Tramway as a form of public transport appeared in Paris in 1855 when French inventor Alphonse Loubat (the man who invented grooved rail) built on of the first horse-drawn lines. As the technology moved forward, steam, pneumatic and finally electric trams came to use. The golden age of the tram was in 1920s. At that time overall length of tramlines in Ile-de-France region was more than 1100 km; there were 122 routes served by more than 3000 trams. The system carried 720 million passengers yearly. Studies were carried to build new lines in the suburbs of Paris but they were never realised.
By the end of 1920s the automobilization gained momentum and the car makers along with petroleum companies gained political power. Tramway began being presented and perceived by the public as an obstacle for growing car traffic, a reason of congestion and overall as an outdated form of transport comparing to buses (which were produced and fueled by the same car and oil companies). By 1938 the pressure from the car lobby lead to a series of planning decisions which put an end to one of the most significant tramway networks of its time. Isolated lines in the suburbs were not closed until 1950s. It’s worth mentioning that exactly the same was happening in cities all over the world. As for Paris, it became an example for other French cities to remove tramway lines in favor of growing car traffic. Ironically these smaller cities suffered more than the capital because they didn’t have extensive subway systems to substitute the tram.
In 1971 French president George Pompidou stated that “cities must adapt to the car”. For decades, especially after the Second World War, automobilisation was perceived as a symbol of progress and prosperity and extensive construction of car infrastructure (highways and freeways, street widening, huge car parkings) was a priority for local, regional and national governments. But by the mid-1980s, after several oil and energy crisises and because of the growing understanding of the negative impact of car traffic on the quality of life in cities, interest for public transportation started growing again. Rapid transit such as metro and trains requires significant investing and takes a long time to build, therefore tramway as a cost-effective solution appeared on the agenda.
The first tramway lines in Ile-de-France region (T1 and T2) were built in the suburbs to the west and to the north of Paris. (Note: almost all the public transport in the capital region is run by RATP operator, so the lines are numbered independently of the municipality in which they’re laid). Tramway line T3 is the first line in the Paris proper and I would like to elaborate on it more thoroughly as it represents not only a modern transportation solution but also an innovative approach to rehabilitation of urban space.