Nantes train station: Withstanding the test of time

Portrait of a station
Nantes-Orléans station in 1912 (SNCF National Archives ©All Rights Reserved)
Nantes-Orléans station in 1912 (SNCF National Archives ©All Rights Reserved)

From the early days of its life to the ongoing project designed by the architect Rudy Ricciotti, the Nantes train station has faced competition from other sites within the city as well as delays and has been rebuilt or remodelled several times. And yet, it has endured throughout the decades with the confidence inspired by the belief in an ever-renewed youth. What follows is the portrait of a station, whose new design will be unveiled in 2019.


This is the story of a station built in a city that in 1886 boasted no less than nine railway stations. But this is also and above all the story of a site that managed to get through difficult periods. Throughout its history, the train station has been constantly reinvented and enhanced so that it can deal better with the changes occurring in the urban context.

860 SNCF Nantes
Nantes-Orléans station in 1860 (SNCF National Archives - F. Chapeau Publ., Nantes ©All Rights Reserved)

Birth of the Nantes-Orléans train station

The station’s history goes back to the late 1800s, when the municipality chose a site near the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, to the east of the city, for the construction of the first railway terminus. The trend was then towards classicism: two symmetrical pavilions flanked the 60-metre long train shed, which featured two imposing gables on its east and west sides. The dressed-stone façade featured high-arched glass-and-iron windows. In 1926, the local authorities decided to fill in two branches of the Loire River for health and safety reasons. These works were a watershed in the history of the station: railway facilities were gathered together to officially create Nantes-Orléans station, which was handling passenger transport, and Paris-État, which was handling freight.

1950 SNCF
Nantes station in 1950 (SNCF Gares & Connexions ©All Rights Reserved)

Renewal and adaptation to world-class events

Even the bombings of the Second World War and the gradual dismantling of the building (the large shed was torn down in only three hours!) did not jeopardize its future. The old station was knocked down in stages as the new one was rebuilt within the grounds in order to minimize disruption. The project was led by architects Henri Madelain and Pierre Lefol (from 1966 to 1969), who laid the foundations for a building marked by '70s modernism, featuring a sculpture by Jean Mazuet. A second building was added in 1989 to accommodate the new high-speed rail line, the TGV Atlantique. Its atmosphere -glazed concourse under two translucent canvas domes set on massive stone pillars- evoked travel and the ocean. Fast-forward to 1998, another major event prompted the Nantes train station to demonstrate its adaptability: the Beaujoire Stadium, located a few kilometres away, was confirmed as a venue for the FIFA World Cup. The station was revamped to become more functional, the glazed facades were replaced by new ones and glazed panels were added in the interior, the green marble flooring of the concourse was extended to the other areas of the building, colours became brighter and acoustics were optimized.

1969 SNCF
Demolition of the Nantes station in 1969 (SNCF Gares & Connexions ©All Rights Reserved)

History is still being written

The first transformation paved the way for the future multimodal hub, which has been designed by Rudy Ricciotti and is expected to open in 2019. The architect imagined a brand new esplanade that will provide a greener and more pleasant gateway to the city. This is a new turning point in the station’s history and a further proof that everlasting renewal will always be part of the station’s DNA.

gare Nantes 2012
Nantes station - South side in 2012 (SNCF-AREP ©Claude Le Breton)
Nantes station - South side in 2012 (SNCF-AREP ©Claude Le Breton)
Nantes station- North side in 2012 (SNCF-AREP ©Claude Le Breton)

Key dates

1852: Arrival of the railway in Nantes.

1886: The city boasts nine train stations.

1926: The current Nantes station confirms its position as main station thanks to works carried out by the port authorities. The goal was to fill in two branches of the Loire Rive to prevent any future flooding of the site.

1949: The Second World War left its mark on the building, already too old. The station was gradually knocked down and a new building was inaugurated 20 years later.

1989: The South Station is built to relieve the congestion of the North Station and to accommodate the new high-speed rail line.

1998: Major refurbishment work is undertaken to accommodate passenger traffic in anticipation of the FIFA World Cup.

2019: Nantes station is undergoing further transformation to become a multimodal hub.


*This article is from AREP’s Heritage Division document collection

* Written by Damien Guillou, based on texts and studies by Claude Le Breton, an architect at AREP’s Railway Heritage division who has been carrying out studies on railway stations and other rail facilities for the past 20 years.