France’s Northern high-speed line enters middle-age
It has now been almost thirty years since the first section of France’s Northern high-speed line was opened, on 23 May 1996. This line, which runs from Paris Gare du Nord to the north of France, Belgium and the United Kingdom, has since become the country’s third high-speed line (LGV), after the LGV Sud-Est and the LGV Atlantique. Indeed, around 200 million passengers have used this LGV.
Measuring 333 kilometres in length, the SNCF’s LGV Nord is used by TGV, Thalys, Lyria and Eurostar trains, with an average of 200 trains per day, including 23 round trips between Paris and Lille. Its route is twinned with the A1 motorway over 130 kilometres. In France, the LGV serves Paris Gare du Nord, Gare Haute Picardie, between Amiens and Saint-Quentin, Arras, and finally, Lilles, where one branch line runs west to Calais and the UK via the Channel Tunnel and another east to Brussels.
In order to preserve this line, the High-Speed Line North renewal project, launched in 2015 for a period of 10 years, is now entering its ninth year, with a total budget of 420 million euros. In 2023, 4 expansion devices and 15 kilometres of track will be renovated, representing an investment of 36.5 million euros entirely financed by SNCF Réseau.
France’s 1st international high-speed line
The LGV Nord is the first international high-speed line in France, but it was also close to being the first French high-speed line altogether. In the 1960s, the idea of a high-speed line was envisaged to improve the link between France, Belgium and Great Britain, and the project was linked to the completion of the Channel Tunnel. However, in 1975, the British government put the brakes on the project. The SNCF then turned its attention to the link between Paris and Lyon, which led to the construction of the TGV Sud-Est line, which became the first French LGV.
Six years later, the Channel Tunnel project was revived. France and Great Britain undertook new studies, and in 1987 the decision was made to build the tunnel. In 1990, earthworks began and the first rails were laid in September 1991. After a year, the LGV was partially powered up, and the SNCF carried out the first tests. Finally, on Sunday 23 May 1993, the first passengers boarded the TGV Nord, including the French president at the time, François Mitterrand.
At the time, it took 1h20 to travel from Paris to Lille. The TGV reached a speed of 300 km/h. It was not until the line was fully opened in September 1993 that the journey time was reduced to just one hour. The TGV Nord has shortened the distance between Paris and the north of France, as well as between Belgium and Great Britain, creating a European high-speed network. One of the major beneficiaries of this project is the city of Lille, which has been transformed from a railway terminus in northern France to a true European crossroads.
Today, Paris – London by Eurostar takes 2 hours 17 minutes. By Thalys, Paris – Brussels in 1h24min, Paris – Amsterdam takes 3h19min. Finally, by TGV, Paris – Lille takes 1h02min.