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The Petite Ceinture, Paris: Where Gumbo Was (#71)

P1030895Where Gumbo was, as Jonathan L, with help from Lynn Milar recognized, was behind an abandoned station on an abandoned rail line—the Petite Ceinture—that once girdled Paris, connecting its rail stations and freight yards, and providing both passenger and freight service. Passenger service ended in 1934, and freight in 1993. The picture above shows the back of the Gare Ornano and the picture below shows what you would have seen from the top of the stairs in about 1890.

Gare Ornano facing west

The Ornano station is right where Boulevard Ornano crosses the Peripherique, the highway that circles Paris on the line of the city's last set of city walls, just behind our favorite Paris neighborhood to stay in: Clignancourt, in the 18e. Here's what the station looked like in 1879, and what's become of it today. Believe it or not, that KFC is on the front of the building seen in the puzzle picture!

Gare Ornano 1879


I’ve been fascinated by the Petite Ceinture for quite a time, ever since, in a mystery novel I no longer remember, I found scenes that described a chase along old railway tracks, unknown to most, connecting the Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est in Paris; in that passage I first came on references to a “belt railway” in Paris. Wow! Paris, railroad and mystery all in one. I was hooked. My pictures in this blog are from our 2012 trip.



The Petite Ceinture, built between 1852 and 1869, began passenger service in 1862; nearly 40 years before the Metro, it was the first rail urban transit service in Paris. It was owned by five major railroad companies; its original purpose was to allow goods coming from, say, Marseille, to be transferred to the freight yard of a company running trains to, say, Strasbourg. 


Petite Ceinture map 1920

Map of Petite Ceinture, about 1920 (above) and what remains today (below). The gap in the current map represents part of the line now used by the RER C


Petite Ceinture remnants today

The passenger service was an afterthought, but by its peak year, 1900, it was carrying 34 million passengers. The line follows the line of the 1840 city fortifications now marked by the Boulevard Peripherique, except for an indent in the northeast. Thus, it didn’t directly connect the main stations, but had spur lines leading to them—but it did connect all the major freight yards.


The line included several long tunnels and some viaducts, as well as depressed trenches such as you can see in the pictures here from Ornano, and the one above, where it runs through a corner of the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. The tunnels were mostly added in the early 20th century so that buildings could go up over the right-of-way.


Today, except for some sections that were incorporated into the regional RER rail network, the tracks are abandoned. In some sections, they have become home to the homeless; in others, such as along the Ornano platforms, local groups have created gardens; the sign identifies the garden association that uses space on the former platforms.







But railfans never quit…and there is an active Association Sauvegarde Petite Ceinture (ASPCRF) that advocates plans to revive rail service on the remains of the line. Other groups have plans to create parks and walking/cycling paths. There's been quite a lot of discussion of this lately as the new mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has expressed an interest in "doing something" with the Petite Ceinture.


For more information, you might want to see some of the recent articles. This link is to an article in the Guardian, which mentions the Rue de Ruisseau garden. A BBC documentary two years ago included a video, with commentary by a member of ASPCRF. And for probably the most comprehensive view of large stretches of the line, with many, many pictures, this link will take you to the site of Paris resident and expert Kerouac.


Oh, and just nearby the stairway used as a garden entrance, I spotted this unusual gate, made of bicycle parts.









Images (17)
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  • Gare Ornano 1879
  • Gare Ornano facing west
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  • Petite Ceinture map 1920
  • Petite Ceinture remnants today
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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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In an e-mail, Jonathan L provides an update—a happy one—on the Gare Ornano. It appears that about a year after I took my pictures, the station was sold, the KFC is gone, and a new cafe+recycling center has renovated the station; a picture below shows a view of the rear very different from the one below the KFC picture above. The site now also hosts food trucks!


Thanks to Jonathan L for finding the followup, which can be found at  It's in French, but if that's a problem, Chrome will translate it for you.


There's more at this site:

including this picture of a dining area on the south platform, opposite the Jardins du Ruisseau on the north platform.

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

Last edited by PHeymont
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