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In Paris, there are two large train stations close to each other, but still separate and at a walking distance: "The (train) station of the North" - Gare du Nord, and "The (train) station of the East" - Gare de l'Est.

Now, you might think maybe one of them faces North and the others faces East, so that trains don't have to make the turn, or something (I still don't see why the couldn't have two platform areas as part of the same station even in this case) - but they both face North-North-East.

So what's the logic of having both these stations? I'm guessing there's some historical, rather than technical, reason for this. Also, is it fair to assume that trains travelling from/to East of Paris will always stop at Est and trains travelling from/to North of Paris will always stop at Nord?

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    This is not specific to Paris. In London, Kings Cross and St Pancras stations are right next door to each other, with Euston just a few blocks away. And back when Broad Street station existed, it was next door to Liverpool Street. – Henning Makholm Apr 15 '18 at 20:15
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Apr 18 '18 at 19:19
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The Gare du Nord was originally the Paris terminus of the Compagnie des chemins de fer du Nord (see Wikipedia). The Gare de l'Est was originally the Paris terminus of the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer de Paris à Strasbourg, which became the Compagnie des chemins de fer de l'Est (see also Wikipedia).

These companies, with others, were eventually amalgamated into the SNCF in the 1930s, but by that stage there were already two stations with different railway lines going into each.

In general, trains from the Gare du Nord take the Lille line north (to e.g. Picardy, Calais, Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne and London) and trains from the Gare de l'Est tend take the Strasbourg and Mulhouse lines east (to e.g. Strasbourg, Luxembourg, Frankfurt, Munich, Moscow). However, trains from e.g. Normandy go into Gare Saint-Lazare, and trains from the south-east go into Gare de Lyon.

The following map shows where the lines from each of the Paris stations go. The original can be found here, by Wikimedia Commons user Sémhur.

French railway map

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    Similarly, St. Pancras was the London terminus for the Midland Railway, and Kings Cross was the London terminus for the Great Northern Railway. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 15 '18 at 21:57
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    Historically, if you were starting from London and caught the boat-train from Victoria, you would arrive in Paris at the Gar du Nord, which was as far south as the service ran, and it was then a real pain getting to the Gar de Lyon to change trains for a connection to the Riviera. – Ed999 Apr 15 '18 at 23:37
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    Ah, capitalism en France – smci Apr 16 '18 at 0:11
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    Similar (but in the end, opposite) historical reasons are why the main train stations in many American cities are called "Union Station" - such as in DC - because instead of each train company building its own right next to each other, they all shared a single station built as a partnership, or "union". – Moshe Katz Apr 16 '18 at 1:30
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    @OscarBravo No it doesn't. It's a map of where trains go from Paris. It's centred on Paris by definition. If you made a similar map for any other city in the world that has more than one railway terminus, it would look essentially the same. – David Richerby Apr 16 '18 at 14:01
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The simple answer is that the reasons are exactly the same as in London, where, in the Victorian age, different parts of the railway network were built and owned by different private companies.

In the capital city, because this was the only city served by all the main lines, each network built its own main terminus station. However, it was convenient for passengers if these stations were fairly close together, so the second railway company to be founded built its station close by that of the first. Then it could advertise, as part of its service, the ease of transferring to a train on the rival network.

In London, this led to the main three stations - Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston - all being within 5 minutes walk of each other. Similarly in Paris. It must be remembered that the railways were invented by George Stephenson in England, which had the first railway network, and that other countries - France, Germany - based their systems on successful design features of the original English system.

Thus it occurred for historical reasons only, in an age long before the railways passed into the ownership of the State, which didn't occur until after World War Two.

  • SNCF was created in 1938, with the nationalization and merger of the separate companies. Well before the end of WW2. – user67108 Apr 16 '18 at 3:46
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    "The main three stations"? According to Wikipedia they're the 5th, 7th and 8th busiest in London... – AndyT Apr 16 '18 at 8:19
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    @AndyT I wonder if there's a little confusion with mainline as these stations have fewer commuter trains (I believe) than some of the busier ones (especially if you include Waterloo East with Waterloo) – Chris H Apr 16 '18 at 8:26
  • @ChrisH But they're not "the three mainline stations", either: Paddington is indisputably a mainline station and one would probably want to include at least Waterloo and Liverpool Street on the list, too. – David Richerby Apr 16 '18 at 13:55
  • @DavidRicherby, that's right. I just gave some quick examples to indicate that main in the sense of most used and main line in the sense of lots of long distance trains aren't the same. But it's probably (on re-reading) just a matter of wording - "three of the main" would be true. – Chris H Apr 17 '18 at 5:53
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If you look at the map, the two stations are separated by not much more than the width of the platforms in each station.

