Cincinnati & Western RR Tunnel

Thousands of drivers pass the Montana Rd. exit on I-74 each day oblivious to the nearby railroad tunnel that was built through Roll Hill the 1850's. The narrow gauge Cincinnati & Western was to be built from the Mill Creek Valley northwest through Colerain Township and eventually on to Chicago, however the company went bankrupt before the line could be completed.  Construction began on the line's Great Miami River bridge near old Ft. Coleraine, and according to a 1970's account the piers were still visible.  The line is shown on only a few obscure survey maps from the period, and many did not believe in the Roll Hill tunnel, which had become a local legend, until it was unearthed by mistake.

In the 1960's, the U.S. government built the massive Fay Apartments public housing complex for the thousands displaced by the clearing of the West End and construction of I-75. The complex is situated on the top of Roll Hill on unstable soil, and while grading the area, the tunnel collapsed beneath the heavy equipment. Several workers recognized that it was a railroad tunnel, and even spotted a copper boiler engine with a brass bell in the rubble. But before the bell could be retrieved as a souvenir, supervisors ordered the "sink hole" to be filled, and the incident was not widely reported.

Then when Baltimore Ave. was moved for I-74 construction in the 1970's, workers uncovered the west portal. The tunnel had caved in not far from the entrance, and after some professors from the University of Cincinnati came to look at it, it was filled in for good. The other portal, located near Faraday Rd., was uncovered in the early 1980's when the Fay Apartment Complex was being renovated. It was also filled in, so it is impossible to enter either end of the tunnel today.

The "copper boiler engine" may have been the work train used while digging the tunnel, as according to one account, the Irish workers were told they were not to be paid one day and in anger blew up the tunnel. Unfortunately work was not stopped when the engine was uncovered in the 1960's and so we will probably never know what kind of engine this was, let alone recover it for display in a museum. We also may never know if the tunnel was bored all the way through or if a few hundred feet remained to be dug.  Or none of this might be true.
 

This satellite image from 1993 shows the location of the tunnel.  The I-74 Montana Rd. interchange is visible at left center, and the Colerain Ave. interchange is visible at top right.  The photograph below was taken on the left side of the satellite image pointed towards the right.
 
 


This photograph shows I-74 at the Montana Rd. exit looking east.
Fay Apartment complex barely visible at the top of the hill at right.
Baltimore Ave. is visible at the right edge curving up the hill.
The west tunnel portal is located slightly to the right of this photo.
 
 

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