The setting had Earth under a centralized administration whose orientation was toward finding the causes of and preventing a near-future 'doomsday'. There were several parallel/historical worlds, two of which were dead worlds in the future (exploring these told the 'main' world when and what happened on 'doomsday', but not how or why), the rest at intervals in the past, including the 19th century, Rome, and several worlds farther in the past at wide intervals.
There are mass deportations/evacuations of what amount to proles from the main world to the past/parallels; the main world is becoming more or less a fortress world where everyone is capable of learning/reading-with-comprehension at incredibly high speeds - a novel's worth of info in seconds or less. Travel between the worlds is via a repurposed subway train, at least in New York, where the story starts, because the screens that allow passage between times/parallels are energy-expensive, so sending a train through is the way to move the most people in the least time.
The protagonist is sent back to one of the past/parallel worlds to investigate some activities and accounting that has made the government suspicious. In the process, he gets into quite a bit of trouble, breaks up a slavery ring, and ultimately discovers a likely cause of 'doomsday', whose revelation triggers the downfall of the controlling government, and the creation of a new federalist one.
The cover pic I remember was mostly blue and had a lion-like beast and a NYC subway train (R-40 sloped ends - I used to be a subway railfan).