In the last few years, there has been a growing recognition that airports cannot operate in isolation from the rest of the transport infrastructure, especially in Europe, where passenger and cargo volumes are rising. Airport capacity is a perennial issue, but as European airports grow, the knock-on effect of increased air traffic on road and rail networks is becoming clear.

In planning European transport infrastructure for the next ten years and beyond, intermodal considerations must be at the heart of strategy, and France is one country where integrated transport planning is taking off.

One example is the construction of the CDG Express, a rail link between Gare de L’Est in downtown Paris and Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport. CDG already handles 70% of Paris’s air traffic and it is where most of the traffic growth in Paris is forecast for the coming years.

Currently, access from the centre of Paris to the airport is via the Réseau Express Régional (RER) network, and journey times can be lengthy, so a quicker link would benefit passengers and workers. Also, as air traffic grows, there is a need to move larger volumes of passengers with greater speed.


The proposed solution, a non-stop service that would reduce journeys to 20 minutes, is a combined effort between the French Government, French railroad operators and Aéroports de Paris (ADP). It would also enable passengers to check in for flights, including baggage check-in, at the Gare de L’Est terminal.

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“The airports must be linked with the transportation infrastructure of the Paris region.”

The aim is to not only make journeys quicker to and from CDG but also to provide a link where passengers face less congestion, avoid mixing with local commuters, benefit from enhanced security and can easily manage their luggage.

“The airports, being major flow generators, must be strongly linked with the transportation infrastructure of the Paris region,” says Jean-Marie Chevallier, director of airports planning division for ADP.

“This includes the major expressways, the secondary roads connecting the airport with the neighbouring communities, the high speed train (TGV), the regional train system (RER), the CDG Express, the local bus system and the internal airport automated people mover (CDG Val), which will connect all terminals to the train stations, bus terminal and car parks.”


The CDG Express, originally put forward by the Groupement d’Intérêt Economique (GIE) in June 2000, is backed by Réseau Ferre de France (RFF), ADP and rail operator SNCF. Upon completion, scheduled for 2012, the 25km rail link will transfer passengers from Gare de l’Est to Roissy, where CDG is located, in under 20 minutes for a fare of €15.

The route will use the existing SNCF line from Paris to Noisy-le-Sec, which will be extended with a two-line tunnel of almost 11km to Tremblay-en-France. From there, two lines will take it along the TGV route to CDG. The project has an estimated cost of €800m, which will come from private and public finances.

“In principle, these costs are borne by the agencies and organisations, as the airport and the various companies working within the airport are already contributing through local and regional taxes,” notes Chevallier. “Airports may contribute, as part of the mitigation measures of airport negative impact.”

The plans have been drawn up in light of expectations that air traffic volume at CDG will grow to 55m passengers by 2015, compared with around 50m today. At present, approximately 81% of passengers using CDG to travel to or from destinations in the Ile-de-France use the road network.

It is anticipated that around 26m passengers will travel to or towards Paris each year using the new rail link, compared to 17.5m at present, which would not only ease pressure on the airport, but could reduce congestion on the roads.


Lengthy public consultation on the CDG Express has taken place since the project was first proposed, with its backers keen to stress the benefits for the airport, tourism and the economy in Paris, as well as the wider transport infrastructure in France.

“Road access is less congested, making it easier for resident passengers to reach the airport, and the dedicated train will offer a safer and cheaper alternative for non-resident passengers.”

“The project studies were started in 1998 but the project itself has not started yet,” Chevallier points out. “It was initiated by the French Government, not by Aéroports de Paris, and it will become operational in 2012 at the soonest. Why not sooner? This is a decision of the French Government.”

ADP, Europe’s second largest airport group, operates 14 hub airports, including Orly, CDG and Le Bourget. It recently announced that 14 new airlines would be operating from its Paris airports, and has seen its overall volumes rise each year. 2004 figures show a 6.6% rise in passenger numbers from 2003.

Its part in the CDG Express project is crucial, but given the different elements that must be managed and coordinated, it will certainly be a complex project.


Chevallier can identify two major challenges: “Firstly, ensuring a strong connection with the local communities, mainly to make access easier for employees. Secondly, implementing the dedicated rail link to downtown Paris to improve access for non-residents, for whom downtown Paris is usually the destination.”

The scheme is intended to improve passenger access to and from CDG, and to increase the capacity of the transport infrastructure. “Passengers benefit in two ways,” says Chevallier. “Road access is less congested, making it easier for resident passengers to reach the airport, and the dedicated train will offer a safer and cheaper alternative for non-resident passengers.”


In the long term, the construction of the CDG Express could also ease some of the pressure on capacity at the airport, which is expected to see continued rapid growth in passenger numbers for the foreseeable future. The backers of the project expect that improving access to domestic and international high-speed rail links by shortening journey times to the Gare de l’Est will encourage some travellers to substitute rail for short-haul flights.

“This integration improves the relationship between ADP and the local communities because it reduces the airport’s negative impact – noise, emissions, road congestion.”

This would enable CDG to focus on catering for the more popular medium- and long-haul services.

As well as handling more passengers, the strategy behind projects like the CDG Express must carefully consider the impact of the growing capacity and extended infrastructure on the surrounding communities. Involving these stakeholders is the key to getting the project off the ground, and a coordinated presentation and strategy will help this to materialise.

“This integration improves the relationship between ADP and the local communities because it reduces the airport’s negative impact – noise, emissions, road congestion,” explains Chevallier.


Certainly the CDG Express project faces many challenges, not least of which is pleasing all the constituents affected by the development. Given its complexity, delivering the project on time will be no small feat. However, if it is constructed and operated effectively and considerately, then its business backers, passengers and the local communities could all stand to benefit.

If that win-win situation does manifest itself, it bodes well for the future development of transport infrastructure around France’s airports, and could further inform the integrated approach that is needed for the improvement of transport links in Europe as a whole. Chevallier certainly thinks there will be more changes to the way transport systems in France are organised and managed:

“We expect that liberalisation of rail transport will become effective for national and international links, but not the regional Paris network, with the exception of CDG Express and possibly a few other PPP projects.”

Elsewhere in the world, similar airport express links have proven successful. In London, for instance, the express services for Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted are doing very well. Similar developments in Vienna, Oslo, Stockholm and Hong Kong have also underlined the economic and social benefits of coordinating the transport infrastructure to meet the demands on airports.

ADP and the other investors in the CDG Express are hoping that the development will continue this tradition of success and stimulate future projects that can bring out efficiencies and synergies in Europe’s transport network.