PARIS: ARSENAL & LINE 14 Our Eurostar was booked and I was waiting for Gooch in the terminal. We had a 4 day and 3 night window to have a look around one of the best cities in the world, with a loose plan in our heads we traveled across land and underwater at lightning speed. Rewind a month or so and the group chat was lit; exited messages flying backwards and forewords about the thought of booking a Paris trip and the stuff that was possible there! We had heard tales of people running off platforms into the tunnels mid-service, rooftops, layups and of course the Catacombs. We all found time off work and the tickets were paid for. Myself and Gooch stepped off the Eurostar and it was hot. Very hot. Around 30-35C. We were to meet cut.and.cover outside the station and from there go on to our airbnb, cut.and.cover had got the coach the night before and arrived a few hours before we did so he had gone for a look around while waiting for us. Time passed and we all met up and got on the metro headed for our room to throw our suitcases in and do some tourist stuff! Our airbnb was walking distance from the Arc de Triomphe so in the heat we plodded over, getting acquainted with our surroundings and looking through pavement metro vents.
The Arc was beautiful and bustling with tourists, I was in full tourist mode snapping away from various angles. We could see a crane in the distance and went to investigate, we were in no rush and it was pleasant walking around taking it all in. The crane was situated right next to a 'gentleman's club' and we saw our entry points confirming that we would be returning to this spot, cold beer was talked of and we found a nice bar at the side of the road with outside seating and umbrellas. This was a good time to plan our weekend and cool off. The plan was as follows: Night 1: Arsenal Day 2: Catas Night 2: More metro Day 3: Meet Conrad Night 3: Rooftops
Fast foreword to the night and we were getting one of the last services across the city to the stop after Arsenal. The station was closed for WWII and never saw legitimate passengers again. After the last train we maneuvered ourselves onto track level and carefully walked on the wooden sideboards trying to make as little noise as possible, unsure as to what we might find around the corner; workers? Writers? An unscheduled train? As we edged around the bend we could see the coast was clear and our party of 4 picked up the speed down the straight towards the abandoned station. The tunnels were humming and the air was still hot, mixed with the physical exertion of access and sweat it was slightly uncomfortable but there were more pressing things to worry about. Unlike the dusty blackened underbelly of London, there are no handy boxes on the tunnel walls indicating if the electrical current on the live rail is off or on, we all stayed away as much as possible just to be sure. As we were within throwing distance of the station we all slowed down, communication was down to hand signals and nods as we crept up the stairs to the platform. A quick look around the corners to check we were alone and the tension was soon eased slightly, only slightly.
The abandoned station was covered in graffiti, some people like it, some don't but I fall into the first category. Leaving your mark is something that has been done for hundreds of years and it makes some places much more interesting to look at especially if you consider the extra legal risks involved. All seemed quiet in the tunnels with no sound of any workers or trains rumbling in the distance. The cameras and tripods were all out and everyone was snapping away capturing the ghost station.
We were constantly checking up and down the tracks for torches bobbing in our direction but our fears never materialized, however it is always good to stay on your toes just in case. At the edges of the platform on both sides there are high fences that made it awkward for photos and getting around to hop from platform to platform. There wasn't that much to see other than a staircase on both sides leading up to the surface, the door wouldn't open meaning that should we run into trouble the only way out was running back the way we came or forewords and through the live station, the more preferable option would be to go back the way we came.
Once all was seen one side we went around the fence, across the tracks and up onto the other side of the station. It was very similar, the only difference being there was an electrical substation on this side of the station with a locked door. You could peer through the slats in the door however, and it was uninteresting on the other side. Crossing over the live rails gets your heart pumping especially as we were unsure to the current running through them, the uRb3x technique of large clown-like steps were used and we were safely up onto the other platform searching around for anything of interest.
As the other side of the station was so similar to the first side we decided to have a wander down the tracks to have a look around the corner and see what lies ahead. On the metro map we had there was a track crossover ahead so we went to photograph it. Every 50m or so there was an alcove for workers to stand in should a train go past while they were on the tracks, it took a bit of the edge off knowing we wouldn't get splatted down the side of the tunnel walls. It was still hot in the tunnels but we were more relaxed now, the humming was still present but we were confident that nobody was around except from our 4 man strong team.
We stopped and photographed the crossover and peered around the next bend, it was a stone throw away from the next live station up the line! We were still calm, certain that if there was any form of authority we would have been discovered and sprinting towards the exit by now. More photos were taken and we slowly started to head back the way we came. I climbed up a short ladder on the tunnel wall following some cables upward, the ladder went to a small corridor with a locked door at the end. I could just about see over the door by standing on some of the cabling and saw it was a service area of the live station, there was a lack of graffiti here suggesting that it is frequently used by workers. I tried the padlock on the door but it was firmly locked and descended the ladder to meet the rest of the team and to tell them of the corridor. We continued back towards the abandoned station with the intention of taking some last few pictures on the way out.
When we got to the ghost station we hopped up the stairs to the platform and got some last shots before moving onto our next target of the evening. The last few shots didn't take long to capture and we were off the other end of the platform and back focused on exiting in minutes, content with the photographs we had taken of the station.
