Paris Gare de Lyon (photo © Crobard / dreamstime.com)
The Gare de Lyon in Paris nicely combines classical style with high-tech modernity. Sleek TGVs slip effortlessly in and out of the terminus. What most passengers don’t notice is the truly ancient signalling. The old signal box at the end of Platform 5 at the Gare de Lyon was state of the art when it was commissioned in the 1930s. But it’s no longer fit for purpose and a new signalling centre at Vigneux-sur-Seine is now ready to take over the duties of the time-worn (and rather ugly) signal box at the Gare de Lyon.
This huge signalling project has been a long time in the making, and mid-March will see the big changeover. To this end, the main part of the Gare de Lyon will be closed to both arriving and departing trains on Saturday 18 March and Sunday 19 March. The underground RER platforms are not affected, although there will be some alteration to service patterns on the RER routes (A&D) serving those platforms. The Gare de Bercy, which relies on the same outdated signalling system as the Gare de Lyon, will also be completely closed to rail traffic on Saturday 18 March and Sunday 19 March.
Many itineraries to, from and through Paris will of course be disrupted during the commissioning of the new signalling centre at Vigneux-sur-Seine. We cannot list all the changes here, but these are some of the highlights worth bearing in mind.
All TGV Lyria services to and from Switzerland will use the Gare de l’Est while the Gare de Lyon is closed. This means extended journey times for Lyria trains bound for Geneva and Lausanne will apply, although the pattern of intermediate stops will be unchanged. Lyria services to Bâle will be rerouted via the TGV Est route, running non-stop from Paris to Mulhouse. The Dijon stop (applicable to certain trains only) will thus be dropped. These trains will not run beyond Bâle; passengers for Zürich will therefore need to change trains at Bâle.
Bizarrely, Lyria have not yet updated their website to include Paris Est as a valid departure or arrival station, so it’s currently not possible to make bookings on their site for journeys on 18 or 19 March. But bookings can be made on Loco2.com, taking care of course to specify Paris Est as the departure point.
Elsewhere around the Paris region, stations which normally see little long-distance traffic will be pressed into service for the 18/19 March weekend. Versailles Chantiers regularly has just two TGVs a day: the train from Le Havre to Marseille and vice versa. But on 18 and 19 March, that station will see a remarkable range of TGV departures. On the Saturday morning alone, in addition to the regular Marseille train, there will be seven TGVs to the French Alps, running to Annecy, Modane, Bourg-Saint-Maurice and other destinations.
There will be no direct TGVs from Paris to destinations in Spain or Italy. The Thello night train from Paris to Venice is also cancelled.
TGV trains which would normally run via the Rhône route to Montpellier and beyond will start at Paris Montparnasse, with these trains also serving Massy TGV about ten minutes after leaving Montparnasse.
The best bet for passengers bound for Lyon, Marseille and Nice is to head to either Aéroport Charles de Gaulle or Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy. There will be plenty of southbound TGVs from both stations with Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy offering the wider choice of departure times. For example, on both that Saturday and Sunday there will be eight direct TGVs from Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy to Nice Ville, compared to just one departure per day in the regular timetables.
TER trains from Auxerre and Sens (which would normally run to either the Gare de Lyon or the Gare de Bercy) will be diverted to serve Austerlitz instead. The Intercités trains from Clermont-Ferrand to the capital will also be re-routed to Austerlitz (instead of Bercy), adding about 20 minutes to the travel time.
Bear in mind when making bookings for travel to, from or through Paris on 18 or 19 March that you’ll need to specify departure and arrival stations appropriate to the trains which are actually running that weekend. Don’t be misled by booking masks which offer a Paris (Any Stations) option. In some cases, the Paris (Any Stations) option will pick a train retimed to depart from Montparnasse instead of the Gare de Lyon. That’s because both stations are close to each other in the centre of Paris. But the Paris (Any Stations) option will not normally bring up departures from Versailles Chantiers, Massy TGV or Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy – all of which are more distant from central Paris.