My plan was that I would take a German InterCityExpress train (ICE) from Frankfurt by way of Cologne to Brussels, change at Brussels North Station for Kortrijk and then change at Kortrijk for Lille-Flandres. I booked this on the excellent Deutsche Bahn (German Railway) website.
If the German train service had been half as good as the website, this would have been a feasible plan, but of course the German ICE train was late so I missed my connection at Brussels-North.
The information desks at Brussels-North were of no use. The domestic information desk couldn’t help me because Lille is in France, not Belgium. The international information desk was closed (since there is not much international travel from Brussels-North), and when it finally opened up they were quite baffled by my problem, since Lille is directly on the Belgian border and just barely qualifies as being international. One of their suggestions was to go to Brussels South Station and catch a TGV train to Lille-Europe, which would have cost more and taken a lot longer than necessary.
Finally I figured out for myself that the trains to Kortrijk run once an hour, so I just loitered around until it was time for the next one. Changing at Kortrijk was no problem, so I arrived at the station Lille-Flandres exactly an hour later than planned.
A quaint peculiarity of the train from Kortrijk to Lille is that it stops just short of the border at a place called Moeskroen (Mouscron in French), where the Belgian train crew gets off and a French train crew gets on. The French crew then runs the train for the remaining 20 km into Lille by way of Roubaix.
Lille-Flandres is an old station from the 19th century, and I had expected it to be more or less deserted, but in fact it was very crowded and lively when I arrived on a late Friday afternoon, with several trains arriving and departing and lots of cheerful young people on the platforms. (But I took this photo the next morning when it wasn’t so crowded.)
This old station is still very much the main station of Lille, with over ten times as many train departures as the new station Lille-Europe, which is just 500 meters away.
When you walk towards the station Lille-Europe in the rain, you just know before you even get there that the roof will be leaking. And sure enough, on the rainy day when I was there the roof was leaking in several places. Every few minutes they played recorded announcements over the loudspeaker system, warning that the floors in some places might be wet and slippery.
This four-track station was planned in the 1980s and built in the 1990s for the purpose of allowing the EuroStar trains from London to make a quick stop in Lille, with no change of direction, before continuing on to Brussels or Paris.
Appropriately, the ugly multi-lane speedway and viaduct that cuts across the top of the station is called Avenue Le Corbusier, named after the notorious architect and city-planner Le Corbusier (1887-1965).
Le Corbusier was one of those who advocated making cities fit for cars and thus unfit for people. Unfortunately he was very influential, like his contemporary Robert Moses in the United States. City planning by Le Corbusier and Robert Moses consisted of tearing down historic city districts to make room for skyscrapers intertwined with huge freeways so the automobile could be the main form of transportation. In the second half of the twentieth century numerous cities throughout the world implemented these ideas, leading to the unlivable urban wastelands and high-rise slums that we all know today.
Not surprisingly, Le Corbusier was a Nazi-sympathizer and collaborated with the Vichy regime in France during the Second World War.
One of the strange things about the architecture of the station Lille-Europe is that the two tracks in this photo are open to view from the top and get lots of natural light, while the other two are hidden away in the cellar and have a dank and dusky feeling about them.
Another thing that struck me about the station Lille-Europe is how few trains actually stop here. During the afternoon there are only two departures per hour on average, as opposed to twenty or more departures from the traditional terminus station Lille-Flandres.
Apparently the only trains that stop at Lille-Europe are through trains, for instance the EuroStar trains from Paris to London or Brussels to London, also the TGV trains from Brussels to various destinations in France.
The four tracks at Lille-Europe are numbered 44, 46, 43 and 45. Perhaps someone can tell me why they chose these particular numbers, instead of (for instance) 1, 2, 3 and 4.
On an average day there are about twenty-five non-stop TGV trains (Train à Grande Vitesse = Train of High Speed) from Lille to Paris. Most of these leave from the traditional main station Lille-Flandres, but mine left from the newer station Lille-Europe because it was coming from Brussels with just a short stop in Lille.
This journey from Lille to Paris took one hour and nine minutes, non-stop. The normal price was listed as 59 Euros, but since I had booked well ahead of time I only paid 15 Euros for a ticket category called “TGV Prem’s”, which cannot be exchanged or refunded. (But for that price, who cares?)
The system of price categories for the TGV trains is rather complicated and seems to be different for each train, depending on the time of day and the number of seats still available. Seat reservations are required and are included in the price.
We left Lille-Europe on time and arrived at Paris-Nord on time. The ride was smooth and uneventful.
My photos in this post are from 2013. I revised the text in 2018.
See also: By train to Marseille.