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A nouveau kind of trottoir

The usual practice here is to denounce France, and certainly (with only occasional and admirable exceptions) the French, as one of God’s more incomprehensible derelictions of His creative duty. But this device, the Trottoir Roulant Rapide – which means “fast rolling pavement”, is, I think, impressive.

Science fiction buffs have long been able to read about such gadgets. At Heathrow, as in many other places I’m sure, there’s a slow rolling pavement, which makes your journey a bit less wearisome from the tube station to one of the terminals. And I seem to recall something similar connecting a couple of bits of the London Underground somewhere in the City, although I could be imaging that. But this TRR is an altogether more serious creation, because it is fast. It is rapide.

“People have to learn how to use it and that takes time,” the trottoir’s inventor, Anselme Cote, told BBC News Online.

He added that escalators had presented travellers with a similar challenge when they were first introduced.

People stepping directly on to the TRR would be sure to lose their balance, so they first have to be accelerated – and then decelerated again at the other end.

“The problem lies in the transitions; one has to glide from one phase to the next; we ask people not to move, but they are not used to it,” says Mr Cote.

“One must keep one’s feet flat between the two phases, but people walk. There’s a technique to it. But people get used to it very quickly.”

Fair enough.

Some regular users say it is a great timesaver, but that they would not dare use it with a rolling suitcase or a pushchair.

People who use walking sticks are also advised to steer clear.

What, no equal access for the handicapped? Apparently not.

It seems to me that “invent” is hardly the right word for what Mr Cote did here – we’ve all long known that such things could exist. It’s just that until now they haven’t, so to get the thing installed and working is still a major achievement. And it is no mere inventor’s indulgence.

“The real problem nowadays is how to move crowds; they can travel fast over long distances with the TGV (high-speed train) or airplanes, but not over short distances (under 1km),” he says.

You can travel from Le Mans to Paris in 50 mins, he points out, but crossing Montparnasse Station may take you 20 minutes.

This explains the enormous international interest the TRR has aroused.

Experts from all over the world have gone to Paris to see the magic trottoir in action.

The price for moving short distances can often reflect these difficulties. In the age of cheap air tickets, it is now a common experience to find oneself spending as much to get to and from an airport as one spends on the plane ride itself. I’m not saying that there should be one of these things connecting London SW1 to Stansted. And in general, London is pretty full up and might not be able to accommodate anything new along these lines. TRRs have to be straight, it seems, and presumably they don’t work so well in the open air. But for airports, spectator sports facilities and the like, surely the TRR, and its various spin-off and copies, has a big future.

Now I know that this has probably been done with public money and all that, so maybe I ought not to be, but nevertheless … I’m impressed.

I also like that word “trottoir”, even if all it means is “pavement”. It is suggestive, I think you will agree, of horses, although they’d better keep horses well away from this trottoir. And perhaps I should also add that my heading could be wrong. It could be a “nouvelle” kind of trottoir. Linguistically speaking, as I’m sure you all know, the French bring sex into everything.

27 comments to A nouveau kind of trottoir

  • Sylvain Galineau

    Connecting the Montparnasse train station to the subway has indeed been a huge waste of time for years. If you were in good shape and/or didn’t have luggage, walking this particular connection tunnel was actually faster than using the old rolling trottoir. Cool beans.

    And ‘nouveau’ is correct, here.

  • Liberty Belle

    Brian, You don’t say what it’s for. Is it just another travelator, like they have in airports all over the world for getting from terminal to terminal? Or is it actually for some city pavements? In that case, French dogs are going to have to learn to shit really fast.

  • Pete

    “The Roads Must Roll” Robert Heinlein, 1940

  • S. Weasel

    The usual practice here is to denounce France

    Actually, I would’ve said that the usual practice lately is to post entries vaguely defensive about France which turn into howling shit-storms in the comments section.

  • Jacob

    Hey, what’s the matter with you folks ? Can’t you walk 180 m ? (Old or disabled people will not be allowed to use the trottoir anyway, because of safety).
    Is it so urgent to save 2 minutes so you can use them walking on your treadmill at home ?

