The Sound of Subways Around the World: A Global Collection of Subway Door Closing Announcements, Beeps & Chimes

The next L train is now arriv­ing on the Man­hat­tan bound track. Please stand away from the plat­form edge. 

Thus begins Brook­lyn sax­o­phone-per­cus­sion trio Moon Hooch’s “Num­ber 9.”

Any­one who’s tak­en the train into the city from Bush­wick or Williams­burg two or three times, you should be able to chant along with no trou­ble.

Mind the gap!” is a sen­ti­men­tal favorite of both native Lon­don­ers and first time vis­i­tors nav­i­gat­ing The Tube with fresh­ly pur­chased Oys­ter Cards.

Res­i­dents of Mon­tre­al are just­ly proud that their Metro’s clos­ing doors sig­nal is a near twin of Aaron Copland’s “Fan­fare for the Com­mon Man.”

Civ­il engi­neer Ted Green has been doc­u­ment­ing the mass tran­sit sounds that cue pas­sen­gers that the sub­way doors are about to close since 2004, when he logged 26 sec­onds on the Pic­cadil­ly Line in Lon­don’s Rus­sell Square Sta­tion:

In 2003 I used the Rus­sell Square sta­tion dai­ly for a week and it’s the first announce­ment that caught my atten­tion… Back then the Pic­cadil­ly Line did not have on-train sta­tion and door clos­ing announce­ments, it had the beeps, but the sta­tions in cen­tral Lon­don had auto­mat­ic announce­ments from plat­form speak­ers aimed at the open train door. Once the Pic­cadil­ly Line received on-train announce­ments a few years lat­er, this announce­ment was phased out.

Over the course of a decade, the project has expand­ed to encom­pass announce­ments on sub­ur­ban rail, rail­ways, trams, and light rail.

His trav­els have tak­en him to Asia, Aus­tralia, Europe, and North Amer­i­ca, where curios­i­ty com­pels him to doc­u­ment what hap­pens dur­ing “dwell time,” the brief peri­od when a train is dis­gorg­ing some rid­ers and tak­ing on oth­ers.

Whether the canned record­ing is ver­bal or non-ver­bal, the intent is to keep things mov­ing smooth­ly, and pre­vent injuries, though pas­sen­gers can become blasé, attempt­ing to force their way on or off by thrust­ing a limb between clos­ing doors at the absolute last minute.

Green’s incred­i­bly pop­u­lar video com­pi­la­tions aren’t near­ly so har­row­ing.

As he told The New York Times’ Sophie Haigney and Denise Lu:

I think the appeal is the sim­plic­i­ty. You won­der, how can there be so many dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions of beeps? And then you lis­ten, and they’re all so dif­fer­ent.

The pan­dem­ic only increased his audi­ence, as locked down com­muters found them­selves long­ing for the sound­track of nor­mal life.

It’s the same impulse that led soft­ware devel­op­er Evan Lewis to make an app of New York City sub­way sounds.

For those who want to bone up on their lines, infor­ma­tion design­er Ilya Bir­man, author of Design­ing Tran­sit Maps, has script­ed lists of Lon­don Under­ground and New York City sub­way announce­ments.

And Brook­lyn-based Met­ro­pol­i­tan Tran­sit Author­i­ty work­er Fred Argoff’s zine Watch the Clos­ing Doors ush­ered civil­ians behind the scenes, some­times explor­ing oth­er cities’ sub­way sys­tems or, in the case of Cincin­nati, lack there­of.

Read­ers, do you have a fond­ness for a par­tic­u­lar under­ground sound? Tell us what and why in the com­ments.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Ani­mat­ed GIFs Show How Sub­way Maps of Berlin, New York, Tokyo & Lon­don Com­pare to the Real Geog­ra­phy of Those Great Cities

How the Icon­ic Col­ors of the New York City Sub­way Sys­tem Were Invent­ed: See the 1930 Col­or Chart Cre­at­ed by Archi­tect Squire J. Vick­ers

Design­er Mas­si­mo Vignel­li Revis­its and Defends His Icon­ic 1972 New York City Sub­way Map

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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