Home Abandoned Stations A plan for a swimming pool in a Paris Metro ghost station

A plan for a swimming pool in a Paris Metro ghost station

by Benjamin Kabak

What’s a swimming pool doing in an abandoned Paris Metro station? (Via Oxo Architects)

Throughout New York City, ghost subway stations serve as a reminder of the past. We spy fleeting glimpses of 91st St. underneath Broadway between 86th and 96th, and eagle-eyed riders of the 6 train know where to look to see the forgotten columns of the 18th Street station. Bill Brand’s Masstransiscope is a vivid reminder of the Myrtle Ave. subway station, but the MTA won’t even officially acknowledge the existence of the South 4th St. shell above the G train’s Broadway stop.

Even as the allure of the past draws us to these abandoned or never-used subway stations, over the years, various groups have proposed more practical uses. The old Court St. subway station in Brooklyn, for instance, hosts the Transit Museum, and on-again, off-again efforts to turn City Hall into a Transit Museum annex died at the hands of security concerns even before the 9/11 attacks. Today, it is home to regular Transit Museum tours and serves as an attraction for those who ride the 6 train through the loop south of the current Brooklyn Bridge station.

Every now and then, some plans emerge to make use of abandon subway stops, and those plans generally consist of fanciful renderings that go nowhere. We can talk about underground theater space and art galleries or restaurants, but throughout the world, abandoned subway stations continue to be just that. They remain forever abandoned.

The latest attempt comes from a Paris mayoral hopeful. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, currently polling second in her campaign, recently garnered worldwide headlines with her fanciful proposals to turn the Paris Metro’s ghost stations into something a little more lively. In conjunction with

An underground garden inspired by the Lowline. (Via OXO Architects)

Amusingly enough, OXO’s appeal to such romantically Parisian uses of the Metro rests on an analogy with New York. On their website, they write, “At a time when New-York is talking about the ‘Lowline’, why couldn’t Paris profit from its underground potential and invent new functions for these abandoned places?” The Lowline, of course, remains an idea, unfunded and unsupported by the transit agency that owns its planned space. Still, though, as OXO notes, “More than a century after the opening of Paris’ underground network, these places could show they’re still able to offer new urban experiments.”

So just what does NKM and the architects have in mind? They summarize: “To swim in the metro seems like a crazy dream, but it could soon come true! Turning a former metro station into a swimming-pool or a gymnasium could be a way to compensate for the lack of sports and leisure facilities in some areas. A theatre on a disused platform could be an amazing venue for artists, choregraphers or dancers to perform, in an outstanding yet familiar setting. Why not open a night club in the Arsenal station? Close to La Bastille, a vibrant neighboorhod, it is the perfect location to party in the heart of Paris without the risk of disturbing the neighbors.”

The Paris Metro nightclub. (Via OXO Architects)

NKM has explained her thinking on the proposals. For those of you, like me, who cannot read French, she has said she wants to convert seven of the 11 Paris Metro ghost stations into community spots. She herself went exploring two decades ago because “it was too tempting,” and she notes that “magical” atmosphere underground. I understand her sentiments entirely.

It’s hard not to find these ideas appealing even if the odds of them becoming a reality are slim. We dream of past station we never saw in service, and we dream of ways to bring back what was once built for productive uses. The City Hall station in New York remains something amazing to see while others flash by in the blink of an eye. Maybe one day, the public can appreciate abandoned infrastructure; today, we’ll just enjoy these renderings instead.

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Roxie February 13, 2014 - 1:13 am

Thinking about it, wouldn’t the City Hall Transit Museum annex plan have been pretty awkward, logistically? It couldn’t have housed vintage rolling stock unless they built a new balloon loop/tracks and a crossover for turning or extended the 6 to Bowling Green or Brooklyn (which would have badly messed with the tight scheduling of all 3 Lexington lines), and even without the rolling stock there, they’d have either had to wall off the the tracks with extreme sound damping or just have 6 trains screeching horribly around the loop while patrons look around; not exactly a conducive environment to things that happen in a museum.

Subutay Musluoglu February 13, 2014 - 8:03 am

The plan to convert the City Hall station to a Transit Museum annex did in fact call for the installation of a clear, sound dampening barrier at the platform edge to reduce the noise from turning 6 trains. There would have been no changes to tunnel or track infrastructure. The platform itself would have become a showcase for various items and relics dating back to the first IRT line’s construction and opening, including a number of large plaques that are currently in storage, along with construction drawings and photographs.

