Gare d’Austerlitz is described by SNCF as the Belle Endormie (or Sleeping Beauty) of Paris railway stations but this one needs more than a kiss from a passing handsome price to wake her up. The station is three years in to an eight year reawakening (or restoration and redevelopment programme). There’s a long way to go yet.
Since 1990, when the TGV started running to Gare Montparnasse, Gare d’Austerlitz has lost out on long distance trains and now serves only the less glamorous regional services. Investment matched declining passenger numbers and the station slid into a quiet decline. Gare d’Austerlitz is still an important interchange between main line services, the RER and the metro but, according to a 2015 report, the station’s 21 platforms receive only 95 trains per day, so there’s no doubt about spare capacity.
The artist’s impressions in the project brochure for the renovation of the station are all light, bright and uncluttered. None of the five images (including this one of the main station hall) show any trains, which made me start to wonder about the project’s aims. But no, this view isn’t the train shed minus tracks, it’s looking the other way from the buffers, through a space that is currently cluttered by shops, sheds and assorted additions. The redevelopment is planned to accommodate 23 million passengers a year in 2020, rising to 30 million in 2030. The reawakened station has a busy future in store.