July 19, 2012 - The Metro Opens in Paris

– 1900

The underground trains of Paris—in other words, the subway—opened for the first time on this date in 1900.

The first line that opened provided transport to the 1900 summer Olympic Games at the Bois de Vincennes. Parisians immediately loved the Metro—and thirty thousand tickets were sold on the first day alone!

That first year, 17 million passengers used the Metro—even though the subway “system” consisted of only one line. 

Nowadays, there are fourteen lines, and more than four million passengers ride the trains EVERY DAY! That comes up to a grand total of more than 1.47 BILLION per year! That makes the Paris Metro the second busiest subway system in Europe. 

(Want to guess the #1 busiest in Europe? How about the busiest in the world? Answers at the bottom of the post.)

One of the system's stations, Chatelet-Les Halles, which has five Metro lines and three RER commuter rail lines, is the world's largest Metro station.

The Metro is known for its Art Nouveau entrances.

How do you build train tracks BELOW a city?

Most of the underground lines were laid under already-existing streets. The soil of Paris is not conducive to deep digging, so most of the lines are not that far below the surface, and they were created with what is called the “cut-and-cover” method. This involved digging a deep trench along a main street. (In order to keep traffic to a minimum, this was often done one small section at a time.) The trench was lined with brick or concrete, and then given a roof of strong steel girders. Then the trench section was covered with road, sidewalk, or whatever..and the construction area was moved down to the end of the section just built. This cut-and-cover method of tunnel building is quite inexpensive and therefore often used today.

There are exceptions to the shallow-tunnel generalization, including tunnels that go underneath Paris's river, the Seine. Metallic caissons from 20 to 40 meters long were assembled on the bank of the river and then gradually driven into the river bed, apparently providing an interesting spectacle for passersby. (A caisson is a large watertight chamber that is open at the bottom, used during construction work done under water. The water is kept out by air pressure.) In order bore the tunnel, the ground was frozen (extra-super-duper frozen, at minus 24 degrees Celsius!) using calcium chloride brine.

To learn how some subway tunnels are built these days, check out the Washington Post's infographic

ANSWERS to questions above: The busiest subway system in Europe is Moscow, Russia, and the busiest in the world is in Tokyo, Japan. Paris's Metro is only #8 in the world, behind: Toyko, Japan; Seoul, South Korea; Moscow; Beijing, China; Shanghai, China; Guangzhou, China; New York City, U.S.

Also on this date:

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