detain us. In 1980 the line was extended westwards towards Boulogne so the loop was cut and instead became a kind of buckle. Trains head out of town through Église d'Auteuil, Michel-Ange Auteuil and Porte d'Auteuil, and back into town via Michel-Ange Molitor, Chardon-Lagache and Mirabeau. Here's a map, along with annual passenger numbers at each of the stations.

Line 9 cuts down the middle of the loop, with a remarkably equitable two and a bit million passengers at each station. None of the other stations on line 10's buckle come close, and all feature in the 20 Least Used Métro stations. But Église d'Auteuil's total of barely 180,000 is way off-kilter, despite being in the heart of a residential neighbourhood. And the chief reason for this is that RATP only count passengers entering the station. Passengers entering the station can only travel west, towards the banlieues, whereas they probably want to go east towards the city centre. What's more there are two eastbound stations within 250 metres - that's closer than Leicester Square is to Covent Garden - so they get the traffic instead. Lots of people get out at Église d'Auteuil, because it's the first station across the Seine, but they don't officially count.

If you do enter the station, descent is via a couple of flights of steps past all the usual maps and diagrams. At the foot of the stairs are two ticket machines, then a window behind which sits a member of staff without much public to administer to. Beyond the ticket gates is a single tiled platform, gently curved, with four orange plastic seats in the centre. And at the far end is a second exit, not available for entry, which reaches the surface partway down Rue Wilhelm. This station was in fact originally called Wilhelm, after the 19th century French musician, but during the First World War a local councillor became convinced it had been named after Kaiser Wilhelm instead, so he successfully campaigned for the name change. Fake news is nothing new.

Arriving at, rather than departing from, the station involves an intriguing train manoeuvre. The track rises steeply after passing under the Seine, so reaches Mirabeau station at an awkward angle and continues climbing towards Église d'Auteuil without stopping. Those waiting on the eastbound platform get to watch trains whooshing up an incline, and those aboard westbound get to look down on them as they pass. Here's a video which shows, repeatedly, how that looks.

Which brings us back to the square containing Église d'Auteuil itself. The eponymous church which watches over the station entrance has a high narrow dome, several modern extensions and a busy congregation. The obelisk in the heart of the square marks the location of the tomb of Henri-François d'Aguesseau, former Chancellor of France, left behind when the remainder of the cemetery was moved on. Molière once lived in a country house beyond the pedestrian crossing. The Bistro d'Auteuil on the cobbles serves biers, charcuterie and salades. Parisians really are much better at making their street corners somewhere you might want to hang out (and simultaneously much worse at having a decent-sized patch of grass close by).

Rue d'Auteuil wiggles off from here, the historic thoroughfare at the heart of the old village. It's lined with charming little shops selling meat and bread and dainty glazed pastries, and flowers and jewellery and leather goods, like a local high street flecked with upmarket infill. Some of the city's richest citizens live out here in gated enclaves, which is rare in Paris, but those who venture out onto the streets clutching baguettes and bouquets are more bourgeois than grandiose. Keep walking and within four minutes you've reached the main Place d'Auteuil, a charming triangular marketplace where the next westbound staircase descends. Passengers flock here, to the 61st least used Métro station, rather than back there to the least used of all.

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