When I watched the "American Album" program, Susan and Henry talked about New York, and she used the word 'subway'.

When I listened to BBC's '6 minutes English', I heard 'tube' used in the conversation.

And as I know, there is another word, 'metro', also used sometimes.

Could you please give me some more description about these words?

  • 3
    "metro" can refer to any train system, not necessarily subterranean. "subway" of course is only to be used for underground train systems.
    – user730
    Dec 15, 2010 at 1:21
  • 1
    @J. M.: Ah, for instance, the New York Subway is not all underground. Although the word "subway" should strictly describe an underground system, this is not always so in real life!
    – Jimi Oke
    Dec 15, 2010 at 2:10
  • And J. M. just curious, why don't you usually post your answers?! You get less credit than you really deserve!
    – Jimi Oke
    Dec 15, 2010 at 2:14
  • @Jimi: I don't really need or want rep. :) Anyway, you are right, the NY subway is rather anomalous, 'no?
    – user730
    Dec 15, 2010 at 2:17
  • 6
    @J.M. - I recommend you post your answers as Answers and not Comments. Answers are more easily read, comments are often skipped. Not trawling for rep is admirable, but equally, rep does you no harm, and with greater rep, you can make an even greater contribution (e.g. moderating). Also, comments can't be down-voted, which is a healthy part of the StackExchange idea. BUT, if you still really don't want rep, simply mark your post as Community Wiki
    – CJM
    Dec 15, 2010 at 13:23

3 Answers 3


Each city’s metro system has a “common name” that developed historically.

  • London - “The Tube”, from the tube-shaped deep level bored tunnels
  • Paris - metro, full name “Métropolitain”
  • New York City - subway, because the main lines have significant underground sections
  • Chicago - “The L” - from el, because it is mostly elevated
  • Boston - “The T” - from MBTA, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
  • Washington, D.C. - metro
  • San Francisco - BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit


  • 17
    NB. In London (where I am from), we call the subterranean train system "The Tube" or "The Underground", we do however also use the word subway. We use it for pedestrian tunnels underground, usually for crossing busy roads, and particularly for getting in to underground stations.
    – Orbling
    Dec 15, 2010 at 6:09
  • New York City's MTA refers to the subway, but you get through the turnstile with a MetroCard, further confusing the issue. Locals seem to use both terms these days, "subway" and "metro". Dec 15, 2010 at 8:25
  • 1
    Montreal - also Metro.
    – user597
    Dec 15, 2010 at 14:51
  • 1
    An additional complication in Chicago: The parts of the L that are underground are referred to as the subway, even though it is the same trains.
    – Eric
    Dec 15, 2010 at 16:28
  • 1
    Mexico City - Metro Jan 25, 2011 at 23:34


This is the British colloquial (and also official) term for the London Underground. Not all the lines of the tube today are underground, though. However, the early Underground tracks were all subterranean.


The word "subway" can be generally used to describe an underground rail network. In British usage, this word specifically describes an underground pedestrian road crossing.

The New York City Subway is the rail network that serves the City of New York (the subway does not travel outside the city's borders). Originally, the term subway referred to the underground lines, some of which replaced existing elevated and at-grade railroads: (the BMT Subway, the IRT Subway). But as the latter were eliminated in Manhattan and Brooklyn, it came to be used for the network as a whole.

One takes the Subway (or subway) in New York, while one takes the tube (or Tube) in London.


The word "metro" was originally used to describe the Paris rail network (Metropolitan Railroad). Since then, many other major cities have adopted this nomenclature, notably Washington D.C. which had some degree of French influence in its design.


The network in Chicago is fondly referred to as the El (from "elevated") because all the original tracks were above street level. San Francisco has the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), which will probably soon be widely written as "bart", as it gets more popular.

While the word subway literally means "below way", many subway systems today combine both surface and underground tracks, as it is not always feasible to have a strictly subterranean network.

  • 2
    With regard to the tube, whilst some of the lines are partially above ground, outside of the city, all of them I think are underground for significant sections, particularly in Zone 1 (the city).
    – Orbling
    Dec 15, 2010 at 6:11
  • 4
    Also regarding the Tube, the name refers to the later, deeper, lines, whose tunnels are circular (hence the name). The tunnels for the oldest part of the London Underground (now part of the Metropolitan line) are not tube-shaped; they use cut-and-cover. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cut-and-cover#Cut-and-cover Dec 15, 2010 at 8:48
  • To add on about Washington DC, one of the other reasons the subway is called Metro is because it's run by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and serves the entire DC area, which includes at least as much area in Maryland and Virginia as the District itself. The bus lines are also called Metrobus, but most people just call them "the bus."
    – bikeboy389
    Dec 15, 2010 at 15:21
  • @bikeboy389: Very true. Also just found out it's the Metro in Moscow, as well!
    – Jimi Oke
    Dec 15, 2010 at 15:45

In Hudson County NJ, we used the term "tubes" exclusively to name the underground railway between Jersey City NJ and Manhatten. As in ," I am taking the tubes to NY". Years ago, it was renamed the PATH Train. Now, if you use the term tubes to anyone under 35, they have no idea what you are talking about.

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