Underground & Urban Railways

Quality of service and regulations

A number of US cities have underground railways, including Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington DC. Many cities also have an efficient urban railway system, including Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington DC.

Underground & Urban Railways

The Atlanta MARTA and the Washington Metrorail systems are the most modern in the US and among the best in the world. Unlike the New York City underground, they’re efficient, clean, comfortable, quiet and generally free of smoke, graffiti and crime. A few cities, such as San Francisco, New Orleans and Philadelphia, still have trams (streetcars) and some smaller cities are building new tram lines (called light-rail service). There are cities with elevated railways or monorail systems, such as Chicago’s elevated railway (called simply the ‘el’) and the Miami elevated railway known as the Metrorail (also referred to as the Downtown People Mover).

Tickets or tokens are usually available from automatic machines (which may not provide change) and may also be available from ticket offices. A range of tickets is available, which may include one-way, round-trip, daily, weekly, two-weekly and monthly tickets. Moreover New York and other large cities have introduced commuter passes that resemble plastic credit-cards and can hold up to $100 of discounted fares. Senior citizens (e.g. 65 and older) and the disabled usually qualify for half fares (known as ‘reduced fares’). Reduced fare tickets may not be available from stations, but from special outlets only.

Rules on the underground

Smoking, eating, drinking, and playing radios and cassette/CD players aren’t usually permitted in stations or on trains, and only guide dogs are allowed on trains. There are car parks at most suburban stations and some have bicycle racks and lockers. Bicycles can be taken on some trains, although usually outside commuting hours only. Most undergrounds and urban railways operate from around 6am to 2am, Mondays to Fridays, with reduced operating hours at weekends and on public holidays.

There are a few rules that should be observed when travelling on undergrounds, particularly in New York City:

  • Avoid using undergrounds between 11pm and 7am. If you use them at night, try to use a carriage with a guard (motorman or conductor), the centre cars or those that are most crowded. During the day most trains are safe, but you should avoid empty or near-empty carriages if possible.
  • While waiting on a platform, stand in a brightly lit area or close to a manned ticket booth (more crime occurs on station platforms than on trains). In New York City there’s an ‘off hours waiting area’ marked in yellow, which indicates where trains stop during off-peak hours.
  • Don’t stand too close to the edge of the platform, as people are occasionally pushed under trains.
  • Keep a firm grip on your bags and wallet, particularly if you’re sitting or standing near the doors (a favourite snatching spot). Undergrounds are a favourite hunting ground for pickpockets, particularly during rush hours.

This article is an extract from Living and Working in America. Click here to get a copy now.

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