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The polities of a new technology : Electricity and the city railway in London and Paris, c.1880-1910

Carlos López Galviz


Using electricity in railway operation became a real option towards the end of the nineteenth century. Cities were, generally, the main recipients and instigators of its introduction as the new technology was to help alleviate the often insufficient provision of means of urban transport. Its introduction, however, was largely dependent on the political and business cultures inherent in the specific context of each city. In London, competition and the business interests were a fundamental part of the process while, in Paris, the definition of a collective interest constituted one of the most significant conditions prior to the execution of any plan. In this contribution, I will look at the way in which the polities of the English and French capitals determined how the conception and operation of a particular means of urban transport, the city railway, were transformed by electricity. In so doing, I will provide a characterisation of the extent to which the adoption of a new technology of transport was both a result and an important part of the process of transforming London and Paris into modern constructs.

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1In November 1890, a specialised periodical would produce a concise summary of the state of electric traction in connection with means of urban transport : ‘A number of small tramways, both on the Continent and in the United Kingdom, have been worked electrically, and in the United States many of the street tramways are worked in this way ; but it has not hitherto been applied on any large scale to the working of a railway of the usual gauge for passengers.’1 The combination of a new form of traction and the sustained dependency on conventional trains, as well as whether there was a necessity to define clearly the type of service associated with urban traffic were important factors in the process of introducing electricity into the operation of city railway lines in London and Paris towards the end of the nineteenth century.

2A clear contrast emerged between the two capitals in terms of how the new technology was introduced. In Paris, electric traction was a structural part of the conception and construction of the entire system. To a large extent the city railway network was the result of the possibilities the new technology provided. In London, the introduction of electricity was also a matter of whether and how to transfer from one technology to the other as the steam-operated lines of the Metropolitan and District had been open to passenger services since the 1860s. By the 1890s, when the City and South London (later part of the Northern Line) began operating the first section of its line, electric traction demonstrated the possibilities but also the difficulties inherent in the adoption of a new technology. The transformation was gradual, irregular, and subject to conditions which obstructed rather than facilitated the design of a system such as the one built in Paris.

3The more or less successful introduction of electricity was largely the result of the political and business cultures inherent in two different contexts : whereas in London competition and the business interests seem to predominate in Paris the definition of a seemingly collective interest appeared to be the most significant condition prior to the execution of any plan. Each polity created its own benefits and problems. In each case, a new technology of transport was used according to the inextricably dependency upon historical traditions and practices and in line with the transformation that the two cities were experiencing.

The agency and structural restrictions behind the business interests : London

4In what seemed to have become a consensus during Parliamentary sessions by the 1860s in London, engineers agreed that there were three elements necessary for the success of the technical operation of a city railway line : trains should be hauled by a ‘hot-water locomotive’, trains including passengers should weigh no more than twenty tons, and journey times should be between twelve and fifteen minutes. The actual operation of the Metropolitan and District, the first two city railway lines to open in 1863 and 1868 respectively, proved their calculations were off the mark : ‘the hot-water locomotive was not even tried [conventional though ‘specially designed condensing engines’ were used instead] ; the trains necessary for accommodating the traffic weigh, exclusive of engine about 120 tons’, while the journey took twice the time projected.2 At the same time the Metropolitan and District were built for a five-minute frequency in response to safety and the type of operation intrinsic in a steam operated system.3 Electricity provided an alternative.4

5In 1884, the City of London and Southwark Subway received an Act of Parliament to build a line between King William Street in the City and Elephant and Castle, south of the river Thames. The line was to be built by a ‘tube’ system of tunnelling with trains operated by cable traction.5 Tunnelling was devised with an entirely different construction technique than the one used when building the Metropolitan and District lines. The idea was to take the line deeper into the city’s soil using a system that incorporated both traction and tunnelling as had been conceived in the mid 1860s by Peter William Barlow. In the patent of his invention ‘Improvements in Constructing and Working Railways, and in Constructing Railway Tunnels’, Barlow explained the benefits of a new system for working underground and other railways. This consisted in ‘employing local in contradistinction to constant power to propel trains of carriages on railways’, whether underground lines, tunnel crossings, or standard over ground ‘where trains are required to start and stop at short intervals.’6 The trains would be attached to and hauled by a rope connected to ‘cylinders worked by hydraulic power’. Tunnelling would follow the cylinder principle (of an early tube), devising gradients on either end of every station as to alleviate the pressure on the brakes of arriving trains and facilitating their departure by gravity and inclination.7

6Since the opening of the first section of its line, the City of London and Southwark Subway, later the City and South London, experienced the problems and difficulties of adopting a new technology. Regular passenger services started on 18 December 1890 with stations at King William Street, Borough, Elephant and Castle, Kennington, The Oval, and Stockwell, where the car sheds and generating plant to supply the line had been built. According to J. Simmons, the locomotives used were ‘ponderous, noisy, and slow’.8 Stations were eventually lit by gas, while ‘on the trains themselves [the electricity supplied] gave only a feeble glimmer whenever a number of locomotives all accelerated at the same time.’9 The state of lighting on the trains was still unsatisfactory by 1895.10 Furthermore, the decision to follow the pattern of streets forced an awkward arrangement on the City end station (King William Street) whereby the two tunnels which for the largest part of the route ran more or less parallel were built one above the other.11 The station was reorganised in 1895, with two pairs of tracks and an ‘island platform’, replacing a single line and platforms on either side as it had initially been built.12 But it was not until the opening of the northern extension first to Moorgate and Bank stations, in 1900 and then to Angel, Islington in 1901, that the company could solve the problems of King William Street, by closing it definitely on 24 February 1900,13 and allowing an adjustment to the line’s route.

7The operation of the first three city railway lines in London, the Metropolitan, the District and the City and South London, demonstrated the extent to which a unified network of urban transport conflicted with the diverging interests of companies working separate and competing lines. Although the introduction of a new technology seemed to add a further dimension to the unsatisfactory situation with regard to means of urban transport, it also presented London with the possibility of thinking about whether and how to reorganise the city space and its functions. This resonated with the main objectives of the London County Council (LCC), the new metropolitan authority created in 1889.14 The new council expressed the necessity to conceive of city railway lines as a means to plan and improve the living and working conditions of Londoners, something that figures such as Charles Pearson had advocated since the 1840s. Debates in Parliament illustrated the struggle between the LCC’s view and that of the traditional private companies whose interests were mostly, if not only, informed by the possibilities of building profitable and often short-lived businesses.

