The Subway Today
(Note: all of the measurements below are estimates -- they are not from official sources)

Significant elements of the partially completed Rapid Transit Loop still exist, including the largest tunnel, which runs 2.1 miles under Central Parkway from downtown until it emerges just north of the Western Hills Viaduct.  The Central Parkway subway is constructed entirely of reinforced concrete, with parallel tubes measuring about 15ft. high and 13ft. wide.  Station platforms are 48" high and about 300ft. long.  Wooden runners, on which the rails were to be attached, are still in place throughout much of the tunnel, and are super-elevated (banked) at curves. As there were no locks along this section of the canal, there are no significant grades. A drainage system has kept the tubes for the most part free of standing water. The tunnel was built in four phases by different companies, and slight differences in the concrete used can be seen, but the dimensions and general look are consistent. A sharp 90 degree curve exists at the Plum St. intersection, but otherwise curves are rather mild, built on a minimum 1,000ft. radius, so that a speed of 45mph could be maintained. Portals exist at the north end, but the tunnel's south terminus is underneath the intersection of Central Parkway & Walnut, and so there are no south portals. The 80 year old tunnel is inspected monthly and is in "satisfactory to good" condition, with no major cracks or water leakage. The tunnel was given an extensive inspection and repair work in the 1980's and will not require any more major work for at least ten years.

See   Early Subway Plans   section for more diagrams

As mentioned before, this tunnel has stations at Race St., Liberty St., Linn St. (Mohawk's Corner), and Brighton's Corner. The latter three stations have simple side platform layouts, measuring about 300ft. long. The Brighton's Corner platforms are about 15ft. deep, with a row of concrete pillars about 4ft. from the edge of the platform (a bit further back than the I-beam pillars common on the New York subway, which block train doors).  Due to the wider parkway width further south, the Liberty St. platforms are about 20ft. deep, with 2 rows of pillars, and are accessed via hallways about 30ft. long.  The Linn St. station is sealed off at the platform edges with cinder blocks, and it is unclear as to whether platforms were actually built here, or if the cinder blocks were meant to be "punched out" if a station were ever constructed here.  

Cincinnati's tunnel is shallow, located immediately below street level.  No stations featured mazzanines, so inbound and outbound trains were to have been reached by staircases on opposite sides of the above street, like many subway lines elsewhere that run immediately below street level.  Bathrooms measuring about 15'X15' were located along the sidewalk staircase concourses of both Liberty St. station platforms and the inbound Brighton's Corner station platform.  Outbound riders at Brighton's Corner had to hold it.

The downtown Race St. station is significantly larger than the others, with a complicated three track layout.  Here the subway roof is supported by rows of columns similar to those of an underground parking garage.  Once again there is no mezzanine, however the station is entered via staircases in the parkway's landscaped median to a large symmetrical island platform.  Inbound and outbound trains served opposite sides of the platform, with unusual center stub tracks for interurban terminal service.  An interurban train approaching the station would have switched from the inbound track to the center interurban track, and after dropping off and picking up new passengers, reversed direction and switched onto the outbound track.  Identical, mirrored facilities were built on both the east and west ends of the station for interurbans arriving from either direction.  Additionally, provisions were made for passing sidings to the north and south of the station.  Short stubs for these bypasses were built to the east under the Vine St. intersection and to the west under the Elm St. intersection.  Platforms were possibly planned for these additional two tracks, but I have not been able to find any information on them.

The most complicated trackwork seen in the subway exists east of the station, between Vine St. and Main St.  This two block area includes provisions for the above mentioned passing sidings, east interurban stub switches, southward turn to the Walnut St. tunnel stubs, and a wye which extends towards Main St.   The wye might have been a provision for a specific east side interurban line which operated trains with cabs on only one end.  Another wye exists on the west side of the station, near the Plum St. turn, serving the inbound tube.  The end of this wye extends into the block bordered by Elm and Plum and almost as far south as Court St.    

The Race St. Station is also unusual in that its local platforms are over twice as long as those on any other station, meaning each could have served two trains at one time, or more likely, trains for specific routings were to have stopped at either the east or west end of the platforms.  That means that together with the two interurban stubs there were 6 different places trains could load and unload.  Large platforms such as these are useful for handling the crowds that can quickly accumulate on subway platforms during service delays.