Stay alert
With the last pictures of the station snapped, we started on the straight towards our exit. This adventure actually occurred on our second night in Paris, our first try was thwarted by workers right next to the access point, walking up and down the tracks so we called it a night and made our way back to the room via the river walk of the Seine and a quick walk on the RER tracks. As we felt the fresh air near the tunnel portal the adrenaline was pumping again, the fast walk we had adopted was slowed to a snails pace once again as cut.and.cover checked the corner for orange hi-vis. The coast was clear. A hop, skip and a jump later we were out and elated over our first victory in the Parisian metro.
Our next target was a large crane we had spotted, the red aircraft warning light standing out against the deep dark blue of the nights sky. Thinking it would be a breeze considering that we had just fairly comfortably strolled through the city's metro tunnels we hopped the fence at the first secluded area we saw and walked over piped and scaffold to the stairwell of the construction site. I was at the back of the party as we approached the stairwell when we all heard the bang of a door closing on the floor above. The next thing I heard was a slightly nervous "Bonjour?" from the level above. Panic spread like the plague, one by one in the order of Conrad, Gooch, cut.andcover and then myself, Conrad being closest to the stairs and closest to the guard. Sprinting out of the site the closest fence led out onto the busy main road and bus station where there was an assembly of Parisians waiting for their buses. "BONJOUR!?" Shouted the guard that was now chasing us. My hands gripped the top of the fence like a vice, unlike wooden hoarding this metal hoarding was thin and painful to hold onto but it was the only way out now. As I was about to drop down the 8ft hoarding I glanced back to check the rest of the group, I didn't get a good look as I was unaware of how close the guard was, not much further than a few strides! I dropped down and ran off down the street, followed closely by Gooch and cut.and.cover. We stopped around the corner and waited for Conrad, who never came. We waited around for half an hour, just within sight of the construction site expecting to see Conrad pop over the hoarding and sprint off. Instead we saw a police car pull into the space outside the site and we realized that Conrad had been caught. On meeting Conrad the following day he recalled the story of being pulled down off the fence by the guard and then dragged back into the site office, thrown to the floor and sat on by one of the guards until the police turned up.
The next night after a failed attempt at some more metro, Gooch suggested that we try the line 14 extension. cut.and.cover didn't fancy it and began the long long walk back to the room; while myself, Gooch and Conrad ordered our Uber. We got to the site, it was around 4am at this time and this was pressing on our minds. We needed to get in, and then get out. Luckily the site was next to a large park that was dimly lit, providing the perfect amount of darkness needed to scale the fence. A check of Google maps revealed that we were right next to the open cut section that was destined to be the station, this was a surefire way into the tunnels. We hopped over some more of the sharp metal fence and were crouched behind cover while we listened to our surroundings. There were sounds on the site but they seemed far away so we emerged from our blind spot and walked out in front of cameras towards the ladder leading down. It was tense and the ladder was noisy but we pushed on, constantly scanning the area for workers or any sign of life. On ground level it was apparent that we were not alone, the rolling sound of an empty pallet truck being dragged echoed around the large chamber and we stayed behind cover. We listened for a few minutes before we decided to chance it and quickly dart into the new tunnels.
Once in the tunnels the usual hum of machinery was in the air, we were nervous, anxious, but totally drunk on adrenaline. With no planning involved in this adventure we had gone headfirst into a situation that would give us only one way out should it turn sour and we meet a worker party or worse as we were unaware of the working timetable of the site, was it 24hrs or just a day site? We pressed on, keen to get away from the noise of the pallet truck but still cautious as we wandered into the unknown. Each step echoed and there was no way of avoiding it, short of taking our shoes off. Between the steps a beep could now be heard, we all stopped. It sounded like a vehicle reversing warning.. We quickly jogged back to the fist bit of cover we could find and ducked behind it; It was not much to hide behind and the chances of being seen were high.
We hid for around 5 minutes but the beeping didn't seem to get any closer, edging out from behind the cover we slowly walked around the corner to investigate the noise, hearts in our mouths we peered around the corner, expecting a team of workers to be there. What greeted our eyes was the cherry on the top.
A live TBM (Tunnel Boring Machine). This was the source of the humming and the beeps that were echoing through the empty tunnels. We debated whether to press on or quit while we were ahead. We figured that more research should be done and at the very least establish the working hours of the site. The green light and gushing water sound further into the TBM was worrying to be honest. I had to get one last shot of it, close up. I made my way across the loud uneven metal walkway and Conrad followed suit. One shot, looking down the TBM was all I wanted.
Feeling we had pushed our luck and time pressing on we turned back and started our way out. Once we were at the open soon-to-be station section the noise had ramped up since we first went in the tunnel, with people perhaps turning up for an early morning shift. We didn't hang around and sped up the ladders, across the roadways in front of the CCTV and out the way we had come in, without seeing another soul. It was a shame that we didn't go further but Conrad did some Googleing and found that the site was 24hrs and the TBM was supposed to be digging 24hrs as well. It didn't seem it like it was digging down there, but we played it safe and at the end of the day, got away without any implications. This was our last night in Paris and we never got to go back, since then I have seen pictures of people venturing deeper into the TBM and the newly dug line, fair play to those people! Had we one more night in Paris I'm sure we would have done the same.
A massive thanks to: Gooch Conrad cut.and.cover Often for me it is not the actual site that makes the urban exploration experience so enjoyable; it is the people that I share the experience with. The fear, the laughs, the camaraderie is what makes this hobby unlike any others and will give me memories to look back on when I'm old. Hope you enjoyed this write up of my time in Paris.
There’s a light that you give me when I’m in shadow...
None of these pictures are real.