8One of the arguments which emerged during the sessions of a Select Committee on Electric and Cable Railways, appointed to report on the schemes seeking Parliamentary approval in 1892, was whether or not new technologies could be used for the configuration of a coordinated vision of how London might extend its territorial limits. The central question for the committee was ‘whether underground Railways worked by electricity or cable traction [were] calculated to afford sufficient accommodation for the present and probable future traffic’. The other major point related to ‘the terms and conditions under which the subsoil should be appropriated’.15 The commissioners were to determine which projects were suitable in terms of their provision of routes for the city’s traffic. They examined six projects and heard witnesses who represented the interests of several institutions including the Board of Trade, the London County Council, the Corporation of the City of London, and the agent and surveyor of Lord Portman’s St Marylebone estate. The committee did not find sufficient grounds to object to any bill ; both systems, electric and cable traction, were deemed suitable ; more and larger suburban lines extending ‘further into the country’ were recommended.16

9During the sessions, Charles Harrison, vice-chairman of the LCC from 1892 to 1895,17 urged the committee and the public to acknowledge the consequences of the recommendations included in the report for the future railway development of London. Harrison suggested that tunnels should be a uniform 16 ft. so that connectivity between the lines proposed and those conceived in the future could easily become part of an established network. Connection with main lines should be considered too so that interchanges, particularly those between suburban and urban traffic, might be planned more effectively. ‘It is of vital importance to the future well-being of London’, Harrison wrote, ‘that every possible opportunity should be taken to promote cheap and rapid communication between every part of Inner London and what is at present the Outer Suburban Belt.’ The LCC further advocated an orchestrated development of railway lines and the provision of housing for the poor. ‘In support of this contention’, Harrison went on to explain, ‘the experience of the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways may be alluded to. Intended originally only as ‘circle’ lines, they have both found it expedient to stretch out into the suburban belt, in order to accommodate the traffic caused by London’s constant expansion.’18

10The relationship between the possibilities the city railway seemed to offer for the concerted planning of London and the provision of a system with a specified tunnel section was not necessarily evident and remained, indeed, subject to interpretation. In the opinion of the chief engineer of the City and South London and later tube lines, James Greathead, the six lines before the committee ‘should not be made capable of taking ordinary trains from outside railways.’ Greathead thought this ‘ha[d] been injurious to the metropolitan railways [if and when considered] as communications for the internal traffic of London’. In Greathead’s view, the Metropolitan and District would be able to respond to the needs of that particular kind of traffic more effectively ‘if they were not subject to the inconvenience of junctions with ordinary railways, and the interruptions of [morning and evening] trains [which were] completely loaded’ by the travelling population of the outlying districts. The undifferentiated service of urban and suburban trains made it the more difficult in terms of whether and how the two city railway companies should ‘[deal] with the internal traffic.’19 Greathead’s understanding of the needs of urban transport in contrast with the services of main line companies appeared to undermine the possibility of using the city railway as a planning instrument. Decisions concerning the specifications of a particular technology had to correspond with the decision of the type of service that should be in place.

11With the exception of one advice, namely, ‘that the companies should be put under obligation to furnish an adequate number of cheap and convenient trains’, the report produced by the committee gave no evidence of explicit action concerning the recommendations of the LCC. Moreover, the coordination of the diverging efforts of companies applying for new lines or extensions was subjected to a clause that established a minimum of 11 ft. 6 in. in tunnels instead of the 16 ft. proposed by the LCC. With this clause connections between new lines and the lines in service of the city railway and main line companies were made impracticable ; urban traffic and the traffic supported by the ‘outside railways’, as Greathead called them, were made technically distinct. Coordination remained thus open to the efforts and interpretation of individual competing companies.

12As for the use of electric or cable traction, the commission could not definitely recommend either technology but follow the advice of engineers whose expertise was at the service of the proponent companies. More significantly, at the time the report was produced, the answer to the question of whether or not electricity could compete effectively with steam locomotion was not certain. As the experience of the City and South London demonstrated, electric traction did not compare favourably against steam locomotion. Furthermore important differences in relation to the working of the two technologies required the expertise of engineers in order to explain the extent to which one could supplant the other.

13According to the technical assessment of William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) and Alexander Siemens, three distinct characteristics seemed central to the performance of electricity in the operation of city railway lines : the safety and comfort of the journey, the higher frequency which the system could afford, and the signaling which was more reliable and secure and, therefore, helped reduce substantially the risk of accidents.20 Their analysis resonated with the assessment of French engineers such as Andre Blondel.21 But although the advantages of electricity seemed to outweigh those of steam locomotion its adoption was not only a matter of which features would be improved : financial capital and willingness to transfer from one type of traction to another were important factors that determined any possible implementation. Consequently, it was also a matter of how companies would react to the transformation needed within a context primarily dominated by competition. Reluctance and opposition constituted one stage of the process as illustrated by the reaction of the chairman of the Metropolitan Railway Co, E. Watkin, and his reassertion that steam engines were ‘the only efficient form of locomotive power’.22 Moreover, the adoption of a particular type of technology might be conditioned by the vested interests of capital and the shift in the type of industry investing in urban transport.23

14Since the opening of their lines, competition between the Metropolitan and District had developed into a marked antagonism.24 The situation did not seem to have any imminent resolution at the turn of the twentieth century when the question of electrification was at the centre of developments in urban transport. On the other hand, the influence of international capital that was already instrumental in the financing of the Central London, the fourth city railway line to open to passenger services in 1900, heightened as large capitalist interests, particularly from the United States, managed to control the schemes which would be implemented later during the first decade of the twentieth century. Charles Yerkes, a financier who had made important contributions to the provision of urban transport in Chicago,25  had a direct interest in two of the bills examined during the 1901 session in Parliament : the Charing Cross, Euston, and Hampstead (CCEH) and the Brompton and Piccadilly Circus (BPC). The first scheme represented a clear benefit for the passenger traffic of main line companies,26 while the second was to connect the western residential district of Brompton with the West End, at the time a relatively consolidated entertainment and shopping area.27 By 1902, Yerkes owned three different tube schemes and the plans to electrify the District. In addition to the CCEH and the BPC, he acquired the southern section (up to Finsbury Park) of another scheme, the Great Northern and Strand, negotiations of which were finished in November 1901. This line would then be executed as a common enterprise with the Brompton and Piccadilly Circus, giving form to what is today the Piccadilly Line. In March 1902, the Baker Street and Waterloo (later Bakerloo), passed on to the then consortium of tube lines, after the collapse of the London Globe Finance Corporation Limited, the company that owned the bill and had executed part of the works.28 The three new city railway lines and the District were to become part of one and the same enterprise ; all of them operated by electricity. The first real signs of a cohesive urban transport network emerged thus from one of the most definitive characteristics of how the city railway had been conceived of and built in London, namely, the agency behind the business interests.

