“Stopping the megaproject to renovate the Gare du Nord is wise, but also incredibly expensive”

Pertes & profits. The Pi factor has struck again. The planners know this constant which owes as much to psychology as to business. A large project always ends up costing at least three times as much as the initial budget. Designed for a cost of 500 million to 600 million euros, the bill for the renovation of the Gare du Nord climbed to 1.5 billion, before going off the rails to end up in the background.

SNCF is not the first to come up against this empirical law which also holds true for the deadlines for completion. From nuclear breeder reactors to the Channel Tunnel, costing a single site is a high-flying exercise that combines the bias of optimism (think of your list of things to do this weekend) with the temptation to embellish the reality to win a contract.


But this drift that has flowed more than one project is also due to the French specificity of the mixed economy regularly combining, for good or for worse, the public will with private execution. And, as such, the renovation project of the first station in Europe brings together all the ingredients. The first is that of the tempo imposed by the political. He does not interfere with the realization, but wants a deadline. In this case, the one set by the Olympic Games (JO) in Paris in 2024.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also SNCF abandons current project to renovate Gare du Nord

The State, which, miraculously, finds 4 billion to extend a TGV line of 200 kilometers, does not pay a cent to transform a place that welcomes 700,000 people a day. “Stewardship will follow”, except that stewardship wins or loses battles. A good part of the urban planning promises of the Olympics will not be kept, and not only because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There is no magic money. If the public authorities do not want to commit funds, it is then difficult for them to criticize a private actor who seeks to make a return on his investment by setting up shops. The commercial space planned, and widely criticized, is not fundamentally different from those granted for the renovation of the smaller stations of Saint-Lazare and Austerlitz.

The Pi Factor Curse

In addition, there is insufficient dialogue between the stakeholders in the dossier. Focused solely on obtaining the building permit, and constrained by deadlines, the project promoters did not take the time to constantly consult with local elected officials and residents and took their hesitations into account. How can we imagine that a project of such a scale, transforming an entire district, could be built without close cooperation with the City of Paris?

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