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A rapid transit, underground, subway, tube, elevated, or metro(politan) system is a railway system, usually in an urban area, with a high capacity and frequency of service, and grade separation from other traffic. The oldest rapid transit system in the world is the London Underground, which opened in 1863. The Tunnel a 573 m long subway opened in 1875 in Istanbul is the second oldest . The First American system is the Boston Subway.
Characteristics and nomenclature
- See also Passenger rail terminology.
There is no one term that all English speakers use for rapid transit or metro systems. This is a reflection on national and regional usage and differing definitions of what characteristics are essential for these systems.
A common definition would be:
- an urban, electric mass transit railway system;
- totally independent from other traffic;
- with high service frequency.
Those who prefer the terms "subway" (American) or "underground" (British) would additionally specify that the tracks and stations are:
- located below street level, in at least the most important places,
so that the streetscape is unaltered by the line's presence. In some cities the word "subway" applies to the entire system, in others only to those parts that are actually underground, but is commonly called as "Metro".
Those who prefer the terms "rapid transit" or "metro" tend to view this as a less important characteristic and include systems that are entirely elevated or at ground level (at grade).
Rapid transit systems that are above street level may be called "elevated" systems in the US, often shortened to el (or sometimes L, as in Chicago 'L'). In the UK, elevated systems are generally classified as light railways such as the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in east London - although not all British light railways are elevated.
For a more comprehensive listing showing names of this kind of system in cities around the world, see the list of rapid transit systems.
In larger metropolitan areas the underground system may extend only to the limits of the central city, or to its inner ring of suburbs, with trains making relatively frequent station stops. The outer suburbs may then be reached by a separate commuter, suburban or regional rail network, where more widely spaced stations allow a higher speed. These trains are often more expensive, less frequent, and, in some cities, operate only during rush hour periods. Sometimes, for political reasons, commuter lines are operated by a separate authority that tends not to co-operate with the city's transit authority (except in Japan and South Korea, where the commuter routes are frequent in suburbs and form the backbone of the networks).
Many of these regional railways were first built to operate in one direction from a city centre terminus, but some have been extended across the city centre, sometimes running in tunnels. By making multiple stops in the city, they can offer suburban passengers a choice of stations and also provide useful transportation within the city. A notable example is the Paris RER system, where (in co-operation with the city's transit authority) several pairs of existing suburban lines running in opposite directions from the city have been extended in tunnel to join up and form new through routes across the city. They are provided with frequent service and, within the city, the same fares as the Métro are charged, providing an integrated network. In Tokyo and Osaka, Japan private companies operate the world's most extensive suburban railways, each with their own fare system that integrates with the entire system. In German-speaking countries, the Paris style system is called an S-Bahn. In Italian-speaking countries such a system is called Linea S or Treno Suburbano, where as in Spain it is referred to as Cercanías.
In some cases, such as the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and Washington Metrorail systems, the rapid transit system runs to the suburbs and effectively functions as a regional rail service as well. (Note, however, that the Washington, DC, area has two regional rail services as well: VRE and MARC, and the San Francisco area has three: Caltrain, ACE and the soon-to-be-developed SMART.) Where there are separate systems, the rapid transit system is typically a self-contained service with its own dedicated tracks and stations and technologically incompatible with other railways. Suburban rail services, on the other hand, often share tracks and stations with long-distance trains (historically they were usually operated by the same company, which also owned the rails and ran freight, although this has become less common) and are subject to the same standards and regulations. There are exceptions; some London Underground lines share tracks with suburban rail services. In some cases, underground railway lines have been extended by taking over existing regional rail lines, notably parts of the Central and Northern Lines in London. The Athens Metro's Blue Line shares tracks with suburban rail services in order to connect the metro to Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, but does not stop at the suburban rail stations because the platforms of the stations are a lot lower than the train's floor. In Hong Kong and São Paulo, Brazil], metro-like frequent service is provided by electrifying existing railway lines, while continuing to share the tracks with the much less frequent intercity and freight trains. The KCR West Rail in Hong Kong is designed to accommodate intercity and freight traffic in future, whilst at present provides only metro-like service. The Tyne and Wear Metro in the North East of England is another Metro service which shares some of its tracks with suburban rail services. The extension of the system to Sunderland sees the Metro sharing tracks with Northern train services between Sunderland and Pelaw.
