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Rapid transit or mass rapid transit, also known as heavy rail, metro, subway, tube, or underground, is a type of high-capacity public transport generally found in urban areas. Unlike buses or trams, rapid transit systems are electric railways that operate on an exclusive right-of-way, which cannot be accessed by pedestrians or other vehicles of any sort, and which is often grade separated in tunnels or on elevated railways. Modern services on rapid transit systems are provided on designated lines between stations typically using electric multiple units on rail tracks, although some systems use guided rubber tires, magnetic levitation, or monorail. The stations typically have high platforms, without steps inside the trains, requiring custom-made trains in order to minimize gaps between train and platform. They are typically integrated with other public transport and often operated by the same public transport authorities. However, some rapid transit systems have at-grade intersections between a rapid transit line and a road or between two rapid transit lines. It is unchallenged in its ability to transport large numbers of people quickly over short distances with little to no use of land.
The world’s first rapid transit system was the partially underground Metropolitan Railway which opened as a conventional railway in 1863, and now forms part of the London Underground. In 1868, New York opened the elevated West Side and Yonkers Patent Railway, initially a cable-hauled line using static steam engines. China has the largest number of rapid transit systems in the world. The world’s longest single-operator rapid transit system by route length is the Shanghai Metro. The world’s largest single rapid transit service provider by number of stations (472 stations in total) is the New York City Subway. The busiest rapid transit systems in the world by annual ridership are the Tokyo subway system, the Seoul Metropolitan Subway, the Moscow Metro, the Beijing Subway, the Shanghai Metro, the Guangzhou Metro, the New York City Subway, the Mexico City Metro, the Paris Metro, and the Hong Kong MTR.
Metro is the most common term for underground rapid transit systems used by non-native English speakers. Rapid transit systems may be named after the medium by which passengers travel in busy central business districts; the use of tunnels inspires names such as subway, underground, Untergrundbahn (U-Bahn) in German, or the Tunnelbana (T-bana) in Swedish; the use of viaducts inspires names such as elevated (el or L), skytrain, overhead, overground or Hochbahn in German. One of these terms may apply to an entire system, even if a large part of the network (for example, in outer suburbs) runs at ground level. In most of Britain, a subway is a pedestrian underpass; the terms Underground and Tube are used for the London Underground, and the North East England Tyne and Wear Metro, mostly overground, is known as the Metro. In Scotland, however, the Glasgow Subway underground rapid transit system is known as the Subway. In most of North America, underground mass transit systems are primarily known as subways, whereas the term metro is a shortened reference to a metropolitan area. In that vein, Chicago’s commuter rail system, serving the metropolitan area, is called Metra. Exceptions in naming rapid transit systems are the Washington Metro, Los Angeles Metro Rail, the Miami Metrorail, and the Montreal Metro, which are generally called the Metro.