Known as the Subte, the Buenos Aires metro was the first underground in the Spanish-speaking world and the fourth in the Americas (after Boston, New York, and Philadelphia), writes Vicky Baker. Linea A was the network’s first line, starting at Plaza de Mayo, home to the pink government house where Evita gave her famed balcony speech, and running under the grandest thoroughfare, Avenida de Mayo, to the copper-domed Congress building, before heading off into the suburbs. One of Buenos Aires’s most simple pleasures has long been traveling in the 100-year-old carriages of the A line. Whereas other branches have been modernised with automatic doors and moulded plastic seats, these original cars – made by a Belgian company for the network’s 1913 inauguration – still have polished wood interiors, tulip-shaped ceiling lights and a sought-after window seat next to the driver, where you can watch the track unfold ahead as you clatter along.
The Athens Metro stands out in more ways than one: although among the most modern underground systems in Europe, it is sited in an archaeological treasure trove that is not only the world’s richest but its oldest, too, writes Helena Smith. Layers of Greek history greet commuters as they are whisked through tunnels cut deeper into the subsoil than in any other subway in any other city. One of the country’s biggest infrastructure projects, construction of the metro, which began in the early 1990s, yielded around 50,000 ancient artifacts in what soon became the single most important archaeological excavation ever conducted in Athens.
New York’s subway system opened on 27 October 1904, born out of the original elevated rail system that operated in Manhattan from the 1870s, writes Douglas Rogers. The Great Blizzard of 1888 convinced urban planners to put the transit system underground, and while they could never have foreseen the havoc storms such as Hurricane Sandy would create over a century later, they had the right idea. Today the New York subway system is the most extensive and elaborate in the world, with 24 routes serving 468 stations over a distance of 209 miles. And despite its complexity – Italian designer Massimo Vignelli’s iconic 1972 map of it resembles the wiring on the Space Shuttle – it runs smoothly and efficiently 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in (mostly) comfortable and modern air-conditioned cars. Beat that, London.