Subways and Metropolitan railway systems are fascinating things. In a very real way, they reduce the almost incomprehensible complexity of a modern metropolis to a generally slightly less complex system of coloured lines and dots. They also reflect, to a large degree, the major flows of traffic in a city, forming the conduits through which many commuters and tourists pass each day, accounting for a significant part of the economic and demographic traffic.
We might call them the ‘veins’ of a city, mostly hidden from direct view, but vital to the flow of the system. Combined with the sometimes exotic charm of a subway in a city away from home, this perspective can give the metro a special romantic mystique, the image of a place that’s in the city, yet not.
It’s a big coincidence that, just as I am reading Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033, terrorists stage an attack in the Moscow Metro, killing several dozen people, and injuring many more. Reading the book, I am steeped in the special place the metro has a city below a city; the Moscow of the surface is practically uninhabitable for people due to the fallout after a nuclear war. The metro below, however, has become the refuge of the surviving people, who now live in a world that is a model of the city above, yet vastly different.
But also in the real world, the metro is a special place for citizens, which is why a terrorist attack there has that extra impact. Not only does it do physical damage to the people directly involved, as well as to the flow of traffic and therefore the economy, it also does psychological damage, because you hit the city in one of its hidden, personal places. Bombs that go off in the subway damage a city in its structural and psychological core.