Lyon-Saint Exupéry TGV


Situated 19-KM east of Lyon city centre, within the Rhône Department of south east France, this station serves the country’s third largest airport in terms of passenger numbers. Lyon-Saint Exupéry comprises two terminals, which between them serve nearly fifty airlines, and the adjacent railway station is undoubtedly the airport's most striking feature. Located on the western side of the airport complex and linked to the terminals by a 175-metre-long covered walkway, Lyon-Saint Exupéry TGV — as the station is now known — can be reached from Paris by train in less than two hours over LGVs (Ligne à Grande Vitesse: High Speed Line) Sud Est and Rhône-Alpes.

The airport, originally named "Lyon Satolas", was formally opened in April 1975, but nearly two decades passed before a railway and station were built alongside. The origins of the airport link lie with the double-track LGV Sud-Est, the southern portion of which opened to public traffic on 27th September 1981. At this stage, the northern extremity of the LGV was at St Florentin-Vergigny, where a junction was made with the "classic" Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée (PLM) line, 148-route KM from Paris Gare de Lyon; the southern limit was at Sathonay, on the northern fringes of Lyon, where the existing metals running between the latter and Bourg-en-Bresse were joined. The remaining section of the high-speed route, between St Florentin-Vergigny and Lieusaint — the latter where another junction with the PLM was made, 29-KM from Paris Gare de Lyon — opened to traffic on 25th September 1983.

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

In October 1987, construction of LGV Rhône-Alpes was approved by the French Government. Essentially, this was a 115-KM southward extension of LGV Sud-Est which bypassed Lyon, but served the city’s Satolas Airport to the east, and ended in Valence, in France’s Drôme Department. The first 37-KM section of LGV Rhône-Alpes between Montanay Junction, where a connection with LGV Sud-Est was made (8½-KM north of Sathonay), and St-Quentin-Fallavier, where a junction with the "classic" Lyon to Grenoble line was created, officially opened to public traffic on 13th December 1992. In the August 1994 edition of Modern Railways magazine, it was reported that the airport had actually seen its first trains in February of that year: a temporary passenger service operated for two weeks in connection with the Albertville Winter Olympics.

Satolas TGV station opened to regular passenger traffic on 3rd July 1994, coinciding with the rest of LGV Rhône-Alpes from St Quentin Fallavier to St Marcel lès Valence being brought into use. The station's official ceremonial opening had occurred on 28th of the previous month. Two island platforms, each 480-metres in length and capable of accommodating twenty-vehicle TGV formations, were provided from the outset, the intention being that these would be served by four tracks (i.e. one per platform face). However, Modern Railways (August 1994) indicated that only three platform tracks had been laid by the time of the opening ceremony in June. As shown in the recent photographs of the station on these pages, the fourth track is still absent, indicating that it was never laid. Evidently, it was found that three platform faces sufficed for TGV services.

The islands and their associated rails are situated either side of a concrete box, within which is accommodated a double-track line allowing those TGVs not stopping at the airport to bypass the platforms (the same concept was adopted at Lille Europe). The platforms sit under a massive curved roof, comprised of a reinforced concrete skeleton of about 55-metre width and an average length of 445 metres, infilled with steel and glazing. The roof is intercepted midway down by the station’s core design feature: that of the main hall. This is a huge V-shaped structure of glass and steel construction, and is a product of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The shape of the hall is intended to resemble the wings of a bird taking flight, and the concourse is linked to the platforms below by a series of stairs, lifts, and escalators.

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

The total cost of the airport station project was 988 million French Francs (ref: Modern Railways, August 1994) and, at the time of opening, only TGVs served the station — there were no local trains to Lyon itself. As a result, airline passengers had to endure a 45-minute bus ride to the city centre. Whilst a rail link between the airport station and city centre was desirable, the cost of such a project was feared as being too high for the predicted passenger flows; however, space was provided on the western side of Satolas TGV from the outset, to accommodate the rails of any local connection. The city centre rail link eventually became a reality in 2010 when, on the 9th of August of that year, a light rail service between there and the airport commenced under the brand name "Rhônexpress" (ref: Railway Gazette International, August 2010). An island platform, approximately 80-metres in length, was commissioned upon that land which had been set aside from the outset for a potential local rail link. This "local" island platform is quite separate from that area accommodating TGV services; it sits outside of the curved roof of the main station, on the western side of the site, below the forecourt of the main hall. The light rail service provides a journey of 29-minute duration between the airport and Lyon Part-Dieu station, the latter of which was brought into use in June 1983 as part of a reorganisation of the city’s railways in connection with LGV Sud-Est.

In 2000, Lyon Satolas Airport was renamed "Lyon-Saint Exupéry", to mark 100 years since the birth of French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in the city. At the same time, the station became "Lyon-Saint Exupéry TGV".

2nd December 2022

The architecture of the railway station is striking, so much that the official website of the Rhônexpress tram link suggests that going to see it is worth a dedicated trip to the airport in its own right. The huge glazed structure in view is the main booking hall, which represents the wings of a bird taking flight. Either side, the booking hall is flanked by the concrete trainshed of the TGV platforms. The lift shaft links the station’s forecourt with the low-level Rhônexpress island platform. By this time, a pair of empty hopper wagons had appeared at the end of one of the tramway's platform tracks; presumably, these were delivered by road. © David Glasspool

2nd December 2022

The main hall is gigantic and, given the amount of glazing and space, is light and airy. The structure straddles the tracks and TGV platforms that are situated below. The platforms can be accessed through the openings on both the left and right of this westward view, which is taken from the “high-level” concourse that is linked directly to the airport’s Terminal 1 Hall "A" and Terminal 2. © David Glasspool

2nd December 2022

An eastward view from the concourse of the main hall shows pairs of escalators ascending to the upper floor, where more seating can be found and, of course, the walkway to the airport terminals. In the background is an alternative staircase to the upper level. Two large concrete platforms, seen either side of the escalators, project from the upper level and are reminiscent of the bow of a ship. © David Glasspool