Sunday 10 October 2010

Pont Cardinet: a bridge to the past

The golden age of the railway has long since departed from the Pont Cardinet train station, but it has left behind a unique glimpse into another era of rail travel.

The station itself is something of an anomaly in Paris. The only working train station within Paris that is not a terminus or part of the RER network, it stands out today as quaint outpost in need of a new purpose. Barely 5 trains an hour stop here now, but its architectural merits point backwards to a time when it was busier and better loved.

Designed by the architect Julien Polti (whose brother Georges was a surrealist author), the Pont Cardinet building was a replacement for an earlier station, the Gare de Batignolles. Finished in 1922, it is built on a metal platform as a prolongation of the Pont Cardinet just 1.5km from the Gare Saint Lazare main line station. The quality of the building was recognised almost immediately.

"La nouvelle gare des Batignolles, sans aucune prétention, mais dont les lignes sont logiques et où, par surcroît, de légers motifs de céramique prouvent un souci de coquetterie, montre un judicieux emploi du ciment armé" Henri Verne and René Chavance, 'Pour comprendre l'art décoratif moderne en France', Paris 1925.

The building has kept much of the charm of its origins, with graphical patterns in ceramics on the exterior and cathederal windows in the ticket hall. Although it is more an observer of the trains rushing in and out of St Lazare today, it is also this fact that has protected it from bland, corporate makeovers.

Throughout the station, fixtures and fittings are all from another time. Little seems to have changed in the last thirty years or so, except for the blackening out of two of the large windows, perhaps to protect those inside from a too agressive sun.

To one side, an autumn flash of fire growing on a disused line. This was the ligne d'Auteuil, a line that cut through the western side of Paris out to the Bois de Boulogne. First opened in 1854, the last train left this platform on a snowy evening in January 1985.

The station may well however have a brighter future. The new Clichy Batignolles district is growing around it, and an increasing local population will need improved public transport links. There is talk of extending the line 14 of the Metro to this point, or alternatively to greatly increase the number of trains that will stop here. Let's just hope that bringing this station back to life won't also mean that its heart is taken away.


Tim said...

Another fine item. It is amazing how time seems to have stood still in that station, while St Lazare has been in constant renovation for as long as I remember. (In fact, will we ever have the finished product?)

Also good to have an article like this with an optimistic message to take home. So many oddball places in Paris are either crumbling away or having to reconvert in order to survive, whereas it sounds like Pont Cardinet may be about to get a second wind!

PeterParis said...

Thanks for this post, which I should have made some time ago. It's "my" station (I live close to it), or would so be if the decision was (hopefully) taken to make the line 14 stop here. This is still a matter of argument.

Sab said...

I echo the other comments. I love the old railway relics you can find around Paris, and it's great to see people highlighting them and giving us their personal take on them. This station, in particular, has always fascinated me, being, as you say, just rather odd. It's not quite a ghost station but it just doesn't look like it serves much purpose and there are aspects of it that are downright spooky. I'll have to check it out again soon, with a lens or two with me. Thanks for the reminder.

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