  • “Is it so urgent to save 2 minutes so you can use them walking on your treadmill at home ?”

    The focus, remember, is on crowds. If you move everyone two minutes faster, that can have a real impact on congestion.

  • MacBeth

    Pete, I was thinking the exact same thing. The similarities, especially considering France’s regular crippling strikes, are almost eerie

  • Phil Bradley

    Liberty Belle, check out the link to the BBC article. It has a nice flash animation showing how it works.

    The problem is an interesting one, how to move large numbers of people rapidly (faster than walking speed) and safely. Its particularly a problem in airports where distances can be quite large and people often have luggage/kids.

    One solution, certainly techically feasible, although I don’t know about the cost, is a computer-routed cross between a luggage trolley and a Segway scooter.

  • and at what point does a travelator become a trotoir?

  • Liberty Belle

    Phil – some airports already have pretty zippy travelators – although not as fast as what is envisaged with the trottoir roulant. Singapore’s move along at a pretty spanking pace, though. Maybe have two going each way. Really fast, for people without much luggage and no children under 12 and regular for everyone else. But the trottoir roulant does look interesting for specific purposes. For example, it could get people across bridges, which, in winter, are agony with winds tearing off rivers and driving sleet.

  • Kodiak

    Dear Brian,

    Don’t worry: “trottoir” is just like you & me >>> masculine >>> “le trottoir”.

    But since “kind” is “espèce” in French, that is a feminine word (“une espèce”), the full translation should look this way: “une nouvelle espèce de trottoirs” or “une nouvelle sorte de trottoirs”.

    Also: “un nouveau type de trottoirs”, “une nouvelle génération de trottoirs”…

    You’re using “kind”, so that can be masculine if you want. The gender agreement you used in the title is just fine…

    I expect the TRR to be soon adpoted by our outre-Manche cousins as the TGV (yet disguised in EuroStar) has been…
    Just, you know the EuroStar looks a bit panting as it reaches the verdant Kentish fields. The fast-as-a-rocket engine turns to a slowcoach that could be easily surpassed (in terms of speed) by unimpressed Anglic cows placidly gazing at it…
    So I’m still wondering what a slow privatised TRR could yield at all for Albion pedestrian comfort…


  • Kodiak


    TRR (length = 185m – max speed = 11km/h) is not that new: it’s been running since July 2002.

    TRR is also called TRGV: Tapis (or Trottoir) Roulant à Grande Vitesse (High Speed Rolling Pavement or Coating).

    Useful if you need rejoining Montparnasse (SNCF station) when using Métro lines n° 4, 6, 12 & 13.

    TRR is intended for hectometric distances with a 110.000 estimated daily throughput.

    Although delivered by a private company (!!!) >>> the CNIM (Constructions Industrielles de la Méditerranée), the TRR is a 100% public purchase (worth 4,5 million euros involving: RATP (public operating underground authority) for 50%, Région Ile-de-France (like Greater London Authority) for 25%, and STIF (Syndicat des Transports d’Ile-de-France >>> a public transport body for the Parisian region, not a union) for 25%).

  • Phil Bradley

    Singapore’s move along at a pretty spanking pace, though.

    Not faster than I can walk (I live in SG, use the airport a lot and generally walk rather use the travelators cos its faster). If you walk on the travelator you find non-walkers block you.

    The two different speed side by side travelators, I am sure has been tried, just can’t remember where. The basic problem I see with your idea and the trottoir is safety. The faster the human body is travelling, the more likely it is be hurt when its brought to rest by whatever means. Slowing down the body without slowing down the transporter seems inherently risky with no obvious solution. What you need to do is put the person in a container that can be accelerated and slowed as required – essentially all transportation systems work this way, for good reasons.

    Interestingly, appropriate systems already exist in airports, although they are used to transport your luggage.

  • Kodiak: Well, the TGV line from the tunnel to the outskirts of London will open later this year. I am sure the Kentish cows will be impressed.

