The national operator of French railways announced Tuesday evening that it was abandoning the gigantic and controversial plan to transform the Gare du Nord in Paris, citing “unbearable deviations”, especially in terms of cost.
The redesign was designed with Ceetrus, a subsidiary of the Auchan supermarket chain.
“In view of the unsustainable differences in contractual commitments, SNCF Gares & Connexions” can only note the serious failure of its concessionaire and declare its withdrawal, “said the SNCF subsidiary in charge of stations in a press release.
The project consisted of tripling the area of the largest train station in Europe in preparation for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will take place in the French capital.
Following the SNCF announcement, the Paris town hall called for “no further postponement of the modernization and renovation of the station”.
“We are available and ready to undertake a new project to renovate the Gare du Nord in the service of daily users, urban integration and intermodality,” said Emmanuel Grégoire, first deputy mayor, in a press release.
SNCF Gares & Connexions had been warned in July that the estimated cost of the work had slipped, bringing the bill to more than 1.5 billion euros, against the 500 million euros still envisaged at the end of 2020, and that there was a “significant delay” preventing it from being completed by the 2024 Olympics as initially planned.
After abandoning the project with Ceetrus, SNCF Gares & Connexions now promises “a rapid adaptation of the Gare du Nord to the challenges” of the Rugby World Cup in 2023 and the Olympic Games in 2024.
It also undertakes to “design a new transformation project (…) drawn up in close consultation with the public actors concerned”.
The concession was awarded to SA Gare du Nord 2024 (StatioNord), a joint venture formed by the real estate company Ceetrus (66%), a subsidiary of Auchan – in charge of design, works and financing – and SNCF Gares & Connections.
In the initial version of the transformation project, the Gare du Nord was to have a total surface area of 124,000 m² to which is added 88,000 m², nearly half of which would be devoted to an auditorium, cultural facilities, a sports hall as well as as shops and offices.
The project had been the subject of a long controversy with the City of Paris, which had deemed it too commercial and disconnected from the neighborhood, although it had initially approved it.
In September 2020, around twenty renowned architects, including Jean Nouvel and Roland Castro, denounced an “unacceptable” and “pharaonic” project in a column published by the daily Le Monde, calling for it to be “fundamentally redesigned” in height ”.
A less ambitious version of the project was adopted in November which reduced the surface area of shops and services by 15% (or approximately 7,500 square meters) and eliminated the auditorium.
The schedule also pushed back the project deadlines.
It provided for a reconfiguration of the Eurostar terminal before the Rugby World Cup in September 2023, and the delivery of the new departure terminal for June 2024, just in time for the Olympic Games.
But the inauguration of the new complex was no longer expected before 2025.
More than 700,000 people pass through the Gare du Nord every day “and 900,000 are expected by 2030,” said Aude Landy-Berkowitz, Chairman of the Board of StatioNord, in January.