Small Belt Line (Petite Ceinture)

The Petite Ceinture de Paris (Small Belt of Paris) is a 32 kilometer double-tracked railway that was built from 1852 to 1869, encircling Paris just inside the current boundaries of the city. Its original purpose was to transfer freight between the various railroad lines coming into Paris from different directions, but soon it was also used for passenger trains.

Petite Ceinture in the 19th arrondissement, rue de Crimée

Passenger service on the Petite Ceinture was discontinued in 1934, but the line was still used to transfer freight until the 1990s. Since then it has been more or less abandoned, but some of the tracks still exist and can be seen in various places such as the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th arrondissement (first and second photos here in this post).

Nature path on the route of the old Belt Line in Auteuil

In other places, the tracks have been removed but the right of way has been preserved for use as a walking and jogging trail. This is the case in Auteuil, for example, in the southwest corner of Paris.

Park on a platform above the old railway line, 13th arrondissement

Parts of the old right of way can also be used for walking or jogging in the 13th arrondissement near the Chambord Tower, but other parts have been covered up by the park Jardin du Moulin de la Pointe, which was built on a platform over the old railway.

Petite Ceinture bridge above the new tramway station at Porte de Vincennes

Since the Petite Ceinture runs roughly parallel to the new tramway T-3a and T-3b, there was a long controversy in the 1990s about whether or not the tramway should be built at all. Some people argued that it would be simpler and less expensive to reactivate the Petite Ceinture instead. The automotive lobbies also liked this idea because it would have caused less disruption of motor traffic.

Reduction of motor traffic was one of the objectives of the tramway project, however, so the tramway eventually won out. Also, the tramway stations are closer together and are right where people need them, unlike the old Petite Ceinture stations.

My photos in this post are from 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2015. I revised the text in 2021.

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6 thoughts on “Small Belt Line (Petite Ceinture)”

  1. Baltimore also had various train stations – trains did not run through the center of the city. In the case of Baltimore it was because there were different train companies – for instance the B&O RR (Baltimore and Ohio) was on the west side of the city, the Pennsylvia on the north side and the Norfolk Southern on the south. But I think Baltimore was unique in this regard while in Europe it was pretty normal to have more than one train station. Was this because trains were not allowed to run through the city? Or what is also the case of different RR companies.

    1. During my childhood, there were six different stations in downtown Chicago, mainly because of different RR companies. I think that was also the main reason in Paris.

  2. I visited a small slice of la Petite Ceinture when I was in Paris (I believe in the southwest part of town, as that was the only opening I could find with the still-existing train tracks. It definitely felt eerie and abandoned, with some graffiti along the tunnel– but it was certainly a unique experience to check out away from the touristy sites!

  3. Auteuil, enshrined in a poem by Verlaine:

    Âme, te souvient-il, au fond du paradis,
    De la gare d’Auteuil et des trains de jadis
    T’amenant chaque jour, venus de La Chapelle ?
    Jadis déjà ! Combien pourtant je me rappelle
    Mes stations au bas du rapide escalier
    Dans l’attente de toi, sans pouvoir oublier
    Ta grâce en descendant les marches, mince et leste
    Comme un ange le long de l’échelle céleste,
    Ton sourire amical ensemble et filial,
    Ton serrement de main cordial et loyal,
    Ni tes yeux d’innocent, doux mais vifs, clairs et sombres,
    Qui m’allaient droit au cœur et pénétraient mes ombres.

    1. This is a poem I have never seen before, and I never knew Verlaine had any connection to Auteuil. In the 1880s there was direct train service on the Petite Ceinture from Porte de la Chapelle to Auteuil-Boulogne, with ten stops along the way. Today this journey would take 47 minutes on the Métro, with one change of train.
      The only poem I know about Auteuil is Le Pont Mirabeau by Apollinaire, which I have quoted here: https://operasandcycling.com/mirabeau-bridge-in-paris/ .

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