Public transport in Lyon

On the evening of January 29, 1956, the last tram (aka streetcar) made its last run on the last line of Lyon’s urban tramway system. That was the old line number 4 from Perrache Station to the Parc de la Tete d’Or.

“At that period, and for several decades afterwards,” according to the website, “no one could imagine that someday the Lyon tramway might circulate again on the streets of the city.”

It took nearly a quarter century before a few politicians started suspecting that maybe the tram wasn’t such a bad thing after all. And it wasn’t until 1990 that the newly elected mayor of Lyon, Michel Noir, publicly suggested bringing back the trams. Over a decade later the first two lines of the new tramway network went into service.

“So it happened that 44 years, 11 months and 4 days after the last run of the last tram on the old tram network of Lyon, the modern tramway resumed its place in the lives of the inhabitants of the metropolitan area on January 2, 2001.”

Now (as of 2017) there are five modern tram lines in operation on the streets of Lyon and vicinity. My lead photo on this post shows the new tramway T-1 at Perrache Station.

The trams have total priority at traffic lights, since a sensor is located between the rails several hundred meters before each crossing, causing the lights to turn red for motor traffic so the tramway can cross unhindered.

On the official website of the Grand Lyon Urban Community we can read: “Respectful of the environment, silent and comfortable, the tramway has re-taken its place in the large urban areas of France.”

Even Paris has started to follow the example of other French cities such as Nantes, Grenoble, Strasbourg, Montpellier, Lyon, Nancy, Orleans or Bordeaux, and has built its first modern tramway line, which began operation at the end of 2006. While building the tracks and stations, they took the opportunity to widen sidewalks, plant trees, build new cycling paths and install an attractive new street lighting system, so as to upgrade an area which until then was more of a motorized jungle than a habitable urban neighborhood. The new Paris tramway, like the ones in other French cities, has been a great success and has since been extended. Now Paris has two tramway lines, which together run nearly two-thirds of the way around the perimeter of the city.

Trolleybus in Lyon

Unlike most other French cities, Lyon never completely abandoned its old network of trolleybus lines. Instead, these lines have been modernized. They now use modern Cristalis trolleybuses, either simple or articulated. (‘Articulated’ means it has two sections connected by a flexible joint, which looks like an accordian.)

These lines now run mainly on reserved bus lanes to avoid getting stuck in traffic jams. Like the tramways, the three “C-lines” using 18-meter articulated trolleybuses have sensors which automatically change the traffic lights when a trolleybus is approaching.

(Cristalis in this connection is not a Japanese computer game but rather a French bus building consortium.)

The “C-lines” are intended to combine “the advantages of a tram with the flexibility of a bus” at a much lower cost for the building of the infrastructure. But actually they are not as flexible as normal buses because they can’t stray far from their overhead wires. 

Trolleybus number 6 at the opera house

For those who are not familiar with trolleybuses, I should point out that they have separate connections to two overhead wires, so as to complete the electrical circuit. (Of course the two wires must not be allowed to touch each other, as that would cause a short circuit.) Trams only need one overhead wire because they are grounded by the metal tracks that they run on.

Trolleybuses are also used extensively in the Swiss cities of Zürich, Bern, Luzern and Geneva, but I’m sorry to say they have been phased out in Basel — but that is understandable, in a way, because Basel is not as hilly as the other Swiss cities, and one of the advantages of trolleybuses is that with their rubber tires they get better traction than trams when going up steep hills in the rain or snow, or when there are wet leaves on the streets. 

An articulated Cristalis trolleybus C3 in Lyon

Here (in the photo just above) we have an articulated 18-meter Cristalis trolleybus on the line C3, rounding the corner at the Lyon City Hall. 

Boarding a Métro train in Lyon

Lyon has four modern Métro (aka underground or subway) lines which are designated by capital letters as well as by colors on the map. Line A is red, B is blue, C is orange and D is green.

Lines A and B began operating in 1978, lines C in 1981 and line D in 1991, with various extensions since then. Lines A, B and D run on rubber tires rather than steel wheels, so they are very smooth and quiet. Line D runs automatically, with no driver on board.

I took the Métro only twice, to transport my luggage from the station Part-Dieu to my hotel and back. From Part-Dieu I took line B two stops to Saxe-Gambetta, where I changed to line D and rode two stops to Bellecour.

Boarding the red funicular to Fourvière

There are two funiculars leaving from Vieux Lyon. The red one goes up the hill to the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière, a distance of 431 meters.

Funicular leaving Vieux Lyon for Fourvière

This red funicular has been in service since 1900, except for eight months in 1970 when it was closed for modernization. 

Boarding the orange funicular for St Just

This orange funicular looks much more modern than the red one, but in fact this line is older; it first began operations in 1878. The current two-car trains came into service in 1988.

The orange funicular leaving Vieux Lyon on a separate bridge

This line from Vieux Lyon to St Just is 834 meters long. There is an intermediate stop at Minimes, where you could get off to visit the Roman ruins.

In the orange funicular on the way to St Just

In 2017, the funicular to St Just will be closed from October 16 to November 4 for its annual maintenance.

Restaurant La Terrasse in St Just

St Just itself is a rather nondescript district with lots of automobile traffic. The most attractive looking place I saw in St Just was this restaurant, La Terrasse, which is why I took a picture of it. There are two Vélo’v bicycle stations in St Just, but the problem with them is that most people prefer to ride downhill rather than up, so the stations are often empty. I was lucky enough to find a bike at one of the stations, so I took it and coasted back down the hill to Vieux Lyon.

My photos in this post are from 2011. I revised the text in 2017.

3 thoughts on “Public transport in Lyon”

  1. I remember the tramway in Grenoble, many years ago. It was so silent and ran smoothly. It just seemed to be so modern.

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