Underground, overground

Justin’s latest post points to a suggested list of the top underground transit systems in the world. Though why it’s a top eleven rather than a top ten, I don’t know.

I’ve only been on three of the eleven, but it seems right that London is at the top. Though it often gets a slagging, it really is excellent – simple to follow, relatively comfortable, and it covers just about all the important bits of the city. And best of all, it’s fully integrated in terms of fares and tickets with all other public transport in the city, so you don’t need two tickets to travel on two modes of transport.

It made me think about other urban transport systems I’ve experienced:

Sydney’s CityRail – I was well impressed with the CityRail when in Sydney in 2005. The routes and lines were dead easy to follow, trains were relatively spartan but regular, clean and perfectly comfortable, and the network was comprehensive in its coverage. The week pass I bought was very reasonably priced too.

Zagreb’s trams – a brilliant tram network that combines efficiency, value for money, and easy to follow routes and timetables (even in a foreign language) with the overground benefit of a nice view and the quaintness of trams. Trams rock.

Glasgow’s subway and rail – I’ve used the trains and subway in Glasgow a lot since moving here. While both are efficient, clean and reasonable in price, it’s still very annoying that you can’t tube into town and train out again on the same ticket (except for a roundabout which is a bit pricey and doesn’t cover buses). Oh yes and the subway stops at 6pm on a Sunday – what’s that all about!?

German bus networks – quite unnecessarily complicated. The ticket machines require a PhD to figure out and even German speakers have admitted to me that they’re difficult to use. As you’d expect, though, they run on time.

The Cairo airport bus – the 356, if I remember rightly (though my keyboard can’t do the Arabic numbers). It leaves (or at least it did in 2001) from underneath a noisy motorway underpass that can only be reached by crossing lots of dangerously busy roads. It’s a fairly long journey to the airport, but an exhilirating one due to the maniacal traffic and fascinating views of markets, mosques, crowds and the generally hectic city life of Egypt’s capital.

The Kirkwall airport bus – every time I took this (over the course of three and a half years) it was always the same driver. Rather like Groundhog Day, but in Orkney.

8 thoughts on “Underground, overground

  1. I agree that Trams are the best, especially in Vienna and Melbourne with a free circular route that covers the city centre – great for lost tourists!

  2. That airport bus in Cairo was quite something. I especially liked when the driver, with the bus in the middle of a busy road, jumped out the bus and ran through the traffic to get a kebab. However, for genuinely insane traffic, Lagos must take the biscuit. Gridlock with cars at all possible angles – including upside down – at one point the bus I was in got rammed from the side by a jeep trying to get by. Our police escort beat him about the head.

    The German rail system was absolutely excellent during the World Cup. There was a delay one time I remember, but that was due to someone having commited suicide on the tracks ahead, so I won’t blame them for that.

    Zagreb’s tram system was wonderful, wasn’t it?

    Varwell, how many different subways have you been on? Myself and the deviant H are having an exciting, blockbusting, no-holds-barred competition. I think he’s on about 11 and I’m 12. I bolstered my numbers from four different Korean subways.

  3. How many subways have I been on, Niall? Good question. Define subway, though – if you mean an entirely underground railway, then only one (Glasgow). If you mean an urban rail network that has at least some bits underground, then of the top of my head that would be eight (Glasgow, London, Paris, New York, Sydney, Prague, Frankfurt and Berlin… and maybe others that I can’t recall for the moment).

  4. I think as long as it’s got an underground section, with an underground stop, and you have at least passed through this underground section, then it would qualify.

    Didn’t you also go on the Sofia subway? Was there a Sofia subway, or am I just losing it?

  5. I was too tired and lazy to talk about some of my personal favourites apart from the obvious London. Hong Kong was good, Singapore amazing, and Kuala Lumpur’s LRT system is brilliant, cheap, efficient, and (most importantly) air-conditioned.

    Niall is spot on with the German inter-city trains being excellent, but don’t forget to add in the light rail/tram/underground system that all the cities have.

  6. I wrote a longish blurb to post here which covered a few things about public transport in Brisbaen, but this page had a heartattack or something and all my ramblings were lost.

    My main point was that buses suck because they never stop at all the stops of their own accord. They’re like painfully insecure people who need to be told what to do all the time.

    Oh also… When I read the title I thought the post was going to be about The Wombles {:->

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