15A new and short-lived company, the Metropolitan District Electric Traction (MDET), was created for the electrification of the District. The company was responsible for the execution of the works involved in the transformation from steam locomotion to electricity.29 This was to be an enterprise combining the legal standing of the District and the renewed financial strength of the capital assembled by Yerkes : ‘The District Company shall by the exercise of their Statutory powers acquire the site necessary for a Generating Station at Lots Road Chelsea and the Traction Company shall provide all funds requisite for payment of purchase money and cost of acquisition.’ The choice of the site at Lots Road, in turn, was to be a coordinated effort affecting both the District and the Brompton and Piccadilly Circus lines.30 All the works were to be carried out by the Traction Company concerning the generating station and the conveyance of electric power to Earl’s Court (including appliances, equipment, etc), and the works necessary for the effective operation of the lines by electric traction.31

16With a letter to the company’s shareholders (dated 9 April 1902), Yerkes explained the decision to extend the powers and aims of the MDET Co. beyond the mere transformation of the line from steam locomotion to electric traction, engaging ‘in the business of building certain roads for the purpose of making a system which cannot be but profitable.’ The new company, Underground Electric Railway Company of London, Limited, was then to incorporate ‘the acquisition and working in whole or in part of the future Undertakings controlled by [the] Company, as well as agreements in connection with the electrification of the Metropolitan District Railway, and general powers to carry out other similar works.’ As Yerkes went on to reassure the shareholders by the time ‘the plans of [the MEDT] Company were originally made’ the Acts of the CCEH, BPC, GNS, and BSW were in his possession and that of Robert W. Perkes. Shareholders of the company were, at last, invited to transfer their shares from the old to the new company at offices in Boston, Baltimore, or New York.32

17The Underground Electric Railways of London (UERL) was thus created in 1902, becoming the first and only company to operate more than one city railway line using electric traction under a single management structure. To Yerkes ‘the acme of railway transportation in the City of London and its suburbs would be that a person could travel from any one point to any other point, making connections from one line to another, all for a single fare. That would be the perfection of travel and it will never come about unless there is an amalgamation of the railways.’33 Although the amalgamation Yerkes referred to was a reflection of his unambiguous interest in successful and profitable businesses, these were ideas that resonated with those of many other figures involved in the process of conceiving and realising a network of city railway lines in London since the 1830s. In the process, it had become clear that the issue of urban transport needed to be articulated with the seemingly intrinsic growth of the metropolis : ‘What London needs for its working classes is fresh air and green grass, and they will never get either with the railways and tramways in the condition that they are, at the present time, or being run as they are.’34

18The works to fully electrify the District were complete in 1905.35 The Piccadilly opened between Hammersmith and Finsbury Park in December 1906, while the Bakerloo opened between Elephant and Castle and Baker Street in March the same year and up to Edgware Road in June 1907. Two comments made during the opening ceremony of the Bakerloo, one by Edgar Speyer, who took over the UERL’s direction after Yerkes’s death, and another one by David Lloyd George, president of the Board of Trade, testified to the confluence of interests behind the services provided by one of the UERL lines : ‘This line will furnish great advantages to the poor people of this great metropolis, and I think it will be the first step towards the solution of the problem of the housing of the poor, which the Queen has so much at heart.’ And in line with the mediating role of the Board of Trade : ‘I trust that the London County Council and the Underground Electric Railways Company of London will combine to furnish an example of that cordial co-operation between private and municipal interests in which lies our best hope for the future.’36 On the one hand, the much rehearsed ‘solution of the problem of the housing of the poor’ and, on the other, coordination of seemingly diverging interests joined if only discursively under the ideals of cooperation.

The political definitions of a new technology : Paris

19The question regarding which technology should be adopted for the operation of city railway lines in the French capital was important from the start. The size and weight of steam locomotives transporting passengers within a densely populated area and the most effective means to evacuate the smoke from underground tunnels had been central issues of debates in the municipal and departmental councils and among specialised circles of engineers and other professionals since at least the 1870s.37 By the mid 1890s, the authorities suspended the use of conventional coal, allowing only the use of high quality coke in the locomotives of the suburban railway ring or Ceinture, as A. Mitchell suggests, anticipating the possible intrusion of main line rolling stock in the city centre. At the same time, other solutions such as trains operated by atmospheric pressure were not entirely satisfactory ; the problem of loss or shortfall of power had no definite solution. The situation was not so different in the case of electricity.38

20The large amount of city railway projects which had been produced in Paris by the 1880s continued to increase involving new and old figures, their visions and ideas transformed or not, and the scope of what they proposed made more complex or less ambitious. The range varied from circular lines or lines traversing the city from east to west and north to south, to more elaborate versions which included several means of traction, the combination of which constituted relatively comprehensive and sophisticated systems. One of the latter projects was P. Villain’s 107me Projet de Chemin de Fer Métropolitain published in 1887. The project consisted of seven different sections including railway lines, funiculars, junctions with the main line companies, and a central station next to the Hôtel de Ville for the exclusive use of passengers and postal services.39 As with many of the projects preceding his, Villain’s vision remained confined to theories ; but his ideas, as the ideas of those who had been and were involved in the formulation of city railway plans since the 1830s, enhanced the body of expertise about the options the city had and, furthermore, about how certain aspects might turn particular schemes into more feasible options than others. As Villain urged his readers, two main conditions were especially important in order to conceive of a coherent system of urban circulation : the available city spaces which could be used effectively for the design and construction of new lines and the technical aspects related to the choice of traction and infrastructure. These two conditions were central to the ideas put forward by two earlier projects. Electricity was the common denominator between the two.

21First, J. Chrétien in 1881 and, later, Jean-Baptiste Berlier in 1890 proposed a city railway using electric traction. Chrétien’s electric railway was to consist of three lines along the boulevards Friedland, Haussmann, Voltaire, and those in the route from Madeleine to Bastille, all of them on the right bank of the river Seine. The structure was on elevated viaducts supported by pillars (of 1.80 to 2.00 metres in section and between 4 and 5 metres high), with an average distance of 40 metres between supports.40 Electricity was to be distributed by copper wires (fils de cuivre) ; every carriage was provided with an electro magnetic motor (machine magneto-electrique) which transformed the current of the main distributing line into the locomotive traction which moved the individual cars.41 The system was powered by stationary steam engines where dynamos transformed the mechanical energy of the engines into the electricity that supplied the system. Electric energy was then evenly distributed along each one of the three lines, maintaining a practical distance of 2 to 3 kilometres. There were four of these stationary plants : two partially visible at the Place Voltaire (east line) and Boulevard du Temple opposite the Cirque d’Hiver (inner boulevards line) and two ‘entirely fitted underground’ one at the Carrefour Drouot (inner boulevards line) and on the Avenue Friedland, ‘near the Rue de Messine’ (west line). The chimneys and other constructive elements of the plants could be used as referents or to embellish the immediate areas where necessary and for the provision of the potential local demand for electricity, domestic and otherwise.42

22Chrétien’s estimate of costs included an extra sum which could be considered for the fitting of ornaments that would aesthetically improve the system.43 Construction and operation of the system, Chrétien affirmed, should be given to the private industry either separately or as one common enterprise but in any case subject to conditions set by the city authorities. The city, Chrétien affirmed, ‘should preserve a right of control ; oversee the strict enforcement of the clauses [contained in] the Act (cahiers de charges) ; remain the representative of public rights ; and, in addition, give full freedom as well as all responsibility to the concessionaire.’44 The execution of the plans had to incorporate benefits for private companies but adhere to tight regulations set by the local authorities.

