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Transportation in France


total: 31,939 km (31,940 km are operated by French National Railways (SNCF); 14,176 km of SNCF routes are electrified and 12,132 km are double- or multiple-tracked)
standard gauge: 31,840 km 1.435-m gauge
narrow gauge: 99 km 1.000-m gauge (1998)

Trains, unlike road traffic, drive on the left.

See also: TGV, high-speed train, French railway history, Chemins de Fer de Provence, Eurotunnel.

Underground railway systems:

Tramway and light rail:

This mode of transportation started disappearing in France at the end of the 1930s. Since the 1980s, several cities have re-introduced it.
List of cities operating a tramway or light rail system:

Closed: Highways:
total: 893,300 km
paved: 893,300 km (including 10,300 km of expressways)
unpaved: 0 km (1998 est.)

Waterways: 14,932 km; 6,969 km heavily traveled

Pipelines: crude oil 3,059 km; petroleum products 4,487 km; natural gas 24,746 km

Seaports and harbors: Bordeaux, Boulogne, Cherbourg, Dijon, Dunkerque, La Pallice, Le Havre, Lyon, Marseille, Mulhouse, Nantes, Paris, Rouen, Saint-Nazaire, Saint Malo, Strasbourg

Merchant marine:
total: 55 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 1,155,286 GRT/1,693,030 DWT
ships by type: bulk 3, cargo 5, chemical tanker 6, combination bulk 1, container 5, liquified gas 4, multi-functional large load carrier 1, passenger 3, petroleum tanker 16, roll-on/roll-off 6, short-sea passenger 4, specialized tanker 1 (1999 est.)
note: France also maintains a captive register for French-owned ships in Iles Kerguelen (French Southern and Antarctic Lands) (1998 est.)

List of French Airports: 474 (1999 est.)

Airports - with paved runways:
total: 267
over 3,047 m: 14
2,438 to 3,047 m: 30
1,524 to 2,437 m: 92
914 to 1,523 m: 74
under 914 m: 57 (1999 est.)

Charles De Gaulle International Airport in Roissy, near Paris is one of Europe's principal aviation centers. It is also France's main international airport. Paris' other important airport is Orly Airport.

Airports - with unpaved runways:
total: 207
1,524 to 2,437 m: 4
914 to 1,523 m: 76
under 914 m: 127 (1999 est.)

National airline:

Heliports: 3 (1999 est.)


France naturally has a system of large, navigable rivers, such as the Loire, Seine, and Rhone that criss cross the country and have long been essential for trade and travel.

The first important human improvements were the Roman roads linking major settlements and providing quick passage for marching armies. These routes these roads followed are copied today by many modern highways and railroads.

Throughout the middle ages improvements were sparse and mediocre and transportation became slow and cumbersome. The early modern period saw great improvements. There was a proliferation of canals connecting rivers (like the Canal du Midi). It also saw great changes in oceanic shipping. Rather than expensive galleys, wind powered ships that were far faster and had far more cargo space became popular on the coastal trade. Transatlantic shipping with the New World turned cities such as Nantes and Bordeaux into major ports of international importance.


(see also French railway history)

Even in France, where, because of water transport, railways were of lesser import than in other nations, railways were still an extremely important area of economic development. Despite already having a well developed water transport system, by 1875 railroads were carrying four times as much cargo as canals and rivers combined.

French railways started later, and developed more slowly than those in other nations. While the first railway built in France was in operation in 1832, not long after the first line had opened in Britain, French progress failed to keep pace over the next decade.

After the war of 1870 the French rail system was overhauled and made far more efficient. By 1914 the French rail system was a match for Germany's and played a crucial part in France's victory in the First World War.

In the 1930s Léon Blum's socialist government nationalized the French rail system, along with many other industries, and the transportation system was successful in World War Two.

After the war the French train system began a slow movement to electric trains. Eventually high speed trains, such as the TGV were introduced providing extremely quick links been France's urban centers.

See also : France