Streetcars Making Comeback in Paris

The last Paris tram ground to a halt 60 years ago. Now a new tram line is being introduced with lots of fanfare. France hopes this return to the past will ring in a new era of urban mobility. The tram is quiet, fast and comfortable -- a perfect remedy for traffic jams.

Published: 18-Dec-2006

First all you hear is a high-pitched bell -- "Dong-dong" -- then a multi-car motor coach approaches almost silently on rails mounted within a neat strip of trimmed lawn. Whenever the tram reaches a crossing, the traffic light automatically changes to green, prompting mildly irritated looks from pedestrians and drivers.

"It's excellent," says 39-year-old Olivier Rampnoux, who steers the high-tech train from inside his conductor's compartment. He was a bus driver before being re-trained for the tram -- and after 14 years behind the wheel, he very much enjoys his new workplace. "No ticket sales, no questions from anxious passengers, no stress," he says in praise of the closed-off cockpit. The only thing that took some getting used to was the longer braking distance of the tram, which travels mostly on its own exclusive grassy route. "It comes down to less stress, but more foresight," Rampnoux says with a grin. "It's different from a bus -- you can't swerve out of the way."

The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Champs Élysées were never the only attractions the French capital had to offer. The Paris subway, the métro, always featured among the city's (perhaps less-spectacular) attractions. But now that legendary train has competition: This weekend, to much fanfare, Paris will celebrate the opening of its first latter-day tram line, the "T3," which will let visitors travel to the very edge of the capital -- on surface streets, and in style.


The proposed Transbay Transit Center with its possible 1,200-foot tower, elevated public park the length of five football fields and room for high-speed trains someday linking California's major cities.


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