Brexit worries prompt Gare Du Nord redevelopments

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An artist's rendering of what a redeveloped and expanded Gare du Nord passenger train station might look like.
Submitted illustration
LONDON — Passengers taking the Eurostar from London to Paris after Britain departs the European Union on March 29, 2019, may face lengthy queues and extra checks at Paris’s Gare du Nord station as France’s state rail operator bolsters border controls.

The French state railroad operator SNCF is wrestling with how to resolve the issue of the re-introduction of border controls between the two countries. The need to re-install a physical barrier has prompted a redevelopment of the railroad station that would address “the challenges of reinforced border controls due to Brexit.”

The United Kingdom’s departure from the EU throws into doubt the future of an existing special agreement that smoothes the passport-checking process at each end of the two-hour international journey underneath the English Channel.

However, the need to accommodate the new border controls has led the railroad operator to draw up ambitious plans for a multi-million dollar scheme to redevelop the 154-yeear old station. In a curious twist, planners wish to follow the redevelopment of London’s St. Pancras station, the origin of the Eurostars that arrive at the downtown Paris terminus.

Aiming to treble the size of the existing terminus, the Gare du Nord could see a glassed-in street to introduce light, and a rooftop sports complex — even a golf course.

At an extraordinary SNCF Board of Directors meeting on July 9, the railroad entered into an exclusive contract with property developer Ceetrus to undertake the major transformation project of the station, which will treble in size by 2024 in time to support Paris’ hosting of the Olympic Games that year.

“The Gare du Nord project illustrates Ceetrus’ commitment and its ambition to become a global urban actor at the service of the citizens and the city of tomorrow to forge links and embellish everyday life,” says Vianney Mulliez, Ceetrus president.

As part of the deal, Ceetrus and SNCF’s Stations and Connections subsidiary will operate the Gare du Nord for a period of 35 to 46 years. Architectual firm Valode et Pistre says its ambition is to turn the station into an “urban complex” with a single entrance, fronted by a court, east of the existing station. The gloomy interior will be lightened with an internal street covered by a glass roof, which Valode says will create a “path of light” to guide users through the building.

The new design is also intended to make the station a destination in its own right, thanks to an improved retail, commercial, cultural, sports and co-working office facilities. This will include turning the roof into a sports complex complete with a basketball court and a golf course.

SNCF president Guillaume Pepy says the project would emulate London St. Pancras station, to which it is linked by Eurostar. This will include an enlarged departure hall, increasing from about 160,000 square feet to nearly 400,000 square feet, and will feature a gallery 60-feet tall and nearly 1,000 feet wide. There will also be an extended Eurostar terminal, accessibility improvements and a new station front on the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis.

Though it is best known to travellers as the terminus of the cross-channel train, the Gare du Nord is also the terminus of intercity TGV services to and from the north of the country, Belgium, Netherlands, as well as services to the Parisian suburbs.
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