To Lyon by train

From March 2012 to the beginning of the corona virus pandemic in 2020, there was a direct high-speed train connection (only once a day, but still) from Frankfurt via Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Strasbourg, Belfort and Besançon to Lyon, and then on to Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille, all without changing trains. Before that (and now, not that it would make much sense to travel during the pandemic), you either had to go by way of Switzerland, changing trains twice each way, or take a huge detour, changing trains in Brussels (which is way out of the way) and/or Paris (which means not only changing trains but also changing stations).

For the direct connection from Frankfurt to Lyon and Marseille they originally intended to use a new version of the German ICE (InterCityExpress) trains, but this new version had (surprise!) serious technical difficulties, as the German ICE trains tend to have, so they ended up using a new double-decker version of the French TGV (“Train of Great Speed”) instead.

The Part-Dieu railway station in Lyon

Whichever way you come, your train will stop at this quite new railroad station (opened in 1978) called Gare de Lyon Part-Dieu. This is where I arrived on a regional express train from Geneva, Switzerland, on my visit to Lyon in 2011.

The new station Part-Dieu was part of an urban development program which included numerous office buildings (including one skyscraper, commonly known as “the pencil” because of its shape) and of course a huge shopping center. This was all intended to make the Part-Dieu district “the second center of Lyon”, the first being the peninsula between the two rivers.

For years I was puzzled by the name Part-Dieu, which I thought meant “part of God” or “God’s departure” or even “godforsaken”. But it turns out that the name dates back to the Middle Ages and means “property of God”, presumably because the land was owned by some sort of convent or monastery.

Vélo’v bicycle station at Part-Dieu

There are two large and very busy Vélo’v stations at the Part-Dieu railway station. The one in the photo is the Vélo’v station “3001 – Part-Dieu / Vivier Merle” with 40 docking stands. Just off to the left is the station “3002 – Part-Dieu / Gare SNCF”.

Waiting for their track numbers

A quaint peculiarity of the French railway system is that they don’t announce the track numbers beforehand, but keep you in suspense until about ten or fifteen minutes before departure time. So in French railroad stations you often see people staring at the departure board waiting for their track number to come up. This last-minute allocation of track numbers is supposed to increase the efficiency of the stations, but I’m not at all sure it really does. As a passenger I prefer the Swiss and German system of allocating tracks in advance and listing them in the timetable, even though changes are sometimes necessary in case of delays.

Perrache Railway Station in Lyon

This station, Gare Perrache, was built in 1855. For a hundred and twenty-three years it was the main station of Lyon, until the opening of the new Part-Dieu station in 1978.

In the 1970s a huge motorway and parking garage were built directly in front of the Perrache station, so the front façade is no longer visible, in fact the whole station has disappeared behind of mass of grey concrete. This was some people’s idea of progress in the twentieth century, but now you would be hard-put to find anyone who approves of this “wall of shame” or “connerie du siècle” (crap of the century), as a more recent mayor described it.

It is still possible to find your way into the station, however, and there are still trains leaving from here, for instance heading for destinations to the south of Lyon such as Saint-Étienne or Vienne. Some trains stop at both stations, Perrache and Part-Dieu.

My photos in this post are from 2011 and 2014. I revised the text in 2020.

See more posts on Lyon, France.
See more posts on train travel.

6 thoughts on “To Lyon by train”

  1. How is the covid-19 situation in Germany right now? Are people actually travelling at all by train…or just for work purposes?

    1. I haven’t traveled at all for the last three months, so I can’t speak from personal experience. But the trains going past our neighborhood still don’t look very full.

  2. We’ve taken the train to Bordeaux and Tours but never Lyon. It is one French city that has escaped us but when we go, it will be by train, probably from Paris.

    Very interesting.

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