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View Full Version : Subway Smell?


J.D.G
10-13-2010, 08:27 PM
Iíve now had the pleasure to have travelled on the London Underground, Paris Metro and the Melbourne Subway. The latter having been where I grew up. I noted on the first two that they smell almost exactly like Melbourneís. Especially the Heathrow to Paddington. Itís not a bad smell, per se. Growing up I used the subway so itís one of those smells of childhood that I get nostalgic for. I have no words to describe it because I have yet to find anything I can compare it to.

Can someone tell me what this smell is and whatís causing it?
Have any other Dopers noticed a similar pan-subway smell?

Thanks in advance

Indistinguishable
10-13-2010, 08:27 PM
Man, I was sure you were talking about Subway restaurants. The odor outside each is distinctly noticeable... [I say this not even pejoratively. There's just notably fragrant, in my experience.]

J.D.G
10-13-2010, 08:32 PM
Agreed. The Subway restaurants are quite distinctive in their pungency. But Iíd like to know about the mode of transportation. The internet is resplendent with topics of the sandwich chain and NYCís strange underground smells but none describing the general subway smell IĎm thinking of.

mittu
10-13-2010, 08:36 PM
I would imagine the smell would be similar to how the surface streets would smell if you put a lid on them, general litter, fumes and the odor from thousands of people passing through (body odor and perfumes/aftershaves).

JKellyMap
10-13-2010, 08:44 PM
Urine.

Seriously.

kaylasdad99
10-13-2010, 08:54 PM
What is the mode of energy that propels the trains in each of these subways?

dolphinboy
10-13-2010, 08:58 PM
I was going to guess ozone... since these subways are electric drive (I think).

SeaDragonTattoo
10-13-2010, 09:13 PM
I think it's the smell of the brakes engaging. My first experience with regular subway travel was in London, where I also became familiar with that distinctive smell. I think it's rather metallic in nature. The second time I became familiar with that smell was as a suburb-to-city commuter on the above-ground Metra commuter rail. I got small whiffs of it when the train was stopping and I was on the platform. Not nearly as strong, of course, but so familiar.

Then again as a decade-long resident of Chicago. I still smell it when I'm downtown, underground.

Train brakes.

J.D.G
10-13-2010, 10:15 PM
Well, good responses so far. However I must say that I’d be a little less nostalgic if it is urine. Having said that, I know ammonia when I smell it (I get the call of nature like everyone else) and unless I’m in a particularly dingy station, it’s not the smell I’m thinking of.

I’m liking the idea of brakes or ozone. But, again, my nostalgia might be a little undermined if it’s the latter since I believe is detrimental to human health.

Thanks for the input :)

Jackmannii
10-13-2010, 10:46 PM
In the absence of quantitative stinkology analysis, I'd wager that the odor is compounded of variable parts of ozone, soot, decaying trash, bodily odor, cheap wine, urine, vomit and dead rodents.

At least that's what New York's subways used to smell like to me.

hellpaso
10-13-2010, 11:40 PM
OMG--I also was sure you were talking about Subway restaurants!

SeaDragonTattoo
10-14-2010, 12:34 AM
Go with mine. I'm tellin ya, I knew what you were talking about immediately! I try to talk about it with other people and they're like "??" But it's a distinctive smell, and not offensive. I get nostalgic about the London Underground whenever I get a whiff!

J.D.G
10-14-2010, 04:45 AM
@ SeaDragonTattoo

Itís so nice to know that Iím not alone in my nostalgia. Iíve always gotten the :dubious:/:confused: look every time I talk about the subway smell. Hence why I came here seeking guidance from the enlightened masses like yourself.

Colophon
10-14-2010, 05:16 AM
To me it has an oily component (from the machinery, no doubt) and an electrical ozone-y top note, with undertones of BO and brake dust. I particularly recommend the bouquet from the Northern Line of the vineya... er, Underground.

Martian Bigfoot
10-14-2010, 05:27 AM
Agreed. The Subway restaurants are quite distinctive in their pungency.

Nothing stinks quite as hideously as a McDonald's, though.

(Should I start another thread on the specificity of olfactory insults from various fast food chains?)

Capt. Ridley's Shooting Party
10-14-2010, 05:28 AM
Man, I was sure you were talking about Subway restaurants. The odor outside each is distinctly noticeable... [I say this not even pejoratively. There's just notably fragrant, in my experience.]


Oregano that they put on the bread. I used to work as a "Sandwich Artist" (literally the stupidest job title anybody has ever made up) as an undergraduate and I used to come home stinking of the stuff.


To me it has an oily component (from the machinery, no doubt) and an electrical ozone-y top note, with undertones of BO and brake dust.


The strongest components of the London and Paris undergrounds are definitely oil, axle grease and other smells associated with heavy machinery. Another job I had was driving a miniature diesel railway engine. The heavy grease, diesel and hydraulic fluid that we used to use on the engines filled the engine shed. It smelled exactly the same as the London underground.

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