Washington’s secret metro that politicians have used for over 100 years


The Capitol metro system has transported politicians for over a century.


Frequented by presidents, Supreme Court justices, and even the occasional movie star, it’s the form of transportation of choice for some of the world’s most powerful actors and shakers – yet few Americans know it exists. .

The Capitol Subway System, a network of wagons in the fluorescent-lit bowels of the 600-room US Congressional maze in Washington, has been moving politicians back and forth for more than a century.

It made headlines as the scene of a botched assassination attempt, an impromptu scene off Broadway, and a hideout for a president who disappeared from the Oval Office without telling anyone.

“Kids love it so there are always senators who are willing to bring family members with young children, nieces and nephews, to ride on them,” Dan Holt, deputy historian at the Historical Bureau of the United Kingdom, told AFP. Senate.

“And so I think there’s just something special about it.”

The track spans 3,100 feet – a shadow under a mile – with the 90-second jump between stations just enough for serious political debate, idle gossip, an impromptu press conference, or a moment of quiet reverie.

“Consider getting on the train to get to work in other settings, where you have that moment where you can just sit for a minute and think – or sit back and have a casual conversation,” Holt said.

“The Capitol train has also served this purpose over time.”

It also provided useful photo opportunities for presidential candidates looking to show the common touch, like Ronald Reagan, although a JFK boy – then simply old Senator Jack Kennedy – was denied entry and berated for “keeping away from senators, son.”

“Good fortune … bad marksmanship”

Today, the bustling main train station bustles with every time the Senate is in session, with reporters patiently waiting for lawmakers to pour in as they disembark to vote in the upper house.

But the helping hand of political discourse is not always as convivial in the basement as in the Senate.

In 1950, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith was about to reprimand her fellow Republican Joe McCarthy when the intimidating anti-Communist and defamer activist spotted her in a subway car.

“Margaret, you look very serious,” Smith said later when telling McCarthy, according to Holt. “Are you going to make a speech?” “

“Yes,” she replied, “and you’re not going to like it very much.”

Three years earlier, the Metro had seen its only recorded assassination attempt, when disgruntled ex-Capitol Constable William Kaiser opened fire with a .22 caliber pistol on presidential hopeful John Bricker .

The Ohio senator dove for cover in the waiting subway car, yelling for the driver to take him away, as a second bullet whistled over his head.

“Only luck and the bad shot of his attacker saved the senator,” The New York Times reported after the gunman fled the scene, only to be arrested later.

In less turbulent times, political leaders saw the subway as a sort of refuge from the hectic pace of Washington politics.

William Howard Taft, the 27th President, alarmed those in attendance on a Saturday in January 1911 when he disappeared for about an hour to see the trains.

“A sharp shiver of fear swept through the city when anxious White House inquiries revealed the president was nowhere to be found. The alarm spread like wildfire,” the Washington Times reported at the time.

Show tunes

The first metro was opened on March 7, 1909 for senators hoping to avoid the scorching heat of Washington as they made their way between their offices and the upper house.

The Studebaker electric cars were replaced by a monorail with its own track three years later, and in 1960, officials added four $ 75,000 electric subway cars – dubbed “democracy fast carriages” by the chaplain of the Senate.

A House line ran from the Rayburn House office building to the Capitol five years later, and in 1993 a Disneyland-style $ 18 million driverless train was introduced with much fanfare.

Not everyone supported these improvements. Some senators complained of bumpy rides while others complained that their delicately combed hair was damaged by gusts of wind. Mike DeWine of Ohio has banned his staff from driving in protest of government waste.

Future presidents aside, famous patrons of the system have included actors Richard Gere, Chuck Norris and Denzel Washington, satirist Jon Stewart and rock star Bono.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the smash hit musical “Hamilton” and winner of a Tony Award, decided to take a midnight tour and sing show tunes for his Twitter account when he was in the building. to receive an award in 2017.

Some Capitol Hill staff are seeing the friendliness of interactions on the subway become scarce as health-conscious politicians with step-counting devices increasingly begin to walk between buildings.

But the clientele will never really go away as long as the urgent task of running the country requires busy people to be present in 10 locations at once.

“If you’re in a rush that’s great,” Holt told AFP.

(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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