Elevated railways were a popular way to build mass transit systems in cities around the turn of the twentieth century, but they have fallen out of favour; and many elevated lines were later demolished, being replaced by subways or buses. Elevated rail saw something of a resurgence in the late twentieth century, with the construction of a number of new lines such as the Docklands Light Railway in London and the Bangkok Skytrain and Vancouver SkyTrain; in the United States a few such lines have been built, including the Atlanta's MARTA, New York's AirTrain JFK and the Las Vegas Monorail, but these are typically seen as more futuristic, and are not representative of the overall trends in U.S. transit development.
Importance, functions, and station design
The volume of passengers a metro train can carry is often quite high, and a metro system is often viewed as the backbone of a large city's public transportation system. In many cities passengers beginning their journeys on a streetcar/tram, bus, or suburban rail system must finish their journey into the city center on the metro as their first mode of transport will terminate at a metro station to avoid congesting the city center above ground. Budapest is a perfect example where the two more modern metro lines connect with buses and trams and also with two circular streetcar/tram routes (one closer to and one further from the city center) that allow travel between suburbs and also into the centre of the city by changing onto the metro.
In some cities, the urban rail system is so comprehensive and efficient that the majority of city residents use it as their primary means of transport. London, Moscow, New York City, Madrid, Paris, Seoul, Tokyo and Osaka are such examples; these cities have the most extensive and convenient metro systems in the world. In greater Tokyo, by far the world's most extensive rail system for any metropolitan area, the region's 15-line subway network is a mere fraction of the over 75 heavy rail lines, transporting well over 20 million people daily, where the majority of suburban residents in addition to city dwellers do not own automobiles and depend on rail as the primary means of travel. Osaka, Japan is similar to Tokyo's system except about half as big, but still has a ridership exceeding that of New York City. In Europe, London (in 1st place) and Madrid (in the second one) have the biggest metro systems.
Due to a general low population density and a different urban plan, many cities in the United States have very low rates of transit usage. About one in every three users of mass transit in the United States and two-thirds of the nation's rail riders live in just one city: New York (see Transportation in New York City). Older cities such as Chicago, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia follow New York, while the rest of the cities in the United States have only partial or poorly-used systems, especially in sunbelt cities such as Phoenix, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas or Houston.
In the Western Hemisphere, Mexico City also has a large system. In Canada, only Toronto and Montreal have extensive metro networks serving their urban centers (see Toronto subway and RT and Montreal Metro); Vancouver's SkyTrain also provides high-grade service, but at present acts primarily as a connection between Vancouver and the surrounding area. This is scheduled to change by 2009, when the first of two new lines will be completed.
Most underground systems are for public transportation, but a few cities have built freight or postal lines. One example was the Post Office Railway, which transported mail underground between sorting offices in London from 1927 until it was abandoned in 2003. Similarly, until the 1970s the London Underground's Circle Line (originally the Metropolitan Railway) transported goods as well as running passenger trains. Another example was the Chicago Tunnel Company, which had a dense grid of tunnels under downtown Chicago.
During the Cold War an important secondary function of some underground systems was to provide shelter in case of a nuclear attack.
Urban rail systems have often been used to showcase economic, social, and technological achievements of a nation, especially in the Soviet Union and other Communist countries. With their marble walls, polished granite floors and splendid mosaics, the metro systems of Moscow and St. Petersburg are widely regarded as some of the most beautiful in the world. Modern metro stations in Russia are usually still built with the same emphasis on appearance. Similarly, the Independent Subway System in New York City was built to compete with the private IRT and BMT systems.
See also Metro station.
