Paris- a city expanding

Around the site, it’s a daily frenzy, with motorcycles jostling for space, car horns honking, and the Eiffel Tower shrouded in smog. This doesn’t worry Philippe Schalbart. He has just left the permanent traffic jam on the Boulevard Périphérique, the overcrowded city ring road. “I would prefer to take the train to work”, the engineer says. “But I live outside Paris. And the rail links there are not good.”

This is set to change, and Philippe Schalbart is helping to make it happen. As Technical Director at construction firm Eiffage, his current workplace is a large construction site in the Parisian district of Batignolles, between the Arc de Triomphe and Montmartre. Portacabins, construction vehicles, machinery, materials – everything is crammed into the tightest space. Two Liebherr tower cranes rise around a shaft: a 630 EC-H 40 Litronic and a 280 EC-H 16 Litronic. It descends deep below ground, where an almost six kilometre long tunnel is being built, taking the Paris metro line 14 out to the northern suburbs.

Schalbart’s construction site is the first stage in implementing the “Grand Paris Express”. This new superlative metro line will make local travel easier in Paris, and prevent gridlock. Sixty-eight new stations are planned. They will function as nodes of urban development and economic growth, as Paris aspires to attain a leading position among world cities.

The ground is like Swiss cheese

“Our tunnel consists of three parts”, Schalbart explains. “The first section links Gare Saint-Lazare with Pont Cardinet, where we are standing. Our tower cranes have already transported all the concrete components for the casing down below ground, and the tunnel is finished. Now drilling is proceeding further out of the city.”

Building the Grand Paris Express is a very special challenge for the tunnel experts. “Paris is rightly compared to a Swiss cheese, because the ground is full of holes everywhere”, Schalbart adds.

At a depth of up to 35 metres, the gigantic tunnel boring machine has to pass beneath an existing railway line, another metro line, and a sewer. It eats its way forward at a rate of between two and four centimetres per minute. “Just from Pont Cardinet to Porte de Clichy, we excavated 84,000 metric tons of demolition waste and earth”, Schalbart says.

The construction project of a century

Grand Paris is approaching with big steps. Construction sites are everywhere. In the center as well as on the periphery. Cranes and construction machines from Liebherr are currently in use in at least eigth locations.

Faster to the destination

It is also about time that Paris moved beyond its borders. The city on the Seine is currently still the smallest of all major world cities. Only 2.2 million people live intra muros, as Parisians say, in an area of just 105 square kilometres. Extra muros – beyond the city gates – the population is twice or three times as large. Since the 1960s, a motorway ring road – the Boulevard Périphérique – has constricted the capital. With more than 21,000 inhabitants per square kilometre, the centre of Paris is almost as densely populated as Mumbai or Shanghai. So it is no wonder that people like Philippe Schalbart have to deal with the daily struggle of chronically congested streets.

It was France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy who launched the Grand Paris project, completely by surprise, in 2007. Its goal is to catapult the city of museums into the top ranks of global megacities. The engine of this great transformation is the Grand Paris Express – comprising four new fully automated regional subway lines and the extension of two existing metro lines. By 2030, the planned lines will double the current public transport network from 200 to 400 kilometres, linking the suburbs around Paris with each other and with the city itself.

A workplace with a view

On the Paris metro construction site, Thomas Brun confidently steers his tower crane over the shaft. From the cab 70 metres up in the air, he enjoys a unique panoramic view. The Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame cathedral, golden domes, Montmartre hill and the Sacré-Cœur church, the Seine river... But the crane operator is fully focused on the ground below him. On the hook of his 630 EC-H 40 Litronic, with millimetre accuracy, he manoeuvres three arch bricks over the shaft, before lowering the 21 metric ton concrete load. His colleagues then load the components for the tunnel walls onto a train that rolls them into the tunnel shaft. Soon this will become part of metro line 14. Brun pauses for a moment, leans back, and points to the neighbourhood around him. Other construction sites border on “his” construction site. “I can see how new buildings are springing up in this district”, says the 36-year-old.

It’s great that I can play a part in modernizing my own neighbourhood.

Thomas Brun

Lifting with zoom

The large urban construction site, with its cordon of cranes, requires a special site architecture: “I can swing over the crane to my right, because I’m so high up”, Brun says. “If my crane was lower, I would get in the way of a third crane. The height of my crane was calculated exactly, taking all construction sites and cranes in the surrounding area into account.” When Brun transports heavy loads, he doesn’t just rely on his eyes. At a distance of 70 metres, he prefers to use the camera system at his side. The screen gives him an optimal view of the hook: “I can zoom in on the load, which means I can position it even more precisely.”

