My thrilling debut as the driver of a Paris metro train at the Musée des Arts et Métiers

Feeling frustrated that I still don't have my French driver's license and missing the excitement of being behind the wheel, I commandeered the controls of a metro train on Sunday afternoon. Since I've spent the last nine months listening to the Parisian passengers criticize the drivers for stopping abruptly or taking a curve too fast, I felt up to the task.

Leaving the station at the brisk pace of 10 kilometers (6 miles) per hour, the alarm suddenly sounded. Darn! While I know that it may seem as if I had neglected to shut the doors, I was actually being considerate of the passengers' comfort. I wanted them to have some extra air circulation because it can get stuffy with all of those warm bodies jammed together. But since rules are rules, I pushed the button to close the doors and rammed the throttle forward. Whizzing through the tunnel to make up for lost time, another alarm went off when I flew past a tiny red light that was barely visible to human eyes. Hearing sniggers, I looked behind me at the group of kids laughing at my ineptitude and waiting for their chance to drive the simplified simulator at the current exposition on the metro at the Musée des Arts et Métiers. Challenging them to do better than me, an experienced driver, I stepped aside and prepared to laugh. Much to my surprise, I have to admit that riding the metro would probably be more comfortable if 8 and 9 year olds were at the controls because they did a great job. It must be all of those video games that they play!

My short lived career as a metro driver ended in shame - "You did not respect the stop commanded by the red light. You will be replaced at the beginning of the course."

This photo was on the floor of the exhibit so that it felt as if you were looking down at the early construction workers.

While Stéphane was busy reading panel after panel about the construction of the metro (have I mentioned that he's an engineer?), I jotted down some interesting facts:
  • Five million people squeeze into the Paris metro every day. That's twice the city's population riding in a system that is more than 100 years old and has the highest level of traffic in the world!
  • The metro operates 20 hours every day.
  • Line 1, with more than 700,000 passengers per day is the busiest line of the Paris metro system.
  • Line 10, with approximately 210,000 passengers per day is the least busy line. That's why it's always such a relief to get on "my" uncrowded line when I'm heading home!
  • Line 8 is the longest line. It is 22 kilometers (13.67 miles) long and has 37 stations.
  • Line 3 bis is the shortest line. It is 1.3 kilometers (.81 miles) long and has 4 stations.
  • The maximum speed is 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour on Line 14.
  • There are 55 metro stations outside of Paris.

The panels for the expo are in French but there are laminated cards with translations in English at the information desk.

Ticket for an Expo (June 7, 2011 - January 1, 2012)

Musée des Arts et Métiers
60 rue Réaumur
75003 Paris
Underground/Subway : Arts et Métiers, Réaumur-Sébastopol
Intersection of lines 3, 7 and 8 under the place de l'Opéra. Etching by Louis Poyet published in "La Nature" in 1910.


  1. You're right, passengers need more air in underground trains! Must have been fun driving the train. Shame they won't be hiring you! Looks like daughter Caiti will be heading to Paris for Uni. She's discovered a course that's perfect for her at UPMC - combines science and design - so if she does, I'll get to see all these wonderful things you blog about.

  2. Glad to hear that you agree that it was a wise decision to leave the doors open. Plus, imagine the camaraderie that would develop between passengers as they clung to each to avoid falling out of the open doors!

    That's great news about your daughter. It's a big step to leave home but I'm sure that she'll love studying in Paris, especially since she has found such a good course. You'll have to tell me when you come for a visit - we can take turns driving the metro!

  3. I love these metro fun facts!! I had a suspicious that Line 8 had to be the longest. I used to live at La Motte-Picquet and friends over at used to take what felt like an hour to get there! This train is definitely one to avoid at rush hour.

    Also...I also a had a suspicious that line 14 went a little faster than the other trains. That stretch between Chatelet and Gade de Lyon is a long one, you practically fly there!! Again, love these fact!! I feel validated. : )

  4. oh you are brave and intrepid--I'm most reluctant to do those sorts of things with a crowd around--all for the art, all for the art. (blog).

  5. Mlle Ella, Me, too - I loved finding out all of these metro facts! I can't wait until the Trivial Pursuit - Paris metro version comes out. We'll be golden.

    Isn't it great to be validated. :-)

    Joseph, I have to admit that I wasn't really playing the game to get info for the blog. I was passing time while Stephane meticulously read every panel. The good news is that the exhibition inspired him to come up with a way to transport people more efficiently. Meanwhile, I was making a fool of myself in front of the French kids. But your comment makes it sound so much more meaningful, so let's just say that it was for the art of the blog!

  6. Thank you for letting me know about this exhibit! I've always had such a fascination with undergrounds so this exhibit sounds like something I would like. Hope to check it out this week!

    For a minute I thought you were totally driving the metro and got a private tour or something!!!

  7. *I had a suspicion...

    Oh la la...I'm fighting the fact that I need my glasses now when I type. : (

    Not validating...

  8. @KBH - Me too!!! I thought MK got some special privilege to drive the metro, you know without a French license to drive a train but just because she is just so bad-ass...ahhahahah!

  9. kbh, I enjoyed the exhibition but it was more technical than I expected. Stephane, however, was fascinated by the explanations of how they built the sections under the Seine. It also describes how they built the tunnels above ground and then dug under them to sink them in the ground. It's pretty amazing when you think that this was in 1900. A guided tour in French is included in the price of the ticket. Tous les jours à 15h30 Les samedis et dimanches à 14h et 15h30

    I wish that I would have had a private tour of the metro - maybe that needs to be my next goal!

    Mlle Ella, You laugh but what you don't know is that after grilling us and scrutinizing our documents for two days in a row, the French authorities told us that they would send us a letter in the mail telling us when to get our medical exams for our truck driving licenses! When I told them that I didn't want to drive trucks, only cars, they told me that I could give up that part of my Swiss license if I wanted, although they looked at me like I was crazy to give up my truck driving privileges. I mean, how will I earn my living from now on? It seems that the Swiss license allows me to drive little trucks, like U Hauls, but the French authorities thought that it meant that I could drive trucks, like the really big ones. Stephane and I had the best time laughing at the thought of me driving a big rig around Paris. Bad ass - you better believe it!

  10. What a great exhibition! It may have been technical, but it sure sounds fun. I'd love to try my hand at driving a train.

    Thanks for taking us again to the Musée des Arts et Métiers. It is indeed a neat station.

  11. Why would you EVER want to give up your truck driving privileges?!?! I'm bet they looked at you like you were nuts.

    That's what I love about the French, if you suggest something outside of their "norm", they look at you like you're out of your mind. The few times I have gone to Chez MacDo here, they look at me like I'm insane because I don't want the whole meal "formule", just the wrap. After calling the manager over, it takes a few seconds for them to absorb that I don't need the fries and I have a bottle of water in my bag therefore I'm set..just give me my damn snack wrap!

    I love this place.

  12. Nycgirl, Driving the train was fun, although it wasn't easy to remember to open the doors and close them! The Musée des Arts et Métiers is quickly becoming one of my favorite museums. Many of the displays are interactive, they let you take photos even of the temporary exhibitions and everyone who works there is incredibly nice. It just gives off a good vibe, plus it's an interesting place.

    Mlle Ella, I know - no more truck driving for me! Life just won't be the same :-(

    LOL. I can so relate to your story about the snack wrap and I know exactly what look you're referring to because it's quite often directed at me. And yes, in spite of (or perhaps because of) all of its quirks, I love this place too!

  13. I love the illustration of the cross section! Actually I had been looking for that very thing.


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