The Race St. Station had no bathrooms, however it does have a staircase in the center of the platform that descends to concourses that were to connect with sidewalk entrances and to buildings lining the parkway above. The station also originally had four large circular ventilation grates in the ceiling which dually served as skylights. These were removed when the parkway above was widened in the 1950's, and now there is almost no ventilation in this section of the tunnel.  Needless to say, had it been put into operation, Cincinnati's Race St. Station would have certainly ranked among the most eccentric subway stations in the United States, something akin to Park St. Station in Boston.

Three kinds of vents were built along the length of the Central Parkway Subway.  Between the end of the subway at Walnut St. and the Liberty St. Station, large square vents were spaced regularly in the Parkway median, centered over the tubes below.  These vents were removed in the 1950's.  Between the Brighton's Corner Station and the Liberty St. Station, irregularly spaced vents on either side of the Parkway connected to the tunnels below.  Metal ladders were built into the concrete walls of the subway tubes at each vent, however almost all of these ladders have rusted through today.  North of the Western Hills Viaduct and until the portals, the subway acts as a terrace and is actually above ground level.  Here vents were built directly into the subway's western wall and have been broken into many times by vandals.  Subsequently a number of these vents have been filled in with concrete, however the steel bars remain at a few.

Suburban Tunnels
Most that have heard about "The Subway" know only of the Central Parkway tunnel. Almost a dozen shorter ones were planned along the 16 mile route, but only three were built. None of these shorter tunnels had underground stations.

After emerging from the two mile long Central Parkway subway, the line headed above ground 1/4 mile to the Marshall Ave. station, and then another 1/4 mile before entering the second tunnel. This tunnel was originally a Hopple St. underpass, and is about 400ft. long. The southern portals are of the same style and dimensions of the Central Parkway subway's northern portals, except staggered in the opposite direction. There are no longer any northern portals, as the tunnel stops abruptly under the intersection of Hopple St. & Martin Luther King Drive (formerly Dixmyth Avenue). Prior to I-75 construction, these streets did not intersect, and so the northern portals were sealed with cinder blocks during the alignment project. In earlier subway plans, there was to be no Marshall St. station, and instead there was to be an underground station at Hopple St. The tunnel itself was to be located a few hundred feet west, in the exact path of I-75, and was to run almost as far north as Ludlow Ave.

There were also two more short tunnels built in the Norwood area. Here the Rapid Transit Loop diverged from the canal route and on purchased right-of-way where the Norwood Lateral Expressway is today.  The subway traveled on a different route than the Lateral between the Reading Rd. interchange and the Section Rd. overpass, and this 1/4 stretch included a 900ft. tunnel under Section Rd.  The southern portal of this tunnel was destroyed in 1971 during expressway construction and the rest of the tunnel was filled in.

This graphic shows the subway route with relation to the expressway and the location
of the short tunnel.

From there the Rapid Transit Loop headed east 3/4 mile before reaching its 4th tunnel, which measures 950ft. in length. This tunnel was recently filled in in early 2004.  It ran directly under the Zumbiel Packaging warehouse, which was built after the tunnel was constructed. The west portals were flush with the warehouse's loading dock, and were visible from either Harris Ave. or the Wesley Ave. overpass. East of the warehouse, a spur from the B&0 passed on the surface over the tunnel, as did Forest Ave. This spur was formerly an interurban line, and was to feed into, or at least transfer with the Rapid Transit Loop at this point. The Forest Ave. station was originally supposed to be half in this tunnel and half in the open, however no construction was started on it. The east portal is located about 40ft. east of the street, in Norwood's Waterworks Park, behind a baseball field backstop. 

This graphic shows the location of the second of the two short Norwood tunnels.

The east portal of this tunnel marks the easternmost extent to which the Rapid Transit Loop was completed. It was estimated that the transit line would have saved travelers from this point 15-20 minutes versus existing street car lines.

The Cousin of Boston's Red Line
The southern half of Boston's Cambridge-Dorchester subway opened in 1925, the same year that the Cincinnati project was abandoned.  The Cincinnati Rapid Transit Loop was designed to operate equipment identical to Boston's, and similarities in construction materials and styles can be seen.  