Subutay Musluoglu February 13, 2014 - 8:05 am

And I forgot to add that entry to the station would have been from the plaza in front of City Hall, through a replica IRT kiosk similar to the one at Astor Place.

Bolwerk February 13, 2014 - 9:51 am

The annex at GCT doesn’t have any equipment either. It has some small exhibits about history, or at least did the one time I was there.

John-2 February 13, 2014 - 1:22 am

Lower South Ferry for a while was the biggest salt water pool in the Tri-State area since they closed Palisades Amusement Park. But I don’t think the MTA can get disaster relief funds for a permanent conversion to that usage.

(I still think 18th on the Lex would make a good quirky restaurant on the northeast end of Union Square, as long as you could soundproof it enough to where people could talk while the trains go by. Unfortunately, since 18th never had an underpass like 28th or Astor Place, there’s no way to tie both platforms together.)

JMB February 13, 2014 - 9:20 am

I always wanted to do this idea if I ever had such expendable income to spend. Except I wanted to try it at Worth Street and would make it a bar rather than a restaurant. One way mirror that dampens sound, old-time records playing, get the old lighting working, restore the tile. Ah, one can dream.

Elvis Delgado February 13, 2014 - 8:50 am

Somebody help me here; I don’t understand what Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet is suggesting. If a closed station still has (non-stopping) trains running through it, how can the trackway be used for a swimming pool – or, indeed, anything else but a trackway??? It’s one thing to re-purpose an unused platform, but if the tracks are not similarly unused, how can any of these “fanciful proposals” be implemented?

Jeff February 13, 2014 - 9:59 am

If we’re allowed to just discuss the proposals at face value and not bring transport politics, technical feasibility, or parallels to NYC into this…

Swimming pool is the coolest in my opinion. It plays on the whole structure of the track bed vs. platform, with the track bed being roughly as deep as a swimming pool, and the platform serving quite naturally as the “deck” area of a swimming pool.

Bolwerk February 13, 2014 - 10:04 am

Turning a former metro station into a swimming-pool or a gymnasium could be a way to compensate for the lack of sports and leisure facilities in some areas.

Paris is the only western major city I have spent virtually no time in, so I have trouble commenting on it.

But, generally speaking, does it ever occur to these artsy masturbaters that the major reason people in certain places don’t have access to amenities is precisely because there is poor transit access? The Low Line’s space is not so defensible as a future transit service,* but the people who want to build a park on the Rockaway Line are ignoring that the Rockaway Line has potential to bring literally millions of people access to a huge, extant city park that is currently only accessible by car and some crawling buses.

* It’s defensible enough that I wouldn’t want to see it given away permanently.

Ryan February 13, 2014 - 4:17 pm

In the Rockaway Line’s case specifically, the real problem is that its tremendous utility is basically invalidated by the fact that its only real opportunity for connecting to the subway network is the Queens Boulevard line, which has an absolute capacity of 26 trains per track per hour assuming CBTC is installed – in other words, you have an absolute maximum of 26 round-trips on the local tracks and 26 round-trips on the express tracks. You can “theoretically” get more out of it, but that would require a strictly better signaling system than what we’ve got today.

26 TPH seems like a lot until you realize that’s divided out over three local lines which means that each of those lines ends up with service somewhere between 6 and 10 TPH. That’s barely adequate at peak hours for a far-flung terminal branch and totally insufficient for the reactivated line. It’s effectively at capacity already with just the M and R trains; reintroducing the G now pushes it over capacity unless you want to further slash G headways to 6 TPH in order to maintain 10 TPH on both of the local lines into Manhattan (which is going to piss off G users) or divert the R onto the BMT Broadway express tracks and up Second Avenue (which then frees up all that R capacity for the G instead and also plays nicely with the resurrection of the W).

It’s doable, but only at the direct expense of a lot of people elsewhere in the system.

