Since 2011, photographer Pierre Folk has traversed Paris’ Petite Ceinture, or Little Belt Railway, which has been abandoned since the 1930s. Apparently, discussions have been ongoing since last year about the line’s future. Ideas include tearing up pieces of the 20-mile (32-kilometer) railway so as to free up room for new development or preserving the railway and turning into a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly linear park. Parts of the line have been reused for contemporary railway infrastructure, but much of it remains outside the civic realm, except for a small piece opened to the public.
Access to the Little Belt — which is elevated, ground-level, or subterranean — is still forbidden, but that hasn’t kept Folk or others from getting a closer look. One tunnel of the old line even provides access to the city’s catacombs.
According to Wikipedia, the railway was first conceived in the 1840s as a military transport system, a way to convey troops and material around the city. The railway was built in the space between an existing “tax wall” and a “larger and better-fortified ring of protection,” an outer wall. The French government couldn’t afford to complete the line on their own, so they asked the major rail companies for support in uniting all their lines in the capital. In a long-term lease with the government, these companies created the infrastructure, which evolved into railways for passenger and freight trains, and maintained it until the early 1930s, when other networks began to supersede these lines.
We hope that Folk’s photographs will lead to the preservation of this charming piece of infrastructure, much like Joel Sternfeld’s evocative photographs of a wild High Line helped convince New York City’s policymakers there was something worth saving.