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Cincinnati Subway (wikipedia.org)
94 points by jmduke on July 14, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 33 comments

I explored this in 2002 with a group of friends while on Christmas break from school. We had to slide down the side of I-75, pry open a grate and drop down onto the top of the water mains running through. We walked almost the entire length of the system before popping out of a manhole in the middle of down town Cinci. The stations and tunnels seem to have been used as some sort of shelters during cold war as there was large amounts of "artifacts" left over from the Civil Defense era (water canisters, beds, etc.). A great experience.

In some UK cities, they build hardened telephone exchanges in the late 50s early 60s to try to guarantee communications in the event of a nuclear war. The one in Birmingham is now used for data cables and isn't open to public because of water-table rises.



The Anchor exchange construction project had a cover story: an underground for Birmingham that, alas, had to be cancelled later because of changes in the market!

The main one in London was re-purposed from an abandoned underground station, itself used as a communication centre in the 2nd world war.


So a civil defence use for such tunnels sounds very plausible. No budget line, no need for any questions &c.

There's a building in lower manhattan that was designed for that purpose as well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/33_Thomas_Street Technically there are two buildings built for telephone switching, but I don't think the other building (375 Pearl St) is nearly as overbuilt.

Here are some pictures of Oldham's nuclear bunker. And no, I have no idea why it was deemed necessary to build one in Oldham.


The block of flats I live in used to be a UK telephone exchange, and it has some seriously thick concrete walls and massive steel girders. I dare say this was partly to house the old electro-mechanical exchanges, but it does look like it'd survive a bomb blast.

You have just given me a very good reason to visit Cincinnati.

Cool to see my city on HN this morning! They are doing tours of the system again for those interested: https://www.cincymuseum.org/programs/heritage#subway

They are only done a few times a year, but at least it is offered. We also have lots of underground preprohibition brewery tunnel tours as well. There's a lot of old stuff in the city. However, it's only been the last 2 years or so that downtown has slowly been revitalized with life instead of abandoned buildings.

It's a shame that something that got this far would be lost to 'political bickering'–though as a project it does seem to have also fallen at just the wrong moment in history as well. It's interesting to speculate about how it could have affected the development of Cincinnati as a city if it had been completed.

I was also amused to notice that the owner of the semi-finished subway system is 'SORTA'...Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority.

> It's interesting to speculate about how it could have affected the development of Cincinnati as a city if it had been completed.

Buffalo built (and finished) a similar subway system in the '80s. At best, it didn't help.

Sure, but the sweeping post-war changes to the urban/suburban landscape had already well taken place at that point. If this subway had been finished in the early 20s it would have had some time to affect the city's way of life before car ownership exploded.

That's probably true. Instead, it disrupted what was already there, which is still not recovered. Part of the problem was the subway comes above ground downtown, which means that they completely tore up our Main st., and businesses left and never came back.

Rochester NY tried the same thing, with roughly the same results. It's a shame the technology and need for public transit correlated with the automobile explosion, but culture drives society - if people in either Rochester or Cincinatri or anywhere else with a defunct subway project really wanted it completed, it would have been done. Now the fashion is urban density, and cars are increasingly seen as a blight on walkable downtowns. At least Cincinatti's regular tunnel upkeep gives the people the chance to dream.

One difference is that the Rochester Subway operated for almost 30 years [1].

Interestingly enough, it was actually used as a freight railroad until 1996. It is easy to walk right down into, with two different public access points that have no impediment to traffic. There is a lot of cool graffiti down there, especially in the area underneath the broad street bridge. I'd recommend anyone in the area to grab a flashlight and explore at some point.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochester_Subway

Reminds me a bit of the Second Avenue Subway in Manhattan. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Avenue_Subway At least this one they're about to complete after 80+ years of on/off work...

