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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Has there ever been a thread about this topic? Underground stations often have a distinctive smell to them. Where does it come from?

Unfortunately, odours cannot (yet?) be preserved like pictures or sound files. So the smells of the subways around the world are hard to compare.

I've heard or read of some theories about where components of the smell might come from, that blended together make the striking subway smell:
- Wet concrete or some additives to the concrete
- Impregnation agent or tar on wooden rail sleepers
- Oil and abrasive steel grit
- Ozone from the power collectors
- Heated break material
- Human urine, vomit and the smell homeless people may have brought in
- Dead rats and mice and their excrements
- Cleaning agents

Anything else? What is your opinion about the smell? Or did you research the subject already? Is it rather the same all over the world or does it differ from city to city or from country to country? Are there any research papers, graduation theses, books or other reference about this strange topic? Do you love or hate the smell? How would you characterize the smell of some metros/subways of the world?
 

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Oh, for the connoiseurs of subway station flavours around the world I can not recommend the U1 platform of the station Stephansplatz in Vienna (the heart of the metro network) enough. This very distinct butyric acid flavour, especially noticable on warm summer days, is very unique.

The secret? it is not dirt or anything. They used some organic soil fortification agent to stabilize the underground as the massive cathedral is standing right next to the station. Apparently they did not know that this agent reacts slowly in the soil in a way that creates butyric acid which is not dangerous but gives the platform that very awkward smell.


https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipe...en_U-Bahn-Station_Stephansplatz_Bahnsteig.jpg


That smell is not entirely unique it seems. At least in Prague at the station Mustek, it apparently smells the same way and I read that it may be due to the same soil fortification agent.
 

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In Paris metro stations the smell of pee is really disgusting!

The presence of little dogs, the lack of public toilet inside the stations and the presence of homeless people sleeping in the Metro stations, are responsible for this bad smell in all Paris metro network.
 

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In the 1960's, the Madrid metro used to smell strongly of feet (at least in summer). Metro cars were not air-conditioned, and gentlemen used to wear shoes with perforated sides.
I am glad to report that on my last visit to Madrid in 2015, air conditioning and a change in footwear fashion have overcome this problem.
 

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In Paris metro stations the smell of pee is really disgusting!
I was just about to say this. Though the NYC subway has a few worse smelling stations. New South Ferry smelling like sewage for example.

However, the thing that always reminds me of the subway is brake dust. It's a unique smell that reminds me of a lot of things from my childhood.

I love it.
 

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When I was there, I didn't think the underground stations in Chicago smelled like anything except maybe moist concrete. The trains were entirely odor-free and spotless inside.
 

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I don't think that anything the modern underground rail user experiences can be worse than the early systems which were worked by steam. The pioneering Metropolitan Line in London was steam worked as was my local underground system the Mersey Railway, which was fully underground for its first three miles. In London, chemists used to sell a remedy called 'Metropolitan Mixture' to passengers partially suffocated by using the new railway. The atmosphere down below was likened to a 'crocodile's breath'.

When the first electric tube railways opened in London, passengers complained that the air was too dry. To remedy that, ozone was pumped into the stations. People would say that the tube stations smelled like they were at the seaside.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
^^ Interesting aspect to the subject.

Why is it so hard to remember the characteristics of a certain smell? I know that I have noticed distinct subway smells in some cities, but I can hardly recall or describe what they where like, and how they differed from other cities.

The most prominent subway odor I can remember is the one in Frankfurt. It's neither pleasant nor unpleasant, or maybe it's just a little bit more unpleasant than pleasant. It's the same in every station, and it's always there when you come near the entrance.
 

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On this topic news))

Beijing uses nano photocatalyst to purify subway air


BEIJING, June 29 (Xinhua) -- Beijing has begun spraying a nano photocatalyst to eliminate bacteria and odor in its crowded subway trains, Friday's Beijing Youth Daily reported.

Liu Chang, Beijing Subway deputy director in charge of safety and quality, said staff with subway Line 6 have sprayed the photocatalyst on ceilings, seats, windows and armrests in the trains since the beginning of June. It is expected that all 64 trains on the line will be purified by next week.

Photocatalyst is a substance that can help cause a light-catalyzed reaction, such as chlorophyll capturing sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose in photosynthesis.

Utilizing nanotechnology, the nano photocatalyst, colorless and odorless, can decompose indoor wastes such as formaldehyde and toluene, which have been known to cause cancer. The photocatalyst has been widely used to purify air for display rooms and new cars.

As a major artery of Beijing's subway network, Line 6 carries approximately one million passengers every day. It runs through downtown Beijing from east to west, and has 26 stations, including nine interchange stations.

As temperatures keep rising, passengers often complain about unpleasant smell of sweat in the crowded cars, which even the cooling system can not remove, according to Liu.

A third-party evaluation has showed that the photocatalyst can improve the indoor air quality and reduce bacteria by 80 percent.

Liu said that the photocatalyst on a subway train is effective for three months. The method will be used on more subway lines in the future.

http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-06/29/c_137290357.htm
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Oh, for the connoiseurs of subway station flavours around the world ...
:lol: Yes, I'm still waiting for a subway sommelier who can describe the metro scents and aromas of the world like the olfactory qualities of good wines.

Like "Vienna metro features a complex earthy bouquet with a hint of pine wood, sweet tobacco and extravagant butyric acid.

Frankfurt lightrail stations begin with a leathery note, accompanied by a strong floor cleaning detergent and a hint of stale mouse shit on the finish."

Whoever comes up with reasonably serious descriptions covering at least a dozen metros around the globe can have a dedicated page at metrobits.org :lol:
 

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Not at the station but when you pass under the main terminal at Copenhagen Central with the S-train the smell of the above Mcdonalds can sometimes be smelled.

I don´t know if they have a ventilation shaft going under the building and into the tunnel but I´m 100% sure its the smell of a Mcdonalds. :lol:
 

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:lol: Yes, I'm still waiting for a subway sommelier who can describe the metro scents and aromas of the world like the olfactory qualities of good wines.

Like "Vienna metro features a complex earthy bouquet with a hint of pine wood, sweet tobacco and extravagant butyric acid.
To be fair though, only a single platform of a single station in Vienna smells like that ;) Ok, it is one platform of the most central station of the networ, but still.

The rest of the system is remarkably flavourless. Except for the interior of U6 carriages which smell like the best of hundreds of sweating people in summer ;)
With the increasing number of airconditioned carriages on that line however, this is also getting rarer.
 
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