There is a hospital dating back to 1653 between the two stations. If that hospital and other buildings had been razed they could have easily joined the two stations into one enormous station, however since the trains from Gare de l'Est all curve to the right and go East, and the trains from Gare du Nord go north it may have made more sense to keep them separate, both from the pov of retaining existing historic buildings and from the point of view of making it easy for passengers.

enter image description here

  • If they'd razed several city blocks and moved one of the two stations, sure they could have built them next to one another. But how does that answer the question? And how is it easier to have two stations? It really wouldn't be complicated to have platforms 1-25 for trains to the north and 26-50 for trains to the east (or whatever numbers). – David Richerby Apr 17 '18 at 14:07
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    Is there actually a restaurant in Paris called "French Restaurant"? – Azor Ahai Apr 17 '18 at 21:33
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    @AzorAhai That's where French cuisine was invented and every French chef was trained! – curiousdannii Apr 18 '18 at 2:14
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I won’t repeat the very good answers which explain that this is for historic reasons when the two concessions were run by separate companies.

However, I would like to point out that:

  • trains for the RER E suburban line come from lines linked to the Gare de l’Est, but end up in underground station Magenta which is actually closer to Gare du Nord (and connected to all the metro, RER, suburban and mainline train platforms of Gare du Nord)

  • there haven been several projects to connect the two stations, though this has never been achieved yet. It’s regularly revived.

  • the CDG Express line will depart from Gare de l’Est, but will use a short connecting track (la virgule, “the comma”) to join tracks coming from Gare du Nord

So the separation between the two is not as strict as it may seem.

  • So why won't the CDG express leave from Gare du Nord to begin with? – einpoklum Apr 17 '18 at 0:10
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    @einpoklum Gare du Nord is completely saturated. It is already the largest train station in Europe by number of passengers (and the largest in the world if you exclude Japan), and there are just no platforms available for this new service. – jcaron Apr 17 '18 at 11:24
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I don't know the specifics related to the situation in Paris, but as Henning mentions in comments, this is not specific to Paris.

I guess in most cases the reasons are historic. A couple of things that might or might not be relevant to any case:

  1. The stations might have been owned by different companies that wanted to run trains in roughly the same direction.

  2. The two train stations might have grown to being closer to each other.

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    Railway stations aren't all that big. If two railway stations are, say, five kilometers apart, even if they both grow massively, they'll still be 4.5km apart. Railway stations don't grow to be significantly closer to one another. – David Richerby Apr 16 '18 at 13:57
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Note that major airports usually have more than one Terminal building. It's one airport with one set of runways, but there's multiple physical buildings with duplicating infrastructure and expensive people movers between them.

The reason here is that you can cram that much people into one building, especially when it's a historic building. I guess you can view these multiple train stations as different terminals of a same station. Which are sorted by destination rather by carrier.

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    I don't think that's a useful or accurate analogy. First, the actual reason is usually that railways were originally developed as private enterprises so stations close to one another would be competitors, rather than different sections of a harmonious whole. Second, the multiple terminals of an airport share the runways, whereas the different railway stations necessarily use separate tracks. – David Richerby Apr 16 '18 at 14:00
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    That's why I said it's usually the reason for rail terminals. And, while many airports are run by private companies, I'd be interested to hear of any example where different terminals of the same airport are owned and operated by separate companies. (In particular, the airport owner contracting different companies to run different terminals would not be a case of this.) – David Richerby Apr 16 '18 at 14:21
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    "is not always true for rail terminals". But it is for the ones in this question (and the ones in London that answers compare the situation to). – TripeHound Apr 16 '18 at 14:30
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    @DavidRicherby there's plenty of cases where terminal A is used by airline A exclusively, and terminal B is used by other airlines. I understand you was talking more about the operator of the airport and not the airline, but usually nobody cares about the operator of the airport. – alamar Apr 16 '18 at 14:59
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    @alamar Sure, nobody usually cares about the operator of the airport. The exception to that would be when somebody is trying to use airports as an analogy for railway stations and part of the reason the analogy fails is that an airport is a single entity built and operated by a single organization using shared infrastructure, whereas separate railways stations were usually built and operated by different organizations using different infrastructure. – David Richerby Apr 16 '18 at 15:24

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