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Who Has the Best Underground Travel?

Claire Stephens | Thursday, March 21, 2013




Scene Writer

Between spring break travels, study abroad programs and summer vacations, many Notre Dame students find themselves running loose in foreign countries. While seeing the sights and soaking up the culture, feet inevitably get tired and even the virtually bottomless pit of collegiate energy can’t get us everywhere on our own two feet. Luckily, most big international cities have an underground system to get travelers where they need to go. 

But if there were an Olympics of underground transportation, who would come away with the gold, silver and bronze? Here is my list based on the undergrounds I’ve ridden on:

Gold: London, UK

Silver: Barcelona/Madrid, Spain

Bronze: Washington D.C., USA

4th: Rome, Italy

5th: New York City, USA

6th: Chicago, USA

7th: Paris, France

8th: Brussels, Belgium

And now the judging criteria:


I took a look at how comparatively gross, dirty, or underground-looking each were. While some on the lower end of this Underground Transportation Olympiad might seem old, decrepit, our winners seemed to be more shiny, artsy and new. Where you might find rats and bugs running around the tracks of the lesser competitors, our champion underground systems boasted clean, updated, and well-maintained trains.


It’s not enough to simply look new, but our champions just had to feel new. Electronic boards on the platforms of the superior stations told us when to catch our next train, while video advertisements lit up the walls, marketing products instead of their sadder paper cousins residing on the walls of the lesser stations.

Range/speed of service 

More often than not, our winning systems were extensive, able to get us just about anywhere, without the inconvenience of getting out to take the bus or-worse yet-walking between stops. They can take us to popular, favorite destinations in reasonable time, in a reliable fashion.


Our winners helped us to feel safe, with many underground transportation officials or police officers near the stops. Little crime or theft occurred near our winning stations thanks to the watchful eyes of our authorities. The stops were in safe parts of towns, and precautionary measures were taken to minimize risk in the stations. 


When it came down to it, money was as important of a criterion as any in judging our transportation systems. We took a look at how expensive would a ride be with and without a fare card. Examining how the pricing system worked out (i.e. do they charge you just to enter, or according to how far you travel?) helped make it clear if the system was worth its fare.


How helpful is the map of the underground? If you’re at one of our top three stations, then more than likely you can easily figure out the lines and how to get where you need to go. Even if you’re not a cartographer or some kind of famous explorer, in a good underground system you’ll find yourself easily mapping out your adventure. 

Ease/comfort of use 

Sometimes underground systems can feel overwhelming, where one can easily get lost within all the stairs, escalators and elevators (oh my!). But the markings of any good underground system are their smiling passengers, comfortable and secure in their underground stations. 


 Are there a lot of ads inside of the train and along the platforms? Are they bright, big, visual and interesting, or ratty, cheap and littered with scribbled drawings? Ads and their appearances on the trains and platforms are giveaways of the status of the station. Bright, clean, welcoming ads are telltale signs of a good underground system. 


The bottom line is that what’s really important to the status of any underground system is the system itself. It’s all about what makes the systems tick, what gives them life, and sets them apart from the rest. Our winners had character, defining traits that are theirs and theirs alone. 

Contact Claire Stephens at [email protected]