Planning & Construction

The Canal Right-of-Way
Many private investors attempted build a railroad in place of the Miami-Erie Canal in the decades following the Civil War. The canal and its adjacent "canal lands" were the property of the State of Ohio and as such the City of Cincinnati had no direct control over its redevelopment. From the 1860s onward, the City of Cincinnati demanded that any railroad built in place of the canal be built below grade, and such a tunneled railroad was not feasible in the steam era.

Advances in electric traction in the 1890s enabled tunneled approaches to passenger stations and electrified rapid transit. Electricity also enabled steeper grades to be climbed, opening a variety of previously avoided routes in and out of Cincinnati's basin to new railroad construction. One of these routes, known as the eastern "Supplemental Tunnel Route", was to be combined with the Miami-Erie Canal path to create what became known as the "Rapid Transit Loop".

Bion J. Arnold, the era's leading electric railroad consultant, can be credited with publishing the first looped rapid transit route plan for Cincinnati in 1912. The Baldwin-Edwards Report, published in 1914, refined the concept and is close to what was actually built. For an unabridged excerpt from the report, Click Here.  This excerpt will take 10-15 minutes to read, but it is an extremely detailed account of what was proposed including individual station descriptions, numerous short suburban tunnels, and of the planned freight depot.

My synopsis of what was outlined in the report:

Fundamentally, the "subway" would consist of a two-track, 16 mile "Rapid Transit Loop".  In the report, all suburban track and approaches to downtown were referred to as the "Canal St. Beltline".  The path of the beltline, in a clockwise direction, would progress north from downtown in the canal bed as a subway roughly four miles to a point just north of Bates Ave. (approximately where the I-74 westbound entrance ramp is located today).  Underground stations would be located at Race St., Liberty, Brighton, and Hopple.  The line would continue along the path of the canal to St. Bernard, mostly on the surface, before deflecting from it three miles later, turning east toward Norwood.  Stations would be located at Crawford St. in Northside, Mitchell Ave., and Carthage Ave. (today's Vine St.) in St. Bernard.  In Norwood, the line would mostly parallel the B&O mainline, with surface stations at Paddock Rd., Montgomery Rd., and Forest Ave.  Just east of Forest Ave., the line would turn south with a station near today's I-71 Smith-Edwards interchange.  The line would then follow the present southwest path of I-71 to Dana Ave., then run due south through Owl's Nest Park and O'Bryonville to the bluff above the Ohio River.  Stations would be located at Dana Ave. and Madison Rd. at Torrence Parkway in the O'Bryonville buisness district.  The line would then head west, high above the Ohio River, paralleling Columbia Parkway on a 6,100ft. concrete terrace before tunneling through Mt. Adams, entering near the Eden Park Reservoir.  Connecting back with the canal subway under today's Central Parkway, a continuous tunnel would be formed between Eden Park and a point north of Hopple St. measuring roughly six miles.  All in the canal bed would be built via the cut-and-cover method, whereas the tunnel through Mt. Adams would be bored.  Another short bored tunnel would also be dug through the hill above the intersection of Columbia and Torrence parkways.  Several minor cut-and-cover tunnels, all of lengths shorter than a quarter mile, were to dot the beltline's suburban routing.

Excerpted directly from the report:

The total length of the line is 15.56 miles, of which 6.50 miles are in subway, 0.63 miles in [bored] tunnels and 8.43 miles in the open.  Included in the open are twenty bridges with a total length of 2,206ft. and 6,100ft. concrete trestle along the Ohio River Bluff.

Three alternate downtown routings were proposed.  Schemes II, III, and IV augmented the Canal St. Beltline (which was designated as "Scheme I"), making the report somewhat confusing at first read. Blue Text is excerpted directly from the report.


Subway in RED, stations in YELLOW

Scheme II supplements Scheme I and is a loop line that encloses a large part of the downtown district of the City.  It leaves the "Canal St. Belt Line" at the intersection of Canal and Plum St. and runs south in Plum St. to 5th St., east in 5th St. to Main St., and north in Main St. connecting with the Belt Line in Canal St.  This loop is a two-track subway throughout, 1.31 miles in length, making with the Belt Line a total of 16.87 miles.  There are three station located upon it.  One in Plum St. with entrances and exits at both 7th and 8th streets.  One in Fountain Square with entrances and exits at both Vine and Walnut Streets, and one in Main St. with entrances and exits at both 7th and 8th streets.  These entrances and exits are all from the sidewalks.

The cost of the Loop Railway per lineal foot is considerably more than the cost of the Subway in the Canal, largely due to the presence in the streets of sewers, electric ducts, water and gas pipes which will have to be supported during the construction of the subway, or removed to a new location, the extra precautions required because of the nearness of large buildings, the removing and restoring of the pavements and the delays in construction due to business and traffic in the streets.