"When they finish the Second Avenue Subway, this apartment will quadruple in value." [0] Mad Men had real estate agents promising the subway in 1965. Of course, the US$28k apartment in question is now worth about US$1MM, so it's true that the value will quadruple -- times at least ten.

[0]http://videos.nymag.com/video/Mad-Men-Takes-on-the-2nd-Avenu... Men' Takes on the 2nd Avenue Subway

They're only about to complete Phase I, the first two miles of the planned 8.5 miles. The entire tunnel will take a few more decades.

For comparison, Shanghai started from zero and built the largest subway in the world in 20 years.


It's often easier to start from zero.

It's also likely easier to move faster when the public is more forgiving of worker deaths. No idea on cumulative statistics, but the following headlines are illustrative:

SHANGHAI: Two men were killed and six others were injured here yesterday in two separate incidents at subway construction sites. [1]

5 dead and 18 injured in Shanghai Metro Line 12 construction site accident [2]

Not Shanghai, but...

On Nov 15, a subway tunnel under construction collapsed in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, killing 17 people. [1]

[1] http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2009-01/09/content_738040...

[2] http://www.exploremetro.com/blog/5-dead-and-18-injured-in-sh...

Can you explain why in this case? I don't really see how it can make that much of a difference. Shanghai was already a huge city, for example.

Building new tunnels in NYC takes a lot of careful work to avoid damaging the other underground infrastructure and above-ground buildings.

You're implying Shanghai is an empty city with nothing below ground. It's probably got just as much subterranean junk as New York does.

Absolutely everyone knows that.

New subway lines have to connect into existing running subway lines. Digging the tunnels is usually the easy part, it's the points where they connect to things that is hard.

And that's why you think the 2nd Avenue Line will take 2-3 more decades?

After 20 years the Shanghai subway is now bigger than NYC yet they are scheduled to add a couple hundred additional miles.

No, I was not answering that question. I think Shanghai gets stuff done faster because it's in China. And because they actually have funding.

And it's not relevant to the NYC subway either so the comment that you made was irrelevant. I'm not sure why you wasted everyone's time.

There's no guarantee they are going to finish that project either! I certainly hope they do as that are of Manhattan desperately needs another line.

The time and costs though - it makes you wonder how we used to be able to build things and now we can't so easily.

After twenty years of political battles Detroit started to build a subway in 1928. They got two stations built before the depression killed it.

I can't find much of anything on the net but my Dad remembers it being built. In the seventies there was an entrepreneur who started running tours of the stations but he did so without city permission and they forced him to stop.

There are annual tours of the unfinished tunnels. You used to be able to get in, but 5 or 10 years ago a more substantial barricade was put in place.

Also of interest, the current (and long beleaguered) Cincinnati public transit project, the streetcars: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinnati_Streetcar

Hopefully we'll actually get them this time.

I used to work in some offices near the old Sears department store by I-71. One day a co-worker asked me if I wanted to go exploring. Apparently, two of the old subway tunnels---short tunnels through the hillsides---run along the eastern side of the highway (https://www.google.com/maps/@39.129868,-84.4952788,769m/data...). We parked on Oak (or was it Lincoln?) and walked down to the entrance in hip-waders and hardhats. If I remember it correctly, we ended up on the other side of Taft or McMillan (https://www.google.com/maps/@39.1256898,-84.4971403,140m/dat...). Not many signs of human habitation. One of the tunnels was pretty flooded. The other had what looked like the remains of a campfire, maybe a few bottles.

This would be a great place to prototype an advanced subway system -- say, one that operated with solo cars controlled by a central system. I think a lot about the subway problem because I'm in Manhattan and everyday, it's crazy packed. I know it happens in other cities, but in my opinion, it's a public hazard because it's a precursor for hostility. Furthermore, the delays are rather absurd and you just know it's from a different time. I hope someone is working on subway innovation; if not, when I make it with all my billions, I'll take it on and this is a perfect place to start.

I lived in Cincy and didn't know this existed.

Almost a hundred years, wow.

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