Gare de Saint Germain en Laye



The Disappointed Tourist: Gare de Saint Germain en Laye, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

In 1835, the brothers Pereire obtained a concession from the Compagnie du Chemin de fer de Paris à Saint-Germain. It was the first line departing Paris and the first line to carry passengers as well as good in France. They opened their 19 km line in 1837, but only as far as Le Pecq because the daunting incline necessary to reach Saint-Germain-en-Laye was beyond the locomotives of the day. The brothers ended up using the atmospheric railway system used in Dalkey for an extension to Saint Germain itself, and construction started in 1845, with a wooden bridge crossing the Seine followed by a twenty-arch masonry viaduct and two tunnels in front of the castle. The extension was opened on 15 April 1847; it was 1.5 km in length on a gradient of 1 in 28 (35 mm/m). The traction pipe was laid between the rails; it had a diameter of 63 cm (25 inches) with a slot at the top. The slot was closed by two leather flaps. The pumps were powered by two steam engines with a capacity of 200 hp, located between the two tunnels at Saint-Germain. Train speed on the ascent was 35 km/h (22 mph). On the descent the train ran by gravity as far as Pecq, where the steam locomotive took over for the run to Paris. The system was technically successful, but the development of more powerful steam locomotives led to its abandonment from 3 July 1860, when steam locomotive ran throughout from Paris to Saint Germain, being assisted by a pusher locomotive up the gradient. This arrangement continued for more than sixty years until the electrification of the line. The station house was designed by the company’s architect Alfred Armand and demolished in 1972 and replaced by the new RER station. The painting is based on an old postcard that I found in Joseph Brennan’s essay “The Atmospheric Road,” where I also got much of the information about the railway station.

For me that train station represented the gateway to my vacation time, most of it spent in our family home, located in the countryside of Haute Marne, near the dividing line between Champagne & Burgundy. As you know, train stations carried much more ‘weight’ in Europe than they did here.  As my parents did not own a car in the city, trains were the mode of transportation of choice (and my favorite toy when I grew up). All the happy vacation memories started with a walk (with suitcase) to and through the StG train station. This station (and the LONG stairs, for a young child, leading to the tracks below) does not exist anymore. The building that once stood on the street level, located next to the Church, the castle + gardens, city hall has disappeared giving more room to roam. The modern station is now underground and the big ‘hole’ in front of the Chateau filled. Etienne F.