It is lunchtime. Thomas Brun’s shift is ending. Before he climbs down to the ground, he points to the north. “I live over there, behind the new Palais de Justice”, he laughs. “It’s great that I can play a part in modernizing my own neighbourhood.” In the future, he plans to leave his car at home more often, and definitely travel on the new line 14 that he and his colleagues are building.

Underground construction site – clearing the way for the new metro

  • Everything is going to plan
    Grand Paris also calls for organisation on an unprecedented scale. At the metro construction site in the Batignolles district of Paris, continuous communication is key.

    Everything is going to plan

    Grand Paris also calls for organisation on an unprecedented scale. At the metro construction site in the Batignolles district of Paris, continuous communication is key.

  • Maximum power for the tubes
    Beneath the streets of Paris, there are giants at work. Tunnel-boring machines are burrowing through the ground and opening up the way for new metro lines.

    Maximum power for the tubes

    Beneath the streets of Paris, there are giants at work. Tunnel-boring machines are burrowing through the ground and opening up the way for new metro lines.

  • Reaching for perfection
    Storing the prefabricated concrete components for lining the metro tunnel at the constricted inner-city construction site and making them available at the right time requires intelligent planning.

    Reaching for perfection

    Storing the prefabricated concrete components for lining the metro tunnel at the constricted inner-city construction site and making them available at the right time requires intelligent planning.

  • Down into the depths
    Lowering the concrete shells into the metro shaft calls for a high degree of dexterity and experience on the part of the crane drivers. Space is tight down there. There is scarcely any scope for correcting manoeuvres.

    Down into the depths

    Lowering the concrete shells into the metro shaft calls for a high degree of dexterity and experience on the part of the crane drivers. Space is tight down there. There is scarcely any scope for correcting manoeuvres.

  • A seemingly endless tunnel
    After the giants beneath the ground are gone, the tunnel with its sparse lighting seems endless.

    A seemingly endless tunnel

    After the giants beneath the ground are gone, the tunnel with its sparse lighting seems endless.

  • The world's largest construction sites

    Paris is not alone in aspiring to the superlative. Around the globe, people are fascinated by construction sites of breathtaking dimensions. They are beacons of world-class engineering ingenuity.

    Saudi Arabia: from supertall to megatall skyscrapers

    Saudi Arabia is reaching for the stars. On the west coast, the Jeddah Tower is currently under construction. At 1,007 metres, it is set to eclipse the Burj Khalifa, currently the world's tallest building at 828 metres. To put this in context: the Eiffel Tower, until 1930 the world's tallest man-made structure, is just 324 metres tall. The Jeddah Tower will house offices, residential space and a hotel. It is scheduled for completion by the end of 2019.

    China: the world's largest airport

    China's aviation industry is developing rapidly. 46 kilometres south of Beijing, the Beijing-Daxing airport is under construction. Initially, the passenger volume will be 45 million a year. However, with a maximum capacity of 100 to 130 million passengers, it could become the world's largest airport. To put this in context: with around 65.9 million passengers in 2016, Paris Charles-de-Gaulle Airport was in 10th place.

    “Mobility is key”

    Grand Paris is still a large construction site. What does the infrastructure mega-project mean for the French capital’s future? Franck Cazenave, President of the Megacities Institute, shares his views. A non-profit think tank based in Paris, the Megacities Institute aims to help improve the quality of life in urban centers.

    What course can and should Paris take toward a better future for the city?

    The Grand Paris project has two main objectives: firstly, it aims to build public transport – mainly subway and tram lines – to connect the first and second-ring suburbs with each other. That will mean people no longer have to travel through the center! Mobility is at the heart of the project. In less than ten years, 24 billion euros are being invested in public transport. The second goal consists of upgrading the sites and wasteland around the new transport hubs, and building housing there. According to the French national statistics bureau INSEE, 60,000 more people move into the Île-de-France region every year.

    How can the Grand Paris project improve the quality of life in such a fast-growing urban center?

    Mobility is key. The Grand Paris project must ensure that it solves people’s real problems. Our Megacities Institute surveyed 750 residents. The number one complaint was air pollution, followed by the lack of public parking spaces, and thirdly noise pollution. In our international quality of life comparison between cities, for these reasons, Paris only came in at 14th place out of 20.

    Population Estimate in Mio.

    Paris - a megacity?

