The Great Subways of North America

Want to get somewhere fast?  Take the train. Subways whisk you across the metropolis, unencumbered by either rush-hour traffic or stoplights. They’re also energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, and a great way to learn your way around a new city — or even the one you’ve been living (and driving) in for so long.

Text by John Rosenthal | Photo editing by Mike Hipple

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Jul 27, 2012 1:39PM
I just spent a few days in Philadelphia, and the subway was awful!! I took Amtrak from Washington, D.C., which its Metro is awesome compared to Philly's!! Nonetheless, I packed light with only one piece of wheeled luggage. I was shocked to discover that the Philly subway system didn't have escalators, and there are very few elevators, which makes me wonder about the Americans with Disabilities Act. Anyway, the SEPTA system of payment is screwy, as well, with tokens and such. On top of it all, I had to navigate creepy, stinky, poorly lit hallways and staircases to get to a connecting subway train. Previous to my trip to Philadelphia, I used the SEPTA website to familiarize myself with the rail system and schedules, and I bought a compact travel map with an inset SEPTA map. These were somewhat useful, but the only true bonus was that several other subway travelers were very nice and helpful in directing me to the appropriate tracks and elevator. On my return trip to the Amtrak station, I took a cab, and it was well worth the money!!
Jul 27, 2012 1:36PM
I can't believe they left out Atlanta's MARTA trains! they are the best!
Jul 27, 2012 1:20PM
Don't for get the MARTA line in the ATL. It smoothly serviced the summer olympics of 2000.
Jul 27, 2012 1:14PM
  Rode the subway in Philly several years ago.  What a piece of junk.  Dirty, grafetti ridden, hot, smelly, etc. and the list goes on.  Left out clevland a wonderful subway.  Attendants were helpful, nice, and courtoues. 
Jul 27, 2012 1:08PM
Have you ever taken the NYC subways? I take them everyday and the fact that you included them on this list leads me to believe that you have not taken the plunge.  It's the worst I'vve ever expereinced.  It's always late, it's filthy, crime infested, slow, crowded, not enough seating, not at all accessible to handicapped individuals, leaks when it rains with water puddling making it impossible to walk through, under construction that never ends, constantly closing down and stopping mid way through rides, riddled with vermin, no patrolling by police leaving it open for most NYC crimes to occur, no air ventilation at all at any time.  Most of us would rather walk in the rain and snow than to take the train.
Jul 27, 2012 1:03PM
thats a nice train of thought.lets stay on the rite track.
Jul 27, 2012 1:01PM
I lived in Boston for 3 years in college. The T was pretty good. Easy to get around and obviously convenient especially with no car. But NYC. Man....I may rant and rave every time the fare goes up since the MTA doesn't seem to know what 'efficient' means, but all in all, the size , accessibility and 24 hour availability is just amazing. The fact that for a single ride price you can literally go from the tip of the Bronx all the way to Coney IS pretty impressive. But even with it's size, it is terrible during rush hour, especially the East Side lines. Between crowding and the heat....
Jul 27, 2012 1:00PM
I can see that you did not take ito account accessability for diabled riders into account, YOU SHOULD!!!
Jul 27, 2012 12:42PM

DisneyWorld monorail?  Sorry, that is NOT a subway system.  How could you leave out Toronto, Vancouver or even smaller, but good systems like Cleveland, Baltimore, Miami?  What about extensive light rail systems like those found in Portland, Dallas, Denver, San Diego, Edmonton, Calgary...?


And, responding to one of the postings, "Ridership on all systems never meets anticipated level"...I would say the reverse is usually true - levels of service hardly ever meet demand.  Public transportation use has risen considerably in the last few years.


Another note - 24-hour service exists in New York, on the Philadelphia area Lindenwold line and on the Red & Blue lines in Chicago. Other cities either run night bus lines (San Francisco, Chicago) or just close up shop altogether in the early morning (Boston).


And, finally, the only systems that I know of that have both "express" and "local" services, with separate tracks, are New York City; Philadelphia (on both the Broad Street line AND the Market-Frankford line, where trolleys make certain stops that the M-F trains skip); and also on the north-side Chicago elevated (Brown/Red/Purple trains). I think the Norristown line in Philadelphia may make some "express" runs, but I'm not certain and the same may be the case on other systems.  If a train runs "express" in Boston, to make up time on a schedule, for example, it runs on the same tracks and just doesn't stop at certain stations.

Jul 27, 2012 11:54AM

Its called the "el" short for elevated..not L..but thats aol for you..

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