Long Island City, on the other hand, is basically drowning in capacity as the LIRR’s least favorite terminal – and reactivating the Rockaway Beach Branch as an LIRR service (Main Line -> Rockaway Beach Branch -> Montauk Branch -> Jamaica) lets us take advantage of all that wasted capacity, relieves crowding on the Queens Boulevard Lines west of Forest Hills, and can be easily integrated into existing LIRR operations on day one by rerouting all existing LIC service (peak hour only) over the new connection and instituting off-peak City Terminal shuttles between LIC and Jamaica via the connection. You’d have to transfer to reach Manhattan, but nothing in life is perfect and we can have long-term far-reaching plans to punch new tunnels through to 34th Street for the LIRR as part of… wait for it… Penn Station Expansion!

afk February 13, 2014 - 5:44 pm

Current schedules you’d lose about two trains per day if capacity is 26 tph.


Says track capacity is 30 tph, not 26. But even at 26, you lose two trains per day for some existing riders, while increasing frequency for the local tracks and bringing service to a section of queens that doesn’t have it. There’s a bottleneck at 71st continental, they can’t turn 20 tph there. Is there any reason you can’t have two G trains finish at Court Square instead of heading down QB? Then G riders don’t lose any trains if that’s where you would have cut them.

Ryan February 13, 2014 - 6:10 pm

Huh. Siemens claims that Trainguard MT CBTC (which is what we’re rolling out here) is capable of signaling for 30 trains per track per hour. Apparently, we already have a better signaling system than the one I thought we had.

I stand corrected.

Ryan February 13, 2014 - 6:51 pm

They absolutely could turn 20 TPH at 71st if they wanted to, thanks to tremendous capacity on the yard approaches. They probably couldn’t do it if the next local inbound has to be the same train that just came out of service outbound – but they can have Train #1 come into service at the same time Train #2 goes out of service, then Train #3 comes into service at the same time as Train #2 is being readied for service and Train #4 is going out of service, then Train #2 goes back into service as Train #3 is being readied for service and Train #5 is going out of service; and so on, and so forth.

As for the G, you might be able to cut select trains there and turn them around – but the timing on that worries me, and if we can actually push 30 TPH through the Queens Boulevard Line then there’s no good reason not to have full G service running through.

I maintain that diverting the R up the Broadway express tracks into the SAS makes far more sense, and we could run equal numbers of G and M V trains over Queens Boulevard with the R out of the way.

Actually, there’s enough capacity east of 71st that you could run G trains through to 179th on the local tracks if you wanted (and shift the F to express-running between 71st and 179th if you wanted that, too). The F and G are already splitting capacity between themselves at the other end of the line, and doing that happily solves the non-problem of turning a high volume of trains at 71st.

BruceNY February 15, 2014 - 12:30 pm

I like your idea of diverting the R up Second Avenue. Just having the Q Train alone will mean fairly long waits for a train in such a densely populated neighborhood–especially at rush hour. Moreover, I’ve never bought the idea the MTA claims which is that they cannot run three locals along Queens Blvd. The fact that the N, Q, and R all share the tunnel under the East River disproves this. Years ago, during Manhattan Bridge construction, the B, D, and Q all ran along the 6th Ave. Express. And they managed this without expensive computerized signalling equipment.

Bolwerk February 13, 2014 - 6:36 pm

Meh. I wish people would stop thinking that subways aren’t useful if they don’t go to Manhattan. The Rockaway Line would still offer passenger transfers to 2-3 lines that do go to Manhattan.

Not everything needs to be the Second Avenue Subway.

Alon Levy February 13, 2014 - 9:34 pm

Poor transit access? In Paris?

Bolwerk February 14, 2014 - 12:14 am

I wasn’t trying to imply that, but I think it’s fair to say every city has its share of unmet transit needs.

bob5 February 13, 2014 - 11:11 am

The pool seems a bit impractical, but I’m all for JMB’s suggestion of carving bars out of the old NYC stations. With a combination of sound proofing and loud music, it would be a fun place to hang out.

Elvis Delgado February 13, 2014 - 12:18 pm

“A bit impractical” is an understatement. First, they’d have to build locks at both ends of the station to keep the water from running down the tracks. And like the locks in the Panama Canal, they would need to be operable, so that when a train approached (about every 3 minutes or so, if my recollection of Paris service levels is accurate), they could order everybody out of the pool, drain it, dry out the electrical equipment, open the locks, and let the train through. They could then close the locks, re-fill the pool, and repeat the cycle.

Give me a break.