23Objections to the project included the structures Chrétien proposed at the Opéra, the overall disruption of the perspective of the boulevards, and the estimates of the benefits involved in the introduction of electricity as opposed to steam operated lines.45 But, perhaps more importantly, technical expertise at this point did not provide a consistent case for electric traction in lines conceived for local traffic. Moreover, the new technology could be perceived as utopian, although to Chrétien the characteristics of his project showed the opposite : electric traction, he asserted ‘is the most practical means of locomotion in cities’ ; what is more, ‘electricity is an agent the use of which we begin to know [and] to which the future belongs’.46 The relationship between public transport and the new agent or technology he proposed to use was uncertain at the time Chrétien put forward his ideas. Like over a hundred projects before and after his, Chrétien’s remained a theory without any clear application.

24The other project which succeeded in articulating the possibilities electricity might open up for public transport was Berlier’s Tramways tubulaires souterrains, initially developed in 1887. The scheme proposed to cross the city centre with an east-west axis between the Bois de Boulogne and Vincennes, providing a service operated by ‘lighter, frequent, and speedier trains’. Instead of viaducts the line was to be built underground using Greathead’s shield for laying the tracks deep into the city’s soil. The reception in the municipal and departmental assemblies was generally positive while the national authorities, the Conseil d’État and the general council of the Ponts et Chaussées, expressed their doubts in relation to a ‘great public work of a special nature’.47 Berlier was granted a concession in 1892, but the lack of capital necessary for the commencement of the works forced him to forsake the project.48 Line 1 of the Métropolitain, built years later, was based on Berlier’s scheme. In 1905 he ‘obtained [a new] concession for a separate underground line running from the Gare Montparnasse to Montmartre’ in conjunction with the Société de Chemin de Fer Électrique Nord-Sud de Paris.49

25Although their ideas were not executed in the way in which they had originally been conceived, Berlier and Chrétien succeeded in reaffirming that the question of metropolitan traffic might be linked to the advantages of a new technology. Electricity, the way they both thought of it, provided a sound alternative, but its adoption in the French capital was conditioned by the broader issue of institutional legitimacy.

26The seemingly irresolute dichotomy between the local interest concerned with the provision of a system exclusively devoted to urban traffic and the general interest associated with the national railway network and, therefore, the main line companies developed into an antagonism between the national establishment and the emerging autonomy of the local authorities. This antagonism hindered the implementation of any project before the opening of the first line in 1900.50 According to Frederic Sauton, reporter of one of the numerous commissions created to evaluate the plans produced by the municipality and other parties, the process for implementing the city railway went ‘from setback to setback and abandonment to abandonment’.51 How to join the various interests of the State, the city, and the private initiatives under the precepts of one project did not seem feasible and so the institutional conflict that placed political and economic powers on opposite ends reflected how far off a solution seemed.52

27The project of the municipal commission charged with the development and study of the city railway consisted of a circular line following for the most part the external boulevards, and two transversals, one east-west line (passing the Rue Réaumur) and another line north-south crossing the river Seine. As expressed in the advice of E. Huet, at the time administrative director of Travaux Publics, the two transversals should connect to the circular line and then end at the Ceinture, the suburban railway ring, ‘with the aim to bring the inhabitants of the periphery to the centre’.53 The commission made explicit five other requirements, according to Huet’s account : (1) that narrow gauge should be adopted ; (2) that construction works should be executed directly by the city ; (3) that electric traction should be used ; (4) that services should be maintained without interruption ; and (5) that the detailed plans (avant projet) should be studied by the city engineers considering as far as possible a constructive system consisting of two underground lines (the two transversals) and a circular line above ground.54 With the commission’s recommendations in mind, Huet suggested that significant benefits could be obtained by ‘adopting rails 1 metre wide, allowing a substantial reduction in the area the Métropolitain [would] occupy in the public way [whether] on a viaduct or a trench’. This reduced the disruption caused by the construction works and had a positive effect on cost.55

28As the general features of the plan seemed defined and agreed upon, there were two points which deserved closer attention, namely the rolling stock and the operation of the system.  These were the focus of an earlier report by Fulgence Bienvenüe, engineer of the Technical Service of the Métropolitain. Huet’s report was, in fact, largely based on this.56 Bienvenüe had affirmed that there were two types of vehicle: coupling or trailing carriages (voitures d’attelage) and carriages fitted with their own motors (voitures automobiles). Each carriage seated forty four passengers, while the length of platforms (75 metres) admitted six of them.57

29In terms of the system’s operation, the network was divided into six different electric circuits according to how the established combination of junctions and sections of lines were supplied. Circuits were termed thus : west, east, north, Porte Maillot (circular north), Porte Maillot (circular south), and north-south diameter.58 Four types of circulation resulted from this arrangement : at one, two, three, or four circuits, according to traffic sections of different intensities (sections de trafic à intensités differentes). In other words, the type of service depended on the frequency of trains which could be offered in relation to the power supply, the speed of trains and the timing of boarding stops : eight trains per hour in each direction in the sections operated with one circuit ; sixteen trains with two circuits ; twenty four trains with three circuits ; and thirty two with four circuits.59 Along its entire length, the network supported ‘forty-five trains circulating simultaneously in each direction [at any one time] or ninety in total’. Vehicles were fitted with dynamos ; lighting of stations and other facilities were also powered by electricity.60 Two depots were designed to accommodate the rolling stock and other facilities as well as to operate the entire network : Vaurigard supplied the circuits west, Porte Maillot (south circular), and diameter north-south. Charonne, in its turn, supplied the circuits east, north, and Porte Maillot (north circular). An intermediate electricity plant was planned at Montmartre to divide the distance which would have been covered with only two plants otherwise.61

30Bienvenüe’s report was instrumental in clarifying, among other things, the extent to which electricity was necessary to a city railway system. By the end of the nineteenth century and as Huet asserted, it had become clear that electricity was ‘the only possible [type of traction] for the operation of a metropolitan network’.62 There were, however, some objections which Huet raised in an appendix to his report, including the lack of connections with the existing railway termini and the real capacity of the system to move large amounts of people. The latter, Huet explained in terms of the relation between numbers of carriages and length of platforms given the frequency Bienvenüe proposed. Effective connections with three of the railway termini of the right bank (Nord, Est, Bastille), on the other hand, would provide the city railway with the distinct character of ‘general utility’.63 What is more, Huet wrote : ‘The construction of the Métropolitain in Paris is essentially a question of general interest’, although he also explained that the function of such interest did not necessarily involve the adoption of a designated gauge. A larger gauge for larger trains meant that there would be bigger capacity for transporting passengers ; but the investment needed for building such a system did not compare favourably with the best estimates prepared in the several technical studies produced up to the mid 1890s. In Huet’s view, it was the sheer expenses of building a city railway of standard gauge that had led to the abandonment of the numerous projects of at least twenty or thirty years.64

