This tunnel was built by the Cincinnati, Lebanon, & Northern Railroad in 1881. It measures about 1/3 mile in length with a 19ft. bore and originally served two narrow gauge tracks but was later converted to single track standard gauge. The north portal is located under the NE corner of Oak St. and May St., 2 blocks east of Bethesda Hospital and 1 block east of I-71. The tunnel emerges in a cut between William Howard Taft and McMillan St., just 20-30ft. east of the McMillan to N 71 ramp. There is a short underpass of identical brick construction perhaps 100ft. in length under McMillan. The south approach to the tunnel ascends a 3.4% grade but the tunnel itself is level.
In the 1920's this line generated more freight in a 5 mile stretch than any other in the Cincinnati area. This was a main reason why the line and right-of-way could not be purchased for completion of the city's Rapid Transit Loop . Additionally, the single track would have created a bottleneck in the system. One 1927 proposal called for building a double-track el over the line for the Rapid Transit Loop, however the line would have had to diverge from the existing railroad alignment in the tunnel vicinity.
The tunnel was still in operation when I-71 was constructed,
or else it probably would have been filled in. Many have seen the abandoned
railroad overpass over I-71 opposite the old Natural History Museum on
Gilbert Ave., which was part of this same line. The line passed I-71 again
north of the tunnel, just north of the Blair Ave. overpass, and the bridge
is still there. The right-of-way has been purchased by SORTA, and will
probably be used by the new I-71 light rail line north of Dana Ave north
to Kenwood Rd. The CL&N tunnel is still in good shape and can be visited
on foot, but is impractical for transit use for the same reasons as in
1927. Reaching the tunnel is quite difficult during the summer because
of the dense undergrowth and steep hills at each of the portals.
The north portal is the easier of the two to reach, and tunnel is just
barely short enough to walk through without a flash light, but I recommend
This satellite image shows the location of the tunnel
and short McMillan St. underpass to the south. I-71 is located at
center. Gilbert Ave. in bottom right corner and Reading Rd./Burnett
Ave. fork at left edge. The McMillan St. underpass can be clearly
seen in the winter when driving on I-71 north. During the summer
it is blocked by high grass and bushes.
1. CL&N Tunnel Photos
2. Back to Main