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The New York City Subway: Grown Up And Remade


The Taking of Pelham 123, the latest big-budget thriller by director Tony Scott, is a remake of a classic from 1974. In the new film, Denzel Washington and John Travolta are the A-list celebrities who play the leads.

But Pelham's biggest star goes unbilled: the New York City subway system, where Travolta's character takes a car full of hostages.

A ride on New York's subway today is a very different experience from 1974. The first film came at a moment when the city was on the verge of bankruptcy, its infrastructure crumbling.

The subway had a reputation for being filled with crime and graffiti in those days — though graffiti was conspicuously absent from the 1974 film.

The subways did start to improve, through attention to what are now called "quality-of-life issues." The NYPD now handles security, and the transit command center is state of the art.

Even the subway cars are smarter and more efficient. In both movies, as part of their plan the hijackers disconnected a car and drove it away from the rest of the train.

They could have done that in the '70s, but the modern operational systems would never allow it today.

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Lara Pellegrinelli
Lara Pellegrinelli is a freelance journalist and scholar with bylines in The New York Times and the Village Voice. She has been the commissioned writer for Columbia University's Miller Theatre and its Composer Portrait series since 2018.
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