Most rapid transit trains are electric multiple units. Power is commonly delivered by a third rail, or in systems without much length in tunnel, by overhead wires, for example the Tyne and Wear Metro in North East England. Most run on conventional steel railway tracks, although some use rubber tires. Crew sizes have decreased throughout history, with some modern systems now running completely unstaffed trains. The method of tunnel construction used varies from place to place, depending on the situation. Cut-and-cover tunnels are constructed by digging up city streets, which are then rebuilt over the tunnel. Alternatively, tunnel-boring machines can be used to dig deep-bore tunnels.
Before any plans were made for transit systems with underground tunnels and stations, several railway operators built tunnels for their trains, usually to reduce the grade of the railway line. Examples include Trevithick's Tunnel from 1804, built for the Penydarren locomotive. 
The London Underground, usually referred to by Londoners simply as "the Underground" or more familiarly "the Tube", began operations on January 10, 1863 on the Metropolitan Railway. The Underground currently serves 274 stations and runs over 253 miles (408 km) of lines. There are also a number of stations and tunnels that are now closed, some of which can be seen from trains.
In Chicago on World's Columbian Exposition 1893 ran the first electrically driven elevated railway the "Intramural Railway". A major breakthrough in the development of modern electrically driven rapid transit occurred when the American inventor Frank J. Sprague successfully tested his system of multiple-unit train control (MUTC) on the Chicago L in 1897. MUTC, which allowed all the motors in an entire train to be dependably controlled from a single point, freed rapid transit systems from dependence on locomotive-hauled coaches.
The first underground railway in continental Europe was the Tünel, an underground 573-meter funicular between the quarters of Beyoğlu and Galata in the European part of Istanbul, completed in 1875 by French engineers on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. It rarely figures as continental Europe's first metro, though, partly because of its limited length, partly because the cars were pulled by horses until the line was converted to electric operation in 1910. After the Tünel, the first underground railway to be completed in continental Europe was opened in Budapest in 1896, after only two years of construction. It stretches from Vörösmarty tér (the city centre) to City Park and the local zoo, over a total length of 3.7 km (2.3 mi). It is now part of the Budapest Metro and remains largely in its original state, with the original cars modernised and the stations restored in keeping with their original design, and with the route the same except for a very short extension north to Mexikói út to connect with the city's tram network. It lays claim to a second title, that is the first electric underground railway with overhead cables, like the Newcastle system, rather than the more common third rail in the world. The 10.4 km (6.5 mi) Glasgow Subway in Scotland opened the same year and used cable haulage until it was electrified in 1935.
The first line of the Paris Metro opened in 1900. Its full name was the Chemin de Fer Métropolitain, a direct translation into French of London's Metropolitan Railway. The name was shortened to métro, and many other languages have since borrowed this word. The Berlin U-Bahn (for underground railway) opened in 1902; because large sections of the line were elevated, it was also called Hochbahn (high railway) until the 1920s.
Boston has the oldest subway tunnel in the United States that is still in use, part of the Green Line downtown, dating from 1897. The original construction was a short four-track tunnel downtown, with only two stations, built to take light rail cars from outlying areas off the streets. Later subways in Boston carried full-size trains; the Green Line still operates with light rail equipment. In 1901, heavy rail trains began to use the tunnel as part of the original configuration of the Main Line Elevated, the first elevated railway in Boston.
The New York City Subway, which has become the world's largest (by some measures), did not open its first section until 1904, but this was a fully independent four-track line, stretching 9 miles (14.5 km) from City Hall to 145th Street. Extensions were soon built, reaching the Bronx and Brooklyn; this is now part of the IRT system. Two major subway systems, operated by the BMT and the IND were constructed later, and many pre-existing elevated railway lines were incorporated into the BMT and IRT systems. The Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, which also opened a subway tunnel in Manhattan in 1908 and connected with New Jersey, remained a separate railroad company, and later came under the control of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH). New York City subway trains now run on right-of-way first used in 1863, and converted R44 subway cars run on the 1860 Staten Island Railway.
The oldest subway in the Southern Hemisphere] opened in 1913 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is also the oldest one in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world. The system is now known as El Subte.
