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The Russell Subway
The distance between the Russell Building and the Capitol is only a fifth of a mile, but senators need to traverse it multiple times on a typical legislative day. Had the Capitol been a skyscraper, elevators would have whisked members from their offices on different floors to the Senate Chamber. Instead, the office building and Capitol were linked by a horizontal elevator: a subway.
The first subway cars in 1909 were battery-powered Studebaker coaches, each carrying ten passengers. The buses ran along a concrete roadway at a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour. Rather than turn around at each terminus, they ran backwards for the return trip.
In 1912, the Senate installed a double-line electric monorail system that ran on fixed tracks, transporting up to 18 passengers on wicker seats. Senators summoned the trains by ringing a bell three times, and the front seats were reserved for them at all times. During Senate votes, the trains would shuttle back and forth furiously, a one-way trip taking 45 seconds. Each car made an average of 225 trips per day when the Senate was in session.
After the subway was extended to the Dirksen Senate Office Building in 1960, a new tunnel and rail system was constructed to serve the Russell Building. The original subway tunnel was converted into offices and storage space.
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