It is assumed the work will be done in an open trench not more than 400ft. of continuous street, including only one cross street, being open at one time.

Scheme I and Scheme II supplement each other and together make an ideal transit plan.  Scheme I or the "Canal Street Belt Line" surrounds a residential district.  Scheme II or the "Loop Line" encloses a large part of the business district, the prosperity and permanence of which largely depends upon the conveying of the residents of the City to and from their business houses in the shortest time and with the least inconvenience."


Subway in RED, stations in YELLOW

Scheme III or the "Ninth St. Belt Line" includes Scheme I with the exception of that part east of Plum St. in Canal St. and under Mt. Adams to near the Eden Park Reservoir.  For the part omitted, the following route has be substituted:  from the intersection of Plum and Canal Streets south in Plum St. to 5th St., east in 5th St. to Walnut St., north in Walnut St. to 8th St., east in 9th St. and under Mt. Adams to connect with Scheme I near the Eden Park Reservoir.

The substituted part is a two-track subway or tunnel throughout.  The total length of the scheme is 16.31 miles, which includes 7.07 miles of subway, 0.80 miles of tunnel and 8.44 miles in the open.  Canal Station is omitted and three stations added as follows:  one in Plum St. with entrances and exits at both 7th and 8th Streets, one on Fountain Square with entrances and exits at both Vine and Walnut Streets, and one in 9th St. with entrances and exits at both Main and Sycamore Streets.  In this scheme it is assumed that all interurban baggage and express matter will be handled at the Plum St. Station.

The object of this scheme is to reduce the cost of the combined Schemes I and II and retain the advantages of the stations in the business district.  A subway and station in Canal St. may be added at any time traffic conditions require it.


Subway in RED, elevated in BLUE, stations in YELLOW

Scheme IV, or the "Pearl St. Belt Line," includes Scheme I with the exception of that part east of Walnut St. in Canal St. and under Mt. Adams to near the Eden Park Reservoir.  For the part omitted the following route has been substituted:  from the intersection of Canal and Walnut Streets south in Walnut St. to Pearl St., then east in Pearl and Martin Streets and private property to connect with Scheme I near the Eden Park Reservoir.

The substituted part is a two-track subway in Walnut St. from Canal St. to 4th St.  Between 4th and 3rd Streets, the tracks, on a rising grade, break through the ground and continue on a rising grade till they are on a steel elevated structure on 3rd St.  The elevated structure is continued in Pearl and Martin Streets and over private property to connect with Scheme I near the Eden Park Reservoir.  The total length of the scheme is 16.46 miles, which includes 6.40 miles of subway, 0.15 miles of tunnel, 1.44 miles of elevated structure and 8.47 miles in the open.  The location of Canal Station is changed from between Vine and Race Streets to between Race and Elm Streets and three stations are added, one on Walnut St. with entrances and exits at both 8th and 9th Streets, one on Walnut St. with entrances at both Fountain Square and near 4th St., and one on Pearl St. at the approach to the L&N Bridge  with entrances and exits at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station.

By use of an elevated structure in the substituted route in the place of a subway or tunnel, the cost of construction is considerably reduced.  Although nine-tenths of a mile longer than Scheme I, the cost is about the same.*

In the downtown district the number and locations of the stations is Scheme IV offer almost as many advantages to those who would make use of the railway as do the combined stations of Schemes I and II and at a much less total cost.  If at some future time, it were deemed necessary to place the tracks of the Kentucky surface lines that are in this City in a subway, the connection with the Cincinnati Rapid Transit Railway could not be so advantageously made under the plans of Scheme IV as under the plans of Schemes II and III.

Changing from a subway to an elevated structure on Walnut St. between 4th and 3rd Streets, makes it necessary to occupy a strip of the street 25ft. in width for practically the entire distance between those two streets.  There will remain 20.5ft. on each side for street purposes.   Allowing 8ft. for a sidewalk and 1ft. as a hubguard to protect the fence along the open incline track, there will remain 11.5ft. clear space for  roadway which will make necessary a one-way street.

*In an effort to minimize confusion, elsewhere on the web page the Pearl St. el is called the "3rd St. el", because neither Pearl St. or Martin St. still exist.  Pearl St. paralleled 3rd St. where the mainline trench of Fort Washington Way is today, and east of Broadway the el would have followed the route of the U.S. 50 3rd St. Viaduct to Mt. Adams.

This 1950's photo shows Cincinnati's eastern riverfront during construction of Ft. Washington Way.
Red shows the proposed path the Pearl St. Viaduct and its "L&N Bridge" station is shown in yellow.
The never-built Walnut St. Tunnel is shown in blue.

Central Parkway in 1928 with the subway beneath.  The subway is three tracks wide at this point.