31By the time the technical reports of Huet and Bienvenüe were produced, a model for the city railway’s interest had still not been agreed upon. The debate ended in November 1897, when the general council of the Ponts et Chaussées declared the project to be of a municipal character and, therefore, restricted to the local interest.65 Three amendments were made to the terms of the bill by the Conseil d’État, the Ministry of War and the council of the Ponts et Chaussées : the gauge of the rolling stock was changed from 2,10 to 2,40 metres in order to increase operational capacity ; the gauge of rails supporting bigger trains was changed accordingly to 1,44 metres instead of the 1,30 metres initially proposed by the municipal authorities ; and, lastly, conditions of labour, namely a minimum salary and limited working hours per day.66 The legal terms for the execution of the works were defined by the Act of 30 March 1898, which sanctioned the ‘public utility’ of the project. But even at this point, the deliberation that took place during the session that day reflected how much disagreement and, at times, vicious opposition there was between the members of the city council. No other project, as the Seine Prefect asserted, had been through all the stages of detailed studies and debates by the various governmental instances in the way the Métropolitain had been, and yet once the final stages of the debate seemed close, objections were found and disagreements fiercely expressed.67  

32The initial contract was granted to the Compagnie Générale de Traction, which associated itself with the Établissements Schneider du Creusot in order to build and operate the planned network, indicating a significant shift in the financial model. The new industries implied in the production and distribution of electricity seemed to be a new challenge to the position normally occupied by the main line companies in terms of financing the project.68 This would be accentuated further by the agreement between the final concessionaire, the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer Métropolitain de Paris (CFMP),69 and the Société d’Électricité de Paris concerning the construction of the generating plant at St. Denis in operation from 1906. Foreign capital, notably from the Belgian conglomerate of Général Baron Édouard Empain, would become increasingly central to the operation of the network as the twentieth century progressed.70

33Line 1 of the Métropolitain opened on 19 July 1900, three months after the opening of the World Exhibition (14 April).71 The space underground constituted a good shelter from the heat of the Parisian summer during the days immediately after the opening.72 Eight stations were in service in the line : Porte de Vincennes, Place de la Nation, Gare de Lyon, Place de la Bastille, Hôtel de Ville, Palais Royal, Champs-Élysées, and Porte Maillot.73 The sections between Étoile and Trocadéro and between Étoile and Porte Dauphine of line 2 opened in October and December of the same year. Lines 3, 4, 5, and 6 would be complete by 1910, creating a comprehensive network of underground lines focused on urban traffic, using trains distinct from the main line rolling stock, and completely operated by electricity.


34At the turn of the twentieth century, electricity had become the most effective technology available for the operation of a metropolitan network of railway lines as it facilitated the consolidation of a relatively unified system of urban transport. Evidently engineers but also authorities of various sorts in London and Paris became increasingly aware and more and more convinced of the benefits of the new technology compared with steam operated lines. At the same time, the sustained increase of passenger traffic, the availability of capital, in particular the effects of foreign investment, and the certainty of a good performance by electricity were factors that combined in different ways and, therefore, produced distinct outcomes in the two cities.

35The unified operation of an electrified transport network depended on consolidating the necessary infrastructure. To this end, peripheral plants such as Lots Road in London and Bercy in Paris were built as to provide enough power for a designated number of lines, with substations where that energy was transformed and distributed evenly across a certain number of trains seating a specific amount of passengers. All of this was translated into electric circuits which were part of one and the same system. But the effective introduction of electricity, particularly in relation to the working of railway lines and the consequent elevated costs involved in transferring from one technology to another, was restricted by the substantial transformation necessary to change the technologies in use.74 This was particularly acute in the case of London.

36The variance between the density of the city railway network and the technology used by main line railways was a characteristic the two cities shared. This was itself reflection of important differences between suburban or regional traffic and traffic exclusively concerned with the city limits. The operation of main line services was necessarily different from the operation of lines conceived exclusively for a local service : timetables, frequencies, and transfer facilities differed according to the nature of the journeys, whether it was by powerful and heavy trains transporting passengers and their luggage across long distances or by trains resembling an omnibus service within the city. The difference affected how platforms were distributed at major stations, how the transfer of luggage between lines was managed and whether and how connections between different companies could be synchronised.

37In Paris, the city railway network, including the Nord-Sud line, was made technically and operationally distinct from the services of the Ceinture and from those of the main line companies. Traffic within and without the walls was kept separate ; direct connections between the two were made impracticable. The types of service which the new urban transport network was to offer, the interest it represented and the technology which was to ensure its operation were distinct and yet interrelated aspects of how the city railway eventually materialised in the French capital. The local service, the main insignia of the municipal authorities, responded to a logic whereby it was to become ‘a less powerful but more adaptable instrument’.75 Trains were lighter, speedier, flexible, and more frequent, as both Berlier and Greathead had argued they should be for services within the city. But they also created a local network whose future growth was restricted not only by the city walls, but more significantly, by the insistence on defining main line services and services of the city railway as two separate and differentiated transport systems.

38In London, the difference in the type of service included a distinction between main line railways and the Metropolitan and District, on the one hand, and between the tube lines and the services of the main line companies, on the other. Greathead, consulting engineer to all the schemes for electrically operated lines, saw the distinction between internal and external traffic as an important element in the process of planning present and future traffic flows within and in and out of the English capital. After the construction of the City and South London and subsequent tube lines, a relatively sharp contrast emerged between the new services and those of the first two city railway lines whose operation resembled that of the main line railways. Frequency of trains on the new lines was generally higher, fares were uniform, and interchange stations were provided. Main line rolling stock was excluded by the adoption of a standard tunnel gauge, which set the pattern for the future development of a differentiated underground network in the twentieth and twenty first centuries.

39The introduction of electricity also facilitated the re-emergence of debates concerning the necessity of coordinated growth and the use of the city railway as an instrument for planning the two metropolises. In London, past notions or perceptions of what the city railway could attain were proved prescient. Questions concerning social reform, metropolitan improvement, and the tension between cooperation and competition came to the fore at different times and gained in importance according to the contexts in which they were voiced. The LCC tried to draw on this in order to persuade the authorities, companies, and the public at large of the need for a city railway system. The benefits of a central vision and the execution of separate schemes according to a coherent plan were recognised in the process. But coordination and orchestrated development came at the aegis of private businesses and not the recently created metropolitan authority. A direct consequence of this was the overprovision of city railway services in certain areas and the dearth of services in others. The well-served central areas and West End contrasted with the east and north east where lines were almost entirely absent. But the difference was also a reflection of the intensity of exchanges in the central districts, where severe street congestion made distances between geographically close places seem longer. In Paris, the lines built were part of a network that covered the city from east to west and north to south while also reinforcing the circular route of the Ceinture, although following the external boulevards instead. The network was the result of plans heavily debated for more than five decades. What is more, electricity supported the implementation of a centrally generated vision.

