In addition to the subway, Paris has several commuter and suburban rail lines that carry hundreds of commuters across outlying neighborhoods and into the city center each day. The city’s commuter rail system is known as the RER (which stands for Réseau Express Régional, or Regional Express Rail) and the suburban network is known as the Transilien.
The RER system comprises of five lines that service the immediate suburbs of Paris, though some lines extend further out. They are composed by letter: A, B, C, D, & E. The RATP operates Lines A & B jointly with the SNCF, the French National Railway Company, while Lines C, D, & E are solely operated by the SNCF.
The Transilien, operated solely by the SNCF, also letters its routes. Almost all of the Transilien lines originate at a mainline rail station: either Gare du Nord (Paris North), Gare d’Lest (Paris East), Gare de Lyon (Paris Lyon), Gare Montparnasse (Paris Montparnasse), or Gare Saint Lazare (Paris St. Lazare). The only exception is Line U, which has its northern terminus at station La Defense.
Click here to view a map of the RER system (from the RATP).
Click here to view a map of the RER & Transilien systems (from the SNCF).
The RER (Commuter Rail):
Though most of the RER system is in the open air, there are underground sections within the city center. Many of the city center stations are quite stuffy and some of them are pretty dark as well. The city center stations along Line C are probably among the worst. From my understanding, those stations were cheaply constructed on top of old rail lines and would cost a fortune to redo.
During my trip to Paris in March of 2009, I was able to ride the RER Line C from station St. Michel-Notre Dame to station Versailles Rive Gauche via one of the Z8800 stock trains. Let’s take a quick look at the RER Line C.
The Z8800 arriving at station St. Michel-Notre Dame. Through this station, one can connect between RER lines B & C, as well as to Metro lines 4 & 10.
About to hop aboard the Z8800.
Inside the second level of the Z8800. Notice the plush seating as the train leaves the city center and travels toward Versailles? I’ve noticed that many older trains have plush interiors (by old standards) but are in need of a major renovation. Some rolling stock trains are now receiving those much needed upgrades, while others await a sendoff to the scrapyard for retirement. Renovated trains tend to have livelier interiors than their unrefurbished counterparts.
In addition to the RER Line C, I was also able to ride the RER Line D between Gare du Nord and station Châtelet-Les Halles. Châtelet-Les Halles is among the largest intermodal centers in all of Europe and connects to Metro lines 1, 4, 7, 11, & 14, as well as RER lines A, B, & D. My trips along the RER Line D was via the Z20500 rolling stock, which at the time looked pretty dingy. However, these are among the rolling stock that are now receiving a much needed renovation. Let’s take a quick look at the RER Line D.
The Z20500 stock train at Gare du Nord.
In between the split-level staircase of the Z20500. This particular train was kind of dark in some areas, but others are not so bad. Again, this fleet is receiving a much needed renovation.
There are other rolling stock trains across the RER system. While many are double-decker trains like the ones above, some single deck trains still exist. These include the oldest commuter rail rolling stock, the MS 61, which runs across the RER Line A. Despite their age, many are undergoing a massive renovation to lengthen their lives for at least another 15 years. Another single-level train is the MI 79, which runs along the RER Line B. They too are receiving a much needed update, but the process has been rather slow due to the discovery of asbestos on the trains.
One fleet of commuter rail trains that are slowly being phased out are the MI 84. They look like the MI 79, but were cheaply constructed and thus have suffered excessive wear and tear. The trains currently operate on the RER Line A, but the STIF has expressed interest in taking in a handful of them to a northern segment of the RER Line D and a segment of the Transilien Line R, where ridership is lighter, for reinforcement until new rolling stock can be ordered.
The Transilien (Suburban Rail):
The Transilien comprises of eight suburban rail lines; H, J, K, L, N, P, R, & U, which all extend towards the outer suburbs of Paris. As I mentioned at the beginning of this page; all of the Transilien lines (except Line U) originate at one of Paris’ main railway stations.
It actually took me a while to realize that the Transilien Suburban Rail System was actually totally separate from the RER Commuter Rail System. One my old Europe Transit site, I ended up heavily confusing the two systems.
I will have more info on the Transilien soon! In the meantime, please visit the SNCF Transilien website.