Modification H
The subway was by all accounts a great idea and had nearly unanimous political and popular support. By a 6-1 margin, Cincinnatians supported a $6,000,000 bond issue in 1916 for construction of Scheme IV. The total capital cost of the project was significantly higher and would be shared with The Cincinnati Street Railway, the line's presumptive lessee. The City would built the tunnels, build the overpasses, grade the surface right-of way, and build Central Parkway above (the parkway itself was built with a separate funding source). The Street Railway would lay the track, order the subway trains, and build the electrical infrastructure. Proceeds of operation would be split between the Cincinnati Street Railway and the City.

But before bonds could be issued, the U.S. entered WWI in April 1917, and an act of Congress prohibited the sale of municipal bonds during the war. Several lawsuits after the war challenged the 1916 bond issue, delayed canal draining until late 1919, and delayed actual construction until January 1920. Because of post-war inflation $6,000,000 was inadequate to complete Scheme IV as originally planned, and so planners devised "Modification H", which reduced the line's number of suburban tunnels and changed station locations in a money saving effort. Meanwhile, the Ohio Supreme Court declared the 1917 voter-approved lease of the Rapid Transit Loop to the Cincinnati Street Railway null and void, meaning no track would be laid and no cars would be ordered.

Scheme IV called for a continuous four mile subway (three miles in the canal trench and one mile under Walnut St.) from 3rd St. downtown to Ludlow Ave. in Northside, with the exception of the three "deflections".   Modification H reduced tunneling north of the Marshall Ave. deflection, with a single 500ft. tunnel under the Hopple St. intersection.  The underground Hopple St. Station was eliminated and replaced with an elevated station 1/4 mile south at Marshall Ave.  An additional underground station was added between the Liberty St. and Brighton's Corner Stations at Linn St. (originally called "Mohawk's Corner" -- this area is no longer called Mohawk).  The Crawford St. station was shifted to Clifton Ave.  The Mitchell Ave. and Paddock Rd. stations were eliminated.  The routing through St. Bernard was redesigned above ground and the planned underground station was made a surface station.

The cost of steel and concrete had doubled since 1916, and even these cut backs were not enough, and so therefore it was decided to initially build only the western half of Modification H. The "western half" included the six miles of canal right-of-way, as well as three miles of purchased right-of-way through Norwood and Oakley.  The original Smith-Edwards Rd. station location was replaced with a station further north on Madison Ave. in Oakley.  The adjustment of the Oakley alignment promised higher initial ridership for the "western half", but complicated any future attempt at completion of the eastern half.

In its most dramatic cost-cutting move, Modification H eliminated the Walnut St. tunnel (and therefore the 8th St. and Fountain Square stations), meaning the Race St. station was to temporarily be the terminus of the line.  It was assumed that an additional bond issue or other funding source would be found for the Walnut St. tunnel, ideally during the initial phase of construction.

Construction near the Plum St. turn, looking north.  This view illustrates the ease with which
the subway was constructed in the canal trench.

Construction Commences
Construction began in January 1920 and proceeded in phases until 1925, when the $6 million was exhausted.  A two mile subway tunnel in the canal trench, three short suburban tunnels, seven miles of above ground grading, dozens of overpasses, and numerous under and above ground stations had been completed. This nine mile stretch of the Rapid Transit Loop was complete and ready for service with the exception of track, rolling stock, electrical equipment, and station finishing. Underground stations were built at Race St., Liberty St., Brighton's Corner, and set-backs for another at Linn St. (Mohawk's Corner). This station was not to have operated initially. Above ground stations were built at Marshall Ave., Ludlow Ave. (south end of the viaduct), and Clifton Ave.  Planned above ground stations at Vine St. (St. Bernard), Montgomery Rd., Forest Ave., and Madison Rd. were not built.  1.5 miles of right-of-way were secured from the Forest Ave. station location to Madison Rd. in Oakley, however no grading was done on this section. $1,300,000 was needed for the track, rolling stock, station finishing, electrical equipment, and a storage and service yard to put the completed section into service.   Short stubs from the finished canal subway to Walnut St. were built, but much more money was needed to complete the half mile Walnut St. tunnel and Fountain Square Station.  Fountain Square was expected to be the origin and destination of 47% of all trips on the line.  It was estimated that over $10 million was necessary to complete both the Walnut St. tunnel and the eastern half of the originally planned loop.

Descriptions of each of the stations and the rest of what was actually constructed can be seen in Section 3

Section 1  Planning and construction
Section 2  Completion attempts
Section 3  The subway today
Section 4  Various proposals
Section 5  What might have been
Section 6  Future use

Construction Photos
Portal Photos
Brighton Station Photos
Linn St. Station Photos
Liberty St. Station Photos
Race St. Station Photos
Hopple St. Tunnel
Norwood Tunnels
1950's Photo Tour
Early Subway Plans and Diagrams
Subway Maps

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