Marseille Saint-Charles transport

The Marseille Saint-Charles train station is the main railway station in the town of Marseille. This station was built in a cul-de-sac by engineer Gustave Desplaces on the edge of a plateau near the town center.  The area was formerly occupied by rural properties.

Temporary station buildings first opened on January 8, 1848 for the company’s railway from Avignon to Marseille. The permanent station was not completed until several years later.  It connects with the city center by a monumental staircase, built in 1925, and is considered a historic monument.

The Marseille Saint-Charles has long been the obligatory point of passage for travelers to Africa and the Middle East. Before the advent of the airplane, travelers arriving from northern Europe, Paris, and England in particular, were halted for one night before leaving by boat.  There are still many hotels on the Boulevard of Athens that were built during this time.

Its traffic has grown from 7.1 million annual passengers in 2000, to 15 million in 2007.  This is from the effect of the TGV, which put Marseille three hours from Paris, one hour forty minutes from Lyon, and four and a half hours from Lille.
Consisting of main buildings that form a U, with a large glass roof, the station built in 1848 overlooks the town from the Plateau Saint-Charles.  Along the docks, the northern buildings greet arrivals while departures are to the south.  A freight yard stood back along the existing Boulevard Voltaire that was used until the 1990s by Sernam.

Because the station was isolated on a plateau, a staircase to link it with the town was projected in 1911.  Completed in 1926, it is decorated with sculptures on the themes of Africa and the Orient.  At that time the first mezzanine was fitted under the esplanade in front of the main building.

In the late 1990s, it was felt the station needed to be restructured.  It had lost its pride, was rendered nonfunctional by successive developments from the 1970s and 1980s, and exposed to dirt and insecurity.  A major project of re-development was planned, including the bus station and surrounding areas, to ready them for the TGV Mediterranean.

Moreover, the station is included in the proposed Euro-Mediterranean Program. This project is a very large-scale re-development of areas of the city along the commercial port and extends up to neighborhoods adjacent to the station (the May Belle and the Porte d’Aix en particular).

In addition to improving the main transport hub of the metropolitan area, the project aims toward the reclassification and rearrangement of buildings and their surroundings for better integration into the neighborhood.  The project is signed by the architect Jean-Marie Duthilleul. The first installment was delivered in June 2001, and included the redevelopment of car parks, a part of the mezzanine and the old hall (including the ticketing area), part of the south building and the docks.

The restructuring of the surrounding areas is still ongoing, but some of the traffic is changing with the opening of a tunnel under the railway linking the city to the A7 motorway and the establishment of a drop-off in the cul-de-sac along the south building, freeing the plaza outside the station from any traffic.  The canopy was removed from the main facade of the building, which was renovated and returned to its original state.
In its northern part, the construction of a new hall, Hall Honnorat, extends the old square to the regional building.  The hall opened on December 10, 2007.  This helped to enlarge the reception area for travelers and open the station to the adjacent Boulevard Charles Nedelec.  It consists of 6400 m² of glass (160 meters long, 40m wide and 15m high) with twenty-four decorated, artificial pine planted in two rows and supported by an imposing white exterior colonnade extending the old facade.

Besides being a large commercial area, this new hall includes the bus station that is now level with the train platforms.  A new drop-off and taxi area and two parking levels under the new hall are being delivered. The edges of this area of the station will be provided with widened sidewalks, minimizing the impact of traffic, and the station that was previously isolated on the esplanade overlooking the city will be better connected to a new neighborhood, still in development around the Porte d’Aix, with a new porch.