Gare du Nord serves not only as one of the major rail hubs for the capital, but also the arrival point for the Eurostar and shuttles from Paris’ two main airports – meaning that it is often the first part of the city that tourists see.
And it doesn’t give a good impression – the station is dark, confusingly laid out and its infrastructure is crumbling, so it’s far from uncommon to see buckets placed to catch water from the leaking rook.
But it’s the security aspect that worries the police – as the station has also become a hotspot for pickpockets, unlicensed taxi drivers, illegal street vendors and drug dealers, as well as a hangout for homeless people, many of whom have mental health problems.
Although the biggest security problem is undoubtedly pickpocketing – especially of confused, newly arrived tourists – there are occasionally more serious incidents, such as the attack on January 11th when a man randomly assaulted seven members of the public with a sharpened chisel.
A year previously, another knife-wielding man, later revealed to be homeless and with mental health problems who frequented the station, was shot by police.
Police presence in the station has now been massively stepped up, with dozens of officers patrolling at all hours of the day and night, in addition to the soldiers from Operation Sentinelle who make regular patrols of Gare du Nord (and other sites that have the potential to be terror attack targets).
The commander of the unit based at Gare du Nord told Le Parisien: “Unlicensed cigarette sellers, crack cocaine dealers, pickpocketing, drunk people – these are all problems that characterise Gare du Nord.
However, she added that things have improved in recent years, saying: “There is no longer a war between rival gangs, who used to come here regularly to fight in front of the [now-defunct] Foot Locker store. Many new stores have moved in. The light is soothing. It’s not an anxiety-provoking place at all.”
The station – through which 700,000 people pass every day – has long been a sore point for city authorities, who are well aware of the poor impression it gives to new arrivals.
However in 2021, an ambitious plan to completely redevelop it and add a huge new shopping mall was rejected. Instead, it was decided to simply give the existing station a revamp in time for the 2024 Olympics.