Paris tramway glides back to life, some 70 years on

15th December 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 15, 2006 (AFP) - Seventy years after the last streetcar vanished from the streets of Paris, the tramway, increasingly touted as a clean, fast mass transport solution, makes its big comeback to the capital on Saturday.

PARIS, Dec 15, 2006 (AFP) - Seventy years after the last streetcar vanished from the streets of Paris, the tramway, increasingly touted as a clean, fast mass transport solution, makes its big comeback to the capital on Saturday.

Once criss-crossed by more than 120 tramway lines — horse-drawn from 1855, then steam- and finally electric-powered — Paris, like most major European cities, was gradually seduced away by the car and underground train, closing its last line in 1937.

Running 7.9 kilometres along an east-west route, just inside the southern rim of the capital, the new 'T3' tramway replaces an overcrowded bus line and will eventually be tripled in length to encircle the whole city.

Grass turf and 1,000 flowering trees have been planted to turn its route into a green belt connecting the city's 13th, 14th and 15th arrondissements.

Sidewalks and cycle paths run along its length, past nine giant modern sculptures specially commissioned by the city.

Costing EUR 300 million, the three-year tramway project was the capital's biggest transport scheme since the construction of the Paris ring road, the Boulevard Periphérique, in 1973.

Championed by the Socialist mayor of Paris, the tramway — which is set to carry 100,000 passengers per day — has been slammed as a waste of money by the city's right-wing opposition, who are boycotting the opening ceremony.

Critics say a bigger priority is building better links into Paris from the suburbs, although most admit than transport links are too patchy between Paris's outlying neighbourhoods.

The project has also raised a few eyebrows among local residents.

"It looks very nice," said Alain Duroy, 38, from Paris's 15th district, admiring the gleaming green-and-white cars. "But we could have just created two bus lanes, for a 10th of the price."

"Are those going to stay there?" asked another young woman as she looked doubtfully at a giant red-and-yellow metal sculpture — a flower doubling as a phone box — on the nearby Garigliano bridge.

There are also fears it will cause traffic havoc unless Parisian drivers make a big effort to play by the rules.

"Sharing space with a tramcar doesn't quite fit with the anything-goes style of many Parisian drivers," city hall admitted to Le Monde newspaper.

"You can be sure some drivers will try to force their way through, at the risk of blocking the lines for approaching tramcars."

Pedestrians plugged into their i-Pods — and oblivious to the tramway's warning bells — are another big hazard, according to Georges Bruno, one of the 90 bus drivers retrained to man the tramcars.

But many Parisians are won over by the idea: "It'll be more reliable," said Roger Whoang, 75. "And quicker too," chipped in Chantal Marie-Rise, 34.

Cheaper to build than the underground, and faster than the bus, the tramway is part of a major drive by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë to reshape the city's transport system, cutting car use and boosting public transport.

One by one for the past three years, Paris's main boulevards have undergone major surgery — with multiple car lanes slashed to one, to be replaced by bus and cycle lanes and wider, leafier sidewalks.

Outside Paris, three lines already operate in the suburbs and half a dozen French cities. Five cities cut the ribbon on new lines this year, with the Mediterranean port of Marseilles to open its first in 2007.

Across Europe, the tram is most popular in northern and eastern Europe — from Amsterdam or Zagreb to Krakow — but is also used in Lisbon, Athens and several Italian cities.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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