Auber station, just behind the Paris Opera, serves the RER (local railway): you can catch a train from here to Disneyland. However, there's little magic and sparkle on view.
The gloomy lighting, dated styling, and general air of mild decay belie this station's history. When it opened in 1971, it was one of the largest and most advanced underground stations in the world. If such size seems excessive for a single railway line with a maximum of thirty trains an hour, it's partly because tunnels also link the RER station to another, Haussmann-Saint Lazare, as well as three nearby Metro stations, and the mainline Saint Lazare station. However, the train hall and ticket hall themselves are enormous: the train hall is 225 metres long and 24 metres wide. There are 73 escalators, 15 lifts, and 4 km of tunnels.
|Popular Science, August 1972|
In 1972, Popular Science was enthusiastic about 'one of three stations operating to date in a visionary new super-subway system.' It enthused about this 'veritable subterranean cathedral' with its cutting-edge technology:
I bought a ticket at a remarkable vending machine whose mini-computer does most of the thinking for harassed travellers. The RER network is pictorially represented with push-buttons; another 10-button row selects ticket categories - single, return, etc. After you push two buttons, the mini-computer calculates the fare and displays it with electronic digital readouts. You then drop coins in the appropriate slots or insert a 10-franc note in a scanner. The machine prints your ticket on a blank card with magnetic coding carrying up to 60 bits of information.
|Popular Science, August 1972: ticket machine, Auber|
The interior didn't rely on its scale for effect. It also had some eye-catching features, particularly the 'igloo domes' which housed shops, a bank, and a travel agency. They are long gone, sadly.
|Popular Science, August 1972: ticket barriers and igloo domes|
The difficulties of building such a large underground space below central Paris can be imagined. After all, sewers, a Metro line, the historical Opera building, and some of Paris' most prestigious department stores are immediately above. To make matters worse, the ground here is particularly wet - and indeed, it's water ingress which accounts for much of the dank, stained appearance of the station today. The station of the future has lost its shine.
I was taking the RER to some rather more beautiful examples of innovative engineering: the former Menier Chocolate Factory at Noisiel, with its extraordinary mill.