40By the first decade of the twentieth century, electricity had facilitated the emergence of a relatively coherent and articulate urban transport system in the English as well as in the French capital. Yet the actual operation of each system was the result of the often conflictive interaction between the agencies and structures implicit in the political and business cultures of two different polities : competition and the centrality of the business interests generally shaped the developments in London while the definition of an exclusively local interest largely determined what was built in Paris. It is in this sense that the introduction of electricity into the city railway was both an outcome and a fundamental part of the way in which the two cities attempted to transform themselves into modern constructs.

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Contemporary works

Baker, B., (1885), ‘The Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways’, J. Forrest (Ed.) The Metropolitan Railways, London.

Barlow’s, P.W., (1864), patent No. 2207 of 9 September, London Transport Museum.

Bienvenüe, F., (1896), ‘Chemins de Fer Urbains à traction électrique. Devis descriptif et estimatif’, Paris.

Chrétien, J., (1881), Chemin de Fer Électrique des Boulevards à Paris, Paris.

Conseil Municipal de Paris, (1883-1907), Rapports et Documents, Imprimerie Municipale, Paris.

Conseil Municipal de Paris, (1896-1900), Procès verbal, Imprimerie Municipale, RATP, Paris.

Conseil Municipal de Paris, Commission du Métropolitain. Procès-Verbaux de 1895 à 1907. RATP.

Conseil Municipal de Paris, (1894-1900), (Bound volume including reports, notices, deliberations, etc.). RATP.

Beauregard (de), T., (1883), Chemin de Fer Métropolitain Parisien. Comparaison des Deux Principaux Projets, Paris.

Greathead, J., (1896), The City and South London Railway ; with some Remarks upon Subaqueous Tunnelling by Shield and Compressed Air, London.

Huet, E., (1896), « Métropolitain urbain à traction électrique : Rapport du Directeur Administratif des Travaux. Paris », plus « Annexe au rapport », Paris.

The Metropolitan District Electric Traction Company Limited, (1901), Directors Minute Book, London Metropolitan Archives.

Report from the Joint Select Committee on London Underground Railways, (1901), London.

Report of the Joint Select Committee on Electric and Cable Railways, (1892), London.

Reverard, P., (1905), Des Conditions d’Exploitation du Chemin de Fer Métropolitain de Paris, Paris.

Sekon, G.A., (1899),‘Illustrated Interviews, Mr. Thomas Chellew Jenkin’, The Railway Magazine Vol. V.

Villain, P., (1887), Le 107ème Projet de Chemin de Fer Métropolitain,  extract from Annales Industrielles 30 October 1887, Paris.

Secondary works

Barker, T. and Robbins, M., (1963, 1974), A History of London Transport. Passenger travel and the development of the metropolis 2 Vols, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London.

Beltran, A., (1988), ‘Une Victoire Commune. L’alimentation en énergie électrique du Métropolitain (1ère moitie du XXe siècle)’, Métropolitain. L’autre dimension de ville, Mairie de Paris, Paris.

Bocquet, D., (2006), ‘Les réseaux d’infrastructures urbaines au miroir de l’histoire : acquis et perspectives’, Flux, 65.

Caron, F. and Cardot, F., (1991), (dir.), Histoire Générale de l’Électricité en France. Tome Premier Espoirs et Conquêtes 1881-1918, Fayard.

Evenson, N., (1979), Paris : A Century of Change, 1878 – 1978, Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

Halliday, S., (2001), Underground to Everywhere. London’s underground railway in the life of the capital, Sutton Publishing London’s Transport Museum, London.

Hughes, T.P., (1983), Networks of Power : electrification in Western society, 1880-1930, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Larroque, D., (2002), ‘Le Métropolitain : histoire d’un projet’, Larroque, D., Margairaz, M., Zembri, P., (2002), Paris et ses transports XIXe – XXe siècles. Deux siècles de décisions pour la ville et sa région, Éditions Recherches, Paris.

Lee, C., (1973), The Bakerloo Line. A Brief History, London.

Mitchell, A., (2003), ‘Le métro : bataille technologique’, Bowie, K. and Texier, S., (sous la direction de), Paris et ses Chemins de Fer, Action Artistique de la Ville de Paris, Paris.

Robbins, M., (1958), ‘Lord Kelvin on Electric Railways’, Journal of Transport History Vol. III No. 4, pp. 235-238.

Robert, J., (1967), Notre Métro, Paris.

Rose, D., (1999), The London Underground. A Diagrammatic History, Douglas Rose, Middlesex.

Simmons, J., (1966), ‘The pattern of Tube railways in London. A Note on the Joint Select Committee of 1892’, Journal of Transport History, Vol. VII, No. 4, pp. 234-240.

Simmons, J., (1995), The Victorian Railway, Thames & Hudson, London.

Wolmar, C., (2004), The Subterranean Railway. How the London underground railway was built and how it changed the city forever, Atlantic Books, London.

Young, K. and Garside, P., (1982), Metropolitan London. Politics and Urban Change 1837 – 1981, Edward Arnold, London.