Michael February 13, 2014 - 2:09 pm

I see the pool idea as rather practical, especially if the abandoned station is completed closed off to all train traffic of any kind. From an construction/engineering stand-point it would not really be that difficult to remove the trackage and rail components, add the water filtration ducts, add additional concrete sections to fill in holes for the pool, add tile walls to complete the finished pool. In a nearby storage room to add the filtration machinery for the pool, as well as connections to the local nearby sewers. The subway station has power, so the power requirements of the pool are really not a problem. Converting parts of the mezzanine into locker rooms and showers and maintenance & office space would not be a supreme task. Such an endeavor would not actually cost a huge amount of money. This is a practical idea if enacted for a closed abandoned station, not far-fetched at all. The supplied graphic rendering is cool.

Elvis Delgado February 13, 2014 - 3:18 pm

Agreed. It looks cool. But the wall tiles say “Arsenal” and closing that station to train traffic would sever line 5 – an extremely busy and important link across Paris – at a key point. Think of 18th Street on East Side IRT, and you’ll have an equivalent situation. Southbound trains would probably have to stop at Grand Central and return to the Bronx, and northbound trains would have to stop at 14th Street and return to Brooklyn.

Cool as it might be, I cannot agree that this is “rather practical”.

Michael February 14, 2014 - 12:04 pm

Unfortunately I am not very familiar with the Paris Metro system. An artist created a rendering of a two-track vaulted subway station, and imagined that station converted into a swimming pool. Of the three renderings, I liked the pool idea the best.

I would hope that the persons making these proposals are choosing places – even if just for discussion purposes – that actually have the possibility of being converted to other uses. Why would it help their main purpose to mis-lead othes, by using stations that never, ever could be converted to such a usage? If the planners do not do their homework …

In NYC terms – there is simply no reason to make such a rendering of a swimming pool using the Main Concourse of Grand Central Station because no matter how nice a rendering such a conversion is not gonna happen.

As I said, in the first sentence of my reply, I talked about an abandoned completely closed station, closed off to all train traffic of any kind. And I repeated that point in closing with: “This is a practical idea if enacted for a closed abandoned station, not far-fetched at all. The supplied graphic rendering is cool.”

Only certain places within any city-wide transit system fit the requirements of abandoned, completely closed off to all train traffic of any kind. One can not suggest as examples stations that do not fit the above conditions – something noted at the start. One can do things with a station in NYC terms like Court Street, that is not possible at say 91st Street or the remaining Myrtle Avenue subway platform.

It is still my goal to visit the Paris Metro system, I’m not dead yet, and I still have time. Unless they turn all of the subway stations into swimming pools and nightclubs. LOL

Michael_G February 13, 2014 - 1:39 pm

If funding comes together for the proposed Dupont Underground project in D.C. — which would rehab the abandoned underground streetcar station at Dupont Circle — that could serve as a good test case on how to (or not to) adapt such unused transit spaces.

In the mid 1990s, the old streetcar station was shortly used as an underground food court, the Dupont Down Under, but failed miserably, so readapting such spaces isn’t exactly a proven winner. But the right concept with good funding and strong community support could work.

Spendmor Wastemor February 14, 2014 - 1:18 am

The pool have been installed at New South Ferry.
With great foresight, the station’s design provided a convenient water supply.

Alon Levy February 16, 2014 - 6:57 am

A few after-the-fact thoughts:

1. Subway stations are cramped spaces. Ideal uses for abandoned stations should be ones that are space-efficient and hard to do above ground. The transit museum is a really good use of the abandoned Court Street station, because displaying museum trains requires abandoned tracks that are connected to the rest of the system.

2. A special characteristic of subway stations is that they’re several blocks long, which encourages long linear usages. Swimming pools aren’t it – they have no real reason to be longer than 50 meters. Dancing space also isn’t it. Shopping arcades and galleries work better when long and narrow. Linear parks, maybe – personally I’m skeptical because I like meandering paths more, but I get that the High Line is popular. This is of course different for multi-track tram loops.

3. Paris, New York, and similar cities have self-inflicted space shortage, but is it so severe they can’t open public swimming pools above ground? Ditto party space with enough sound insulation to avoid disturbing residents.

4. Specifically for the Essex Street terminal, the blocks southeast of the intersection have parking lots. Everything that can be built underground can be built much more easily and spaciously above ground. It’s also conveniently on top of an intersection of two below-capacity subway lines. Assemble a wishlist of what you’d like to see there, and put it all in 20-story towers occupying the currently undeveloped block and a half.


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