Asia's oldest commuter heavy rail lines are in Japan, with private companies Meitetsu railways (Nagoya) opening in 1895, and Tokyo's Keihin Kyūkō in 1896, both still serving dense urbanized areas. Asia's first cities to have subway lines are Tokyo in 1927 and Osaka in 1933. Japan's rail system is quite different from others in that the vast majority of its rapid transit is above ground, and privately owned and operated, and train stations blur the distinction between vast underground malls and corporate skyscrapers and gigantic high rise department stores. Train stations in Japan, like highways in the US, become the center and backbone of town and create their own skyline, especially in suburbs like Saitama and Fujisawa. Other major Japanese cities also have subway systems, including Yokohama, Nagoya, Sapporo, Kobe, Kyoto, Fukuoka, and Sendai.
The first underground in the former USSR (in Russian метрополитен metropoliten or метро metro) opened in 1935 in Moscow. The first line — between Sokolniki and Park Kul'tury — was 11.2 km long. And the project of one of the first stations, Krasniye Vorota, was awarded a Grand Prix at the 1937 World's Fair in Paris. The Moscow metro is one of the most elaborately decorated undergrounds of the world, with its stations often being called underground palaces. (As of 2005, the Moscow metro has 278 kilometers of railways and 171 stations.) In Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union as a whole, subways opened in Saint Petersburg (1955), Kiev (1960), Tbilisi (1965), Baku (1967), Kharkov (1975), Tashkent (1977), Yerevan (1981), Minsk (1984), Nizhniy Novgorod (1985), Novosibirsk (1986), Samara (1987), Yekaterinburg (1991), Dnipropetrovsk (1995), Kazan (2005). In Volgograd and Kryvyi Rih in 1980s a "metrotram" opened – it runs underground, along with common city trams.
In 1959, a metro system was inaugurated in Lisbon, called Metropolitano de Lisboa. It was the first underground rail system in the Portuguese-speaking world.
In the past 30 years, a number of cities in Korea have also developed modern and extensive subway systems. The largest, Seoul, has nine lines over approximately 178 miles of track (approximately 287 km). Pyongyang, Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju and Daejeon also have subway systems. China and India are rapidly expanding their urban rail systems as well.
The Toronto Subway opened in 1954. One experimental trainset consisted of the first aluminum subway cars, which reduced weight and therefore operating costs. With the next car order in 1963, only aluminum was used. The new cars, at 75 feet/23 m, were at the time the longest in the world. The Montreal Metro, was the second subway system in Canada and was inaugurated in 1966 as part of Expo 67 that would be held in Montreal.
In Brazil, the first underground opened in 1974 in São Paulo, and now carries some four million passengers on an average weekday as part of the São Paulo Metro. Part of it consists of converted older railways; some of its stations actually date from the 1880s. Underground lines have been built also in Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Recife, Porto Alegre and Brasília.
The Washington Metro in Washington, D.C. opened in 1976, as part of changing attitudes towards transportation in the United States, leading to subway systems opening in many cities that had done without.
In 1979, Hong Kong's subway line, the MTR, began operations. It currently has seven lines, including four that run underneath Victoria Harbour. By 1982, the British section of the Kowloon-Canton Railway, now known as KCR East Rail, started to provide metro-like service upon electrification was completed.
1987 saw the Mass Rapid Transit in Singapore open. It was the world's first heavy rail system to feature platform screen doors. The country made news again by having the world's first automated heavy rail system. The network has three lines with another one to be ready by 2010.
The most recently completed fully underground heavy rail metro line in North America is the LACMTA Red Line in Los Angeles, which goes from Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, through the mid-Wilshire area, East Hollywood, central Hollywood, and ending 17 miles away in North Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley. Construction was started on this line in 1986 and completed in 2000. In autumn 2005, several politicians including Los Angeles mayor [[Wikipedia:[Antonio Villaraigosa|[Antonio Villaraigosa]] indicated a desire to complete the originally conceived subway route along Wilshire Boulevard to West Los Angeles and Santa Monica.
