By train to Toulon

Unlike Victor Hugo, who traveled from Marseille to Toulon by stagecoach in 1839, I came by train. His excuse was that the railroad didn’t even reach Toulon until twenty years after his visit. Actually stagecoaches had become quite comfortable by 1839, because they were equipped with metal springs (a Scottish invention) to cushion the jolts and bumps of the road. Poor Mozart didn’t live long enough to experience such luxury.

My train took about 45 minutes to cover the 65 km from Marseille, with several stops along the way. One of the stops was at La Ciotat, which was something of an ah-ha experience because in 1895 the Lumière brothers made one of their early films there, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, a fifty-second silent black-and-white film which was long believed to have caused panic among the first spectators because they thought the steam locomotive was really coming towards them.

This is an urban legend, nothing more. Motion pictures were a novelty in 1895, but trains were not. Trains had been running for half a century by that time, and everybody knew that as a general rule they stayed on their tracks and did not jump up onto the platform where people were waiting.

When you watch this little film, note that the passengers waiting at the station or getting on or off the train never look at the camera, which is strange because the film camera was a new invention that most of them had probably never seen before. The theory (proposed by the German professor Martin Loiperdinger, among others) is that the scene was staged by Louis Lumière, and that the ‘passengers’ were actually extra players (including several members of the Lumière family) who had been instructed to ignore the camera and obediently did so.

Toulon railway station

Multimodal interchange hub

When I was there in October 2012, the space in front of the Toulon railroad station was being transformed into something that was rather grandly described as the Futur Pôle d’Échanges Multimodal de Toulon, which means a future multimodal interchange hub.

The point of this is that in the future we will be able to change from one mode of transportation (like the train) to another (like the bus), as though we couldn’t do that already. Actually Toulon is one of the least multi-modal cities in France, because they have no métro, no tramway, no bike-sharing system and hardly any bicycle lanes, just buses and cars — masses of cars.

Cars in front of the station, 2012

From the advertising sketches of this new project, it looks as though they want to expand the space in front of the station and get rid of the cars, but in fact the project includes a new two-storey underground parking garage that will attract even more cars to the area.

On the other hand, they have also promised to provide parking facilities for bicycles and motorcycles, and to renovate the station building, so perhaps some good might come of the project after all.

My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2018.

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