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1 The Engineer, 7 November 1890, quoted in T. Barker and M. Robbins, A History of London Transport. Passenger travel and the development of the metropolis. Vol 1 (London : George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1963), 309-10.
2 B. Baker, ‘The Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways’, J. Forrest (Ed.) The Metropolitan Railways (London, 1885), 8.
3 For a contemporary account see ‘Metropolitan subterranean railway’, The Times 23 January 1863, 5.
4 The literature on the historical development of electricity is extensive. See, for example, T.P. Hughes, Networks of Power: electrification in Western society, 1880-1930 (Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983). For a discussion of Hughes’s work in the context of historical studies of technological networks, cities and societies see D. Bocquet, ‘Les réseaux d’infrastructures urbaines au miroir de l’histoire: acquis et perspectives’, Flux 65 (2006), 6-16.
5 See for example, the interview to the general manager of the City and South London, as the company would later be called, in G.A. Sekon, ‘Illustrated Interviews, Mr. Thomas Chellew Jenkin’, The Railway Magazine Vol. V (July to December 1899), 2. For a concise description of the early years of the City of London and Southwark Subway see also T. Barker and M. Robbins 1963, 305-7.
6 London Transport Museum, P.W. Barlow’s patent No. 2207 of 9 September 1864, 2.
7 P.W. Barlow 1864, 1-3. An addition to this patent was made in March 1868 in response to a possible water break into the tunnel, providing the means to solve it.
8 J. Simmons, The Victorian Railway (London: Thames & Hudson, 1995), 94.
9 T. Barker and M. Robbins 1963, 312-3.
10 J. Greathead, The City and South London Railway ; with some Remarks upon Subaqueous Tunnelling by Shield and Compressed Air (London, 1896), 17-8.
11 As Greathead explained : ‘Except where it passes under the Thames and one property on its south bank, the railway is under the public thoroughfares throughout.’ J. Greathead 1896, 6.
12 T. Barker and M. Robbins 1963, 314.
13 See D. Rose, The London Underground. A Diagrammatic History (Middlesex: Douglas Rose, 1999).
14 For a detailed discussion of the political and administrative dimensions of London’s government see K. Young & P. Garside, Metropolitan London. Politics and Urban Change 1837 – 1981 (London : Edward Arnold, 1982).
15 Report of the Joint Select Committee on Electric and Cable Railways (London, 1892), v. For a discussion of the report see J. Simmons, ‘The pattern of Tube railways in London. A Note on the Joint Select Committee of 1892’, Journal of Transport History Vol. VII No. 4 (Nov. 1966), 234 – 240.
16 See JSC on Electric and Cable Railways 1892, pp. v-vi.
17 See Martha S. Vogeler, ‘Harrison, Charles (1835–1897)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 23 Sept 2008.
18 See the memorandum submitted by Harrison, included as an appendix to the report of the JSC on Electric and Cable Railways 1892, ‘Electric and Cable Railways (Metropolis)’, 137-9; this quote, p. 138.
19 J. Greathead, evidence of the 1892 report, quoted in J. Simmons 1966, 236.
20 See Thomson’s letter to the chairman of the Central London Railway Co., the dated 6 January 1893, reproduced in M. Robbins, ‘Lord Kelvin on Electric Railways’ in Journal of Transport History Vol. III No. 4 (Nov. 1958), 235-238.
21 As F. Caron affirms in relation to the French context, which never the less applies to the case of Britain, these were theoretical benefits which were constantly confronted with the limits of the applicability of a new technology; see F. Caron and F. Cardot (dirs.), Histoire Générale de l’Électricité en France. Tome Premier Espoirs et Conquêtes 1881-1918 (Fayard, 1991), 448-51. Blondel was the first engineer to take up the ‘chair of applied electricity’ at the École des Ponts et Chaussées, created by decree of 20 July 1893, see ibid., 275.
22 This was concerning the choice of electric traction by the Central London around 1900; quoted in S. Halliday, Underground to Everywhere. London’s underground railway in the life of the capital. (London: Sutton Publishing London’s Transport Museum, 2001), 53.
23 The director of General Electric, Darius Orgson, figured as one of the large shareholders of the fourth city railway company, the Central London, in a markedly international composition of interests. See T. Barker and M. Robbins, A History of London Transport. Passenger travel and the development of the metropolis. Vol 2 (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1974), 46-7; for the list of shareholders see ibid., 42.
24 The clearest illustration of the problems between the Metropolitan and District was the completion of the ‘Inner Circle’ finally accomplished in 1884. For a contemporary reference to the conflict see the Select Committee on Railway Bills 1876, particularly the evidence of Mr. Pope in, for example, p. 37.
25 See Theo Barker, ‘Yerkes, Charles Tyson (1837–1905)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 18 March 2009].
26 One of the sections of the line as presented in 1901 proposed to go as far as Kentish Town, connecting the Midland, and continued via Archway to meet the Great Northern’s branch in Highgate and Edgware. See the evidence of the Charing Cross, Euston, and Hampstead Railway, Report from the Joint Select Committee on London Underground Railways (London, 1901), 79.
27 After the opening of Shaftesbury Avenue in 1886, new theatres and shops would expand the entertainment district in and around Leicester Square. See Survey of London Vol. 40.
28 For a description of the various stages of Yerkes and his financial interests see chapter four of T. Barker and M. Robbins 1974, 61-84. For a concise description of the works of the Bakerloo from the beginning in 1898 until the taking over by Yerkes’s consortium see C. Lee, The Bakerloo Line. A Brief History (London, 1973), 7-9.
29 Experiments in the section between High Street Kensington and Earl’s Court had been carried out in June 1900. See ‘Electric Traction on the Underground’, The Builder 2 June 1900, 535.
30 London Metropolitan Archives, The Metropolitan District Electric Traction Company Limited. Directors Minute Book, 1901-02, see the clause 1 of the agreement between the District and the MDET, dated 18 July 1901; affixed to p. 14.
31 MDET Minute Book 1901-2, see clause 2 of the agreement, p .1; for details of the financial, technical, and legal aspects of the agreement between the two companies see clauses 3 to 15, pp. 1-5. The railways were divided into eight different sections: (1) Mansion House to Earl’s Court; (2) Earl’s Court to High Street Kensington; (3) Gloucester Road to High Street Kensington via Cromwell Curve; (4) Earl’s Court to Putney Bridge; (5) Earl’s Court to Studland Road Junction; (6) Studland Road Junction to Turham Green Junction (LSW); (7) Turham Green Junction to Ealing; (8) Whitechapel Mile End Station and Line leading therefrom to boundary of City Lines and Extensions Railways near St Mary’s Station; see clause 16, p. 5.
32 See the letter affixed in minute book, pp. 56-7. A notice calling for an extraordinary meeting on 8 August 1902 was to give the details of the liquidation of the company; see minute book, p. 75.
33 Quoted in C. Wolmar, The Subterranean Railway. How the London underground railway was built and how it changed the city forever (London: Atlantic Books, 2004), 176.
34 Quoted in C. Wolmar 2004, 177.
35 The transformation was gradual according to certain sections of the line; Metropolitan trains running the inner circle, for example, were operated by electric traction before the District’s. See T. Barker and M. Robbins 1974, 106-09.
36 Lloyd George’s remark was a letter read in his absence; both remarks quoted in C. Lee 1973, 10.
37 See A. Mitchell, ‘Le métro: bataille technologique’, K. Bowie and S. Texier (sous la direction de), Paris et ses Chemins de Fer (Paris: Action Artistique de la Ville de Paris, 2003),  128-9.
38 A. Mitchell 2003, 138, 142.