Similarities to light rail
There has always been some crossover between rapid transit and "lighter" streetcar/tram systems. For example, some lines of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company in New York City were elevated in built-up areas and ran at street level, often along streets, in less crowded areas.
In many German cities, such as Hanover, the opposite applies, with trams descending into tunnels to cross the city centre.
In the other direction, interurban streetcars provided rapid transit-style transit from cities to suburbs and other cities, running mainly on separate rights-of-way (sometimes sharing tracks with intercity rail) but using streetcar equipment. Most interurbans have been abandoned, but some (like the Norristown High Speed Line near Philadelphia) have been reconstructed to rapid transit specifications.
Additionally, many streetcar/tram systems include underground and (less commonly) elevated sections, in which everything about the system except the right-of-way is built to streetcar standards. Notably, the first subway in the United States, Boston's Green Line, opened in 1897 to take streetcars off downtown streets, though it did carry elevated trains from 1901 until the Washington Street Subway opened. Likewise, San Francisco's Market Street Subway carries Muni Metro light rail on the upper tracks and Bay Area Rapid Transit metro trains on the lower level.
The coming of modern light rail in the 1970s brought new crossovers. New systems were built and old streetcar/tram systems were upgraded with higher capacity and speeds, but retaining some aspects of streetcars and trams. Some systems known as light rail, such as the Docklands Light Railway in London, Manchester Metrolink in Manchester, UK and New York City's AirTrain JFK, are rapid transit systems but commonly described as light rail (though some argue the light rail in AirTrain's case may be due to its common use to describe Bombardier's Advanced Rapid Transit). Indeed, in a many Asian countries, light rail is usually used to refer to some sort of rapid transit system but not used to refer to street cars or trams. Other light-rail systems may use high platforms but otherwise run as streetcars. A few systems similar to interurban streetcars have come back, such as New Jersey's River LINE, which operates over freight rails for most of its trip, and along streets on one end. The KCR Light Rail, which runs as streetcars, operates with high platforms, with some of its sections elevated or street level right-of-way, and some at ground-level by away from streets.
List of rapid transit systems
- Central Asia and the Caucasus
- South East Asia
- Western Asia
- Eastern Europe Caucasus
- Northern Europe
- United Kingdom
- Western Europe
- Central America and the Caribbean
- Spanish South America
- United States
- Bombardier Advanced Rapid Transit
- Bus rapid transit
- Light rail
- List of rapid transit systems
- Metrophile (A person with a devoted interest in these systems).
- Metro station
- Public transport
- Rubber-tired metro
- Third rail
- Transit fares
- Urban rail transit
- Template:Cite journal
- Famous Firsts in Massachusetts. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Retrieved on 2006-11-13.
- South East Wales Hisorical Figures. BBC.
- America: Subte (Subway) de Buenos Aires (Argentina). UrbanRail.net. Retrieved on 2006-11-23.
- The Gloucester Series Cars (1954-1990). Transit Toronto. Retrieved on 2006-11-23.
- MetroMapr.com | Interactive Google Maps of the transit systems in Boston, DC, and Philadelphia with search.
- New York City Subway Resources, an extensive site that includes many photos and much information about rapid transit systems in the U.S. and worldwide, in addition to New York City.
- UrbanRail.Net (formerly called metroPlanet) – descriptions of all metro systems in the world, each with a schematic map showing all stations.
- rapidtransit.com, which includes links to operating companies
- Undistorted metro network maps, all at the same scale for comparison.
- More undistorted maps, for all of the systems of North America.
- Metro Bits Subways need not be boring or dreary! Various aspects of the world's metros.
- Monorail Society A group of monorail enthusiasts. Website has extensive resources: technical information, manufacturers, photographs, reports on current monorail systems around the world.
- Mind the Gap "Mind the Gap" in Japanese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
- Memoirs of a subway musician This musician played in the subway stations of NYC, Paris, Prague & Rome.
- Departing subways Short videos from several cities.
- CityRailTransit - real-distance metro maps
- Forms of City Rail: Metro - RER - Interurban