Culture Magazine

Paris's Missing Museum

By Carolineld @carolineld
There is no shortage of museums in Paris - from the great national institutions to the smaller, quirkier collections. However, one type of museum is perhaps conspicuous by its absence. For unlike London, Paris does not have a transport museum. 

Paris's missing museum

No smoking and spitting


It does, thankfully, have a collection, held by RATP (the city's public transport operator, not unfamiliar to Londoners since it also runs a number of our bus routes). The historical vehicles, signage, and assorted other objects are stored outside the city in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges. They are beautifully kept and displayed, but only visited by special arrangement (my tour was organised by the Seine-Saint-Denis tourist board, who have an excellent programme of events). 
Paris's missing museum
The station feels a long way from Paris: small and quiet, with few facilities. But a bus meets us here - a vintage vehicle from the collection itself.
Paris's missing museum
Our destination is an unremarkable warehouse - but there are treasures inside! We are guided through over  a century of public transport, beginning with the métro. It's younger than London's, so never ran on steam engines: the first underground trains ran in 1900. However, the modern, electrical railway suffered a disaster only a few years later, at Couronnes station in 1903. A short circuit caused a train to catch fire; the resulting smoke overwhelmed the evacuating passengers, and 83 lives were lost.
Paris's missing museum
The consequent safety improvements are well-illustrated by the trains on display. A recreation of the original, all-wooden train also illustrates the luxurious first-class carriage interiors. (This is the only replica in the collection.)
Paris's missing museum
Paris's missing museum
First and second classes were maintained in the next generation of trains. Their passenger accommodation was still made of wood, although they had been modified quickly after the Couronnes tragedy to have metal driver's cabs.
Paris's missing museum
By 1908, the first fully-metal trains were introduced.
Paris's missing museum
Metro trains continued to develop - as did their branding. Separate companies were united into the RATP in 1949, but the logo changes continued.
Paris's missing museum
One famous Parisian innovation - whose prototype is here - is the use of pneumatic tyres. They brought better acceleration and braking, better passenger comfort ... and no more sounds of shrieking metal. However, the expense of converting tracks to accommodate them means they are used on only a minority of Parisian metro lines.
Paris's missing museum
Paris's missing museum
A second hall holds buses, most of which belong not to the RATP but to Sauvabus. The volunteers of this organisation keep many of the buses in working order - including the one that brought us here.
Paris's missing museum
Another bus from the collection takes us back to the station. Travelling home in modern vehicles, one has a new appreciation for the history of this network - and for London's good fortune in having a dedicated museum in the heart of the city. 
Paris's missing museum
There is also a museum of urban transport just east of Paris, with a collection drawn from across France. The Musée des Transports Urbains has moved around in recent years, only opening on a few special occasions each year; but is now settled at Chelles, with monthly openings. Something for my next visit to the city!

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