  • Liberty Belle

    Phil Bradley – Yes, you can walk faster than the S’pore travelators, but once you’re on one and walk at your normal speed, you fairly fly along. As you say, other people block them by standing still and piling up their luggage in the way. They should have cattle prods or stun guns for busy travellers to use on these people, although their bodies would only pile up at the end and cause worse impediments.

  • Kodiak


    I hope what you said is right >>> I’d love to be metamorphosed in a Kentish cow for a while & watch a train running at 21st-century regular speed on the privatised soil of England…

  • Phil Bradley

    Liberty Belle, that made me laugh!

  • Kodiak: It is technically section 1 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link that opens this year. Still, this is the section the cows get to watch. This goes 74km from the tunnel to Fawkham Junction just on the outskirts of the London metropolitan area, and the train will then still have to use the London suburban network to get into Waterloo. Section 2 is the section of line from Fawkham Junction that will go over the Thames to the east of London and then will approach central London from the North East, ending up at St Pancras station. A lot of Section 2 will be underground, so this is the most difficult part of the line to build, and it will not be open until late 2006.

    (See the map here).

  • Kodiak


    Thanx very much for the map & commentary.

    I’m excited that London & Paris will soon be connected by a fast terrestrial link. That’s very good news.

    And too bad for Kentish cows’ tranquillity.

  • Ron


    The TGV/Eurostar is slow in Britain for operational reasons, not technological. If you leave Waterloo station on a clunky old 1960 BR slam-door train alongside a Eurostar you will find the old train accelerates and travels along identical adjacent tracks at twice the rate of the Eurostar.

    Also, Isaac Asimov had high-speed travelators in his science fiction travelling up to 60kph – it was done by having ten travelator bands side by side with each one moving 6kph faster than the one beside it. You get on the slowest one at any point and if you want to go faster or slower, you just move progressively sideways until you are riding on the one you want, with a walking-pace acceleration between each. Getting off is the reverse of the process.

  • A sidewalk that does the walking for you?

    What will these decadent French bastards invent next… a toilet that wipes your butt for you?

    Oh wait a minute…

  • Someone with Operations Research training could probably answer this, but at some number of people entering some amount of time from each other, wouldn’t they have to slow down the fast section to the speed of the slow sections? I.e., a bunching up effect at people slowly exit. I agree that a series of containers would be safer, and with a dispersed entry and exit area to avoid bunching up it would probably end up being faster. Even though I occasionally ride a mountain bike at a beginning level, I’d be somewhat apprehensive about getting on this thing, but I’d definitely try it out.

  • Shaun Bourke

    Clearly some Froggie engineer has visited LAX and decided that he has invented moving walkways…..so “Old European”

  • Dale Amon

    I also remember the problem with teenagers in the Asimov novels…

  • Which Asimov novel was this? The Caves of Steel seems the most likely, but I can’t really imagine it. (Heinlein wrote about stuff like this, too).

    Just to mention all of the Big 3 golden age writers, Arthur C Clarke’s The City and the Stars (which is set many tens of thousands of years in the future) has moving walkways that aren’t divided into sections but get steadily faster on a continuous basis as you walk towards the centre. They are described as being made of “a substance that is a liquid in two dimensions but a solid in the third”, so presumably the speed follows a plane Poiseuille flow profile or something like that.

    That’s the joy of being a science fiction writer I suppose. You can make future technologies up.

  • Vive la France, Vive le socialisme

    NON au libéralisme
    NON à Tony Blair
    NON à Silvio Berlusconi
    NON à Aznar
    NON à George Fuck Bush
    NON à Margaret Theatcher
    NON à Jean-Pierre Raffarin

  • When one sees the quality of argument arrayed against the forces of capitalism and quasi-capitalist statism by ‘Socialist Youth’, one cannot but be optimistic about the eventual triumph of capitalism.

    It is amusing to note that other than the first point this genius mentions (libéralisme), non of the rest are really people who the writers of Samizdata.net regard as on entirely on the side of Angels… WE are the real capitalists, whereas people like George Bush just talk about it whilst adding socialist style tariff barriers on steel and lumber.