    Paris wants to be a megacity. The term is used to describe a metropolitan region with more than ten million inhabitants. By 1925, London was the most populated city in the world, with over five million inhabitants. Today, most of the 36 megacities are located in Asia: Tokyo-Yokohama leads the ranking with 37.9 million inhabitants, followed by Jakarta, Delhi and Manila. New York comes in ninth. The largest city in Europe is Moscow in 16th place. The metropolitan area of Paris has a population of 10.9 million and ranks 31st.

    Mobility reinvented – a paradigm shift in Paris

  • An end to traffic jams
    Paris has had enough of mega-traffic jams. The magazine "Les Cahiers Scientifiques du Transport" reports that more and more Parisians are leaving their cars behind and switching to using trams, buses, trains and bicycles. From 1990 to 2015, the proportion of the city's traffic accounted for by cars fell by 45 per cent, while in the same period the proportion accounted for by public transport rose by 30 per cent. The Grand Paris infrastructure project will ensure that this trend continues into the future.

    An end to traffic jams

    Paris has had enough of mega-traffic jams. The magazine "Les Cahiers Scientifiques du Transport" reports that more and more Parisians are leaving their cars behind and switching to using trams, buses, trains and bicycles. From 1990 to 2015, the proportion of the city's traffic accounted for by cars fell by 45 per cent, while in the same period the proportion accounted for by public transport rose by 30 per cent. The Grand Paris infrastructure project will ensure that this trend continues into the future.

  • Poor air quality
    Paris is suffering the same fate as many other large cities. The limits for fine particulates and nitrogen oxides are being exceeded more and more often. The authorities then react by imposing entry bans on numerous types of cars.

    Poor air quality

    Paris is suffering the same fate as many other large cities. The limits for fine particulates and nitrogen oxides are being exceeded more and more often. The authorities then react by imposing entry bans on numerous types of cars.

  • Caring for pedestrians
    Pedestrianisation is "chic". Numerous pedestrianised areas have been established in Paris. Some are car-free all year round, like the Quartier du Sentier, Rue Montorgueil, Rue des Lombards, Montmartre or Les Halles, while others ban vehicles only on Sundays and holidays. The Champs-Élysées, for example, is closed to vehicles on the first Sunday of each month.

    Caring for pedestrians

    Pedestrianisation is "chic". Numerous pedestrianised areas have been established in Paris. Some are car-free all year round, like the Quartier du Sentier, Rue Montorgueil, Rue des Lombards, Montmartre or Les Halles, while others ban vehicles only on Sundays and holidays. The Champs-Élysées, for example, is closed to vehicles on the first Sunday of each month.

  • Everything gets used

    It’s a good thing that at noon today, traffic out of the city is moving. Three trucks from Paris are taking demolition waste from the Grand Paris construction sites to Paprec, a recycling company situated on a dock on the Seine, north-west of Paris. An unloaded barge is moored on the wharf. Abdesslam Mouadni has been awaiting its arrival. He is sitting in his LH 24 M Industry Litronic. With its 12-metre reach, the mobile material handling machine quickly swings round to the giant demolition waste dump, moves its clamshell grab into the pile, and a short time later swings round again and drops its load into the waiting barge. Meanwhile his colleague, in a wheel loader L 546, heaps new demolition waste onto the pile.

    Versatile in sustainability

    “A lot is happening. The Grand Paris construction project is in full swing and all the demolition waste comes to us,” Mouadni says cheerfully. For him and his machine, there is plenty of work to do. But because the spoil heaps at Paprec are getting wider and higher by the day, they limit the space for manoeuvring. “This is where the new agile material handling machine really comes into its own”, says Mouadni.

    The demolition waste can come

    Meanwhile, plant director Maxime Antonini is standing by the sorting machine. He is monitoring work on the conveyor belt, where his staff are sorting plaster and wood out of the demolition waste. “Our company has the most advanced sorting facility in the whole of France”, the engineer says with pride. “Every year, we recycle 200,000 metric tons of refuse, demolition waste and bulky waste. We can re-use 60 to 75 percent, depending on the material.” Paprec subsequently sells some of its recycled output as secondary building materials.

    The Grand Paris Express is expected to generate as much as 43 million metric tons of demolition waste, or 33 million cubic metres – enough to dam an entire river. According to Antonini, this means excellent growth prospects for firms like Paprec over the next 20 years. There is no doubt about it: Grand Paris is building for the future – in every single phase of this historic large-scale construction project.

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