France has a network of railways 60,000 km long, of which 42,000 are roads of general interest and 18,000 are roads of local interest (often narrow-gauge), operated by various companies, subsidized by the departments. It took more than half a century to build this network. The first line, which came into operation at the end of the Restoration, was that between Saint-Ètienne and Andrézieux (1828). In 1842 there were only 500 km. of railways. The nine major lines departing from Paris were built from 1843 to 1859, and with them the length of the roads increased to 16,000 km; finally, from 1859 to today, under the regime of agreements between the state and large companies, the total number of lines in operation has reached 42,000 km. At the same time, the tonnage of trains has increased dramatically, the power of the machines, the number of passengers and the weight of the goods transported. The number of travelers, who numbered 6 million in 1841, rose to 165 million in 1880 and 460 million in 1906. After the war, the railway networks had to reconstitute their facilities and materials; and now that the reconstruction work has been completed, progress has also been made with respect to 1913, as can be seen from the following figures:
According to historyaah.com, the railways of general interest are divided into seven networks: State, North, East, Paris-Lyon-Mediterranean, Mezzogiorno, Orléans, Alsace-Lorraine, five of which have their headquarters in Paris and the major departure stations and ‘I arrive; the Mezzogiorno company has its administrative headquarters in Bordeaux and the Alsatian-Lorraine network in Strasbourg.
All the important lines converge fanwise in the direction of Paris; but if this arrangement has had favorable effects for the capital, it has had less favorable effects for the various regions, owing to the difficulty of getting from one end of the territory to the other, without passing through Paris. However, it should be noted that modifications have been introduced to the general route: large industrial centers (Lille, Nancy), large agglomerations (Lyon) and important ports (Bordeaux, Marseille) have attracted railways; and direct agreements between the companies led to the creation of rapid trains which, without passing through Paris, connect large centers (Calais-Basel or Marseille, Bordeaux-Lyon-Geneva, Bordeaux-Sète-Marseille-Nice).
Of all the French networks, that of the North (3865 km.) Is the densest due to the favorable conditions of the relief and the agricultural and industrial wealth of the regions covered. Its international lines facilitate relations between France, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Eastern Europe; they all have a traffic exceeding 2,000,000 tons. The Eastern network (5072 km.) Is a dense continental network, serving agricultural Champagne and industrial Lorraine; its international lines connect Paris with Germany and Central Europe. Alongside a predominantly west-east traffic (Paris-Strasbourg line) there is traffic that increases more and more perpendicularly to the first, for the Reims-Belfort-Basel lines; Reims-Dijon. The Paris-Lyon-Mediterranean network (10,190 km.) connects France with Switzerland and Italy, and, for Marseilles, with the colonies of North Africa and Asia. There is little traffic on the lines that cross the Jura and the Alps, with the exception of the Lyon-Geneva line, in which it exceeds 1,500,000 tons. But the Paris-Marseille line is really the line of heavy traffic, so much so that part of the goods must even be diverted to the Bourbonese line and the Lyon-Nîmes line. The southern network is not very dense (length of the railways 4989 km.); the heavy traffic circulates on the Sète-Bordeaux line which is the main artery of the network; however the wealth of the Landes determines a heavy traffic on the line between Bordeaux and Spain. The Paris-Orléans network (8479 km.) Has less important traffic than the first three mentioned, due to the fact that it serves almost purely agricultural regions: on the main line of the network, Paris-Orleans-Bordeaux, the figure of 2 million tons. it is only passed on the Paris-Orléans and Angoulême-Bordeaux sections. The network of the state, which comes immediately after the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranean for the kilometric length (9325 km.), Is the network of western France. While the traffic of goods can only be said to be really intense on the Paris-Rouen-Le Havre line, passenger transport is more active there than on any other network (seaside resorts in Normandy and Brittany, communications with America). The Alsace and Lorraine railways (2344 km.) Reveal an intense circulation from Switzerland to Luxembourg and Belgium (Basel-Strasbourg, Metz-Luxembourg-Ostend).
Traction on the various networks is not always by steam: on the contrary, most companies tend to implement a vast electrification program (see above: White coal). In 1926 the electrified lines represented: 759 km for the Mezzogiorno network. (Dax-Tolosa and branches towards the Pyrenees spas, Bordeaux-Hendaye); for Orléans, 232 km. (Paris-Vierzon); for the state network, 47 km. (lines in the Paris district); for the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranean route, the routes on the Chambéry-Modane line.