39 The sections were, in order: (1) an external  line penetrating Paris; (2) an internal line; (3) the line of Bois de Boulogne; (4) three funiculars: Gare de l’Est to Châtelet, Gare St Lazare to College Chaptal, and Gare Montparnasse to Rue du Louvre; (5) a central station, next to the Hotel de Ville, between the Rue de Rivoli and the river embankments, dedicated to post services and passengers only; (6) a line linking the central station, the Halles, and the Hotel des Postes, for goods traffic only and entirely underground; an additional goods terminal was planned in the Canal St. Martin, between the Rue de Faubourg du Temple and the Avenue de la Republique; (7) junctions with main line railways. For a description of each element see P. Villain, Le 107me Projet de Chemin de Fer Métropolitain (Paris, 1887, extract from Annales Industrielles 30 October 1887). 8-13; the design of the central station was based on the model of the new ‘mailing terminal’ (gare aux messageries) of the Compagnie d’Ouest, see ibid., 17-8.
40 J. Chrétien, Chemin de Fer Électrique des Boulevards à Paris (Paris, 1881), 22. For a general presentation see ‘Expose du projet’, 15 – 18.
41 J. Chrétien 1881, 31.
42 J. Chrétien 1881, 32-3; see also plate opposite p. 59.
43 This point would constitute a delicate point for the concession which Chrétien solved by having the basic estimate as the foundation for the opening to concessionaries. J. Chrétien 1881, 44, 48.
44 J. Chrétien 1881, 47.
45 Chrétien’s optimistic estimate of trains in his system appeared to be misleading, particularly when compared with the frequency of the Auteuil line, worked by the Compagnie de l’Ouest: trains with 6,000 passengers per hour in both directions in Chrétien’s system against 20,000 of the main line. See T. de Beauregard, Chemin de Fer Métropolitain Parisien. Comparaison des Deux Principaux Projets (Paris, 1883), 17-8.
46 J. Chrétien 1881, 49.
47 Quoted in D. Larroque, ‘Le Métropolitain: histoire d’un projet’, D. Larroque, M. Margairaz, P. Zembri, Paris et ses Transports XIXe – XXe siècles. Deux siècles de décisions pour la ville et sa région (Paris: Éditions Recherches, 2002), 71.
48 N. Evenson, Paris: A Century of Change, 1878 – 1978 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979), 105. Contrary to Evenson’s assertion, Larroque affirms that Berlier’s project only reached Parliament in March 1893 and was never considered by ‘the vote of the national representation’. D. Larroque 2002, 71.
49 N. Evenson 1979, 109.
50 For a summary of projects produced under the ‘private initiative’ see P. Reverard, Des Conditions d’Exploitation du Chemin de Fer Métropolitain de Paris (Paris, 1905), 72-8.
51 CMP procès-verbal, 5 July 1889; quoted in A. Mitchell 2003, 133, and D. Larroque 2002, 70.
52 According to Larroque, the debate around the city railway and its interest initiated again in 1889 was determined by a more structural question in the political context than the choice between a local and a general interest. This question presented two options: ‘the Republic or an authoritarian regime’. D. Larroque 2002, 69.
53 See Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens, Conseil Municipal de Paris, 1894 – 1900 (bound volume including reports, notices, deliberations, etc.), E. Huet, ‘Métropolitain urbain à traction électrique : Rapport du Directeur Administratif des Travaux. Paris, 2 March 1896’,  plus  ‘Annexe au rapport’, Paris, 23 March 1896.
54 E. Huet 1896, 1-2.
55 E. Huet 1896, 2-3.
56 Huet’s report gives a relatively detailed account of the gauge and affectation to the existing spaces and structures (largeur de la voie); the layout (tracé); typical sections (profiles types); stations; rolling stock and its organisation in terms of power supply (exploitation du matériel); traction (force motrice); estimate of expenditure (estimation des dépenses); and operational costs (frais d’exploitation). Figures of the City and South London and the Liverpool elevated railway were presented in connection with the last point. See E. Huet 1896.
57 Conseil Municipal de Paris, 1894 – 1900, F. Bienvenüe, ‘Chemins de Fer Urbains à traction électrique. Devis descriptif et estimatif’, Paris, 20 February 1896, 2, 6.
58 The circuits served the following sections: the circuit ouest supplied the junction at Rue du Dunkerque and sections of the circular and north south lines; the circuit est supplied the junction at Rue Turbigo and sections of all three lines; the circuit nord supplied the junctions at Rue Spinoza and Rue de Rome and sections of the circular and west east lines; the Porte Maillot (circulaire Nord) supplied the junction at Rue Spinoza and sections of the circular and east west lines; the Porte Maillot (circulaire Sud) supplied the junction at Avenue Kleber and sections of the circular and east west lines; and the Diametre Nord-Sud supplied the north south, including the sections common with the circular. F. Bienvenüe 1896, 7.
59 F. Bienvenüe 1896, 8.
60 F. Bienvenüe 1896, 9.
61 F. Bienvenüe 1896, 9-10.
62 E. Huet 1896, appendix to report (23 March), 2.
63 E. Huet 1896, appendix to report (23 March), 2.
64 E. Huet 1896, appendix to report (23 March), 3. Another point in which Huet was explicitly cautious was in connecting the execution of works with the opening of the 1900 exhibition; ‘it is prudent’, he wrote, ‘not to count on [the Métropolitain’s] capacity of transport for the service of the exhibition’. See ibid., 4.
65 For a detailed account of the process prior to the decision see D. Larroque 2002, 80-87.
66 See D. Larroque 2002, 87-8; see also J. Robert, Notre Métro (Paris, 1967), 25.
67 For the prefect’s statement see CMP Procès verbal, 30 March 1898, 357; for Berthelot’s report and the reaction of the councilors see pp. 347 – 62. For further illustration of the conflicting process even after decisions had been taken see, for example, another report by Berthelot concerning the financing of one of the additional lines, ‘Etablissement d’une ligne métropolitain complémentaire […]’, CMP Procès verbal, 1 July 1898, 54 – 7.
68 D. Larroque 2002, 78.
69 The terms of the transition between the initial concessionaire and the CFMP were considered and adopted by the city council during the session of 27 June 1898. See Berthelot’s report ‘Constitution de la Société concessionnaire du Métropolitain’, CMP Procès verbal, 27 June 1898, 835; and the subsequent deliberation during the same session, CMP Délibérations, 27 June 1898, 463 – 64.  
70 For a brief discussion of Empain’s role in the provision of electricity for the Métropolitain network see A. Beltran, ‘Une Victoire Commune. L’alimentation en énergie électrique du Métropolitain (1re moitie du XXe siècle)’, Métropolitain. L’autre dimension de ville (Paris: Mairie de Paris, 1988), 115-17.
71 The extension of the Compagnie d’Ouest from St. Lazare to Champ de Mars served the exhibition grounds instead. It opened on April 12, and the junction between Champ de Mars and Invalides, operated by electric traction, two days later. J. Robert 1967, 34.
72 For a contemporary account prior to the opening see ‘L’ouverture du Métropolitain’, L’Illustration, 14 July 1900, 22-23; see also the brief note in The Builder, 28 July 1900, p. 72.
73 See J. Robert 1967, 35. For changes in the name of all stations in the network see the appendix ‘Stations ayant change de nom depuis 1900’, ibid., 302.
74 A similar situation could be observed in the case of the effective introduction of the electric telegraph in Britain, see J. Simmons 1995, 75-6; for the specific case of electric railways see ibid., 93-4.
75 P. Reverard 1905, 81.
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Carlos López Galviz, « The polities of a new technology : Electricity and the city railway in London and Paris, c.1880-1910 »Métropoles [En ligne], 6 | 2009, mis en ligne le 24 novembre 2009, consulté le 17 octobre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Carlos López Galviz

Institute of Historical Research, School of Advanced Studies, University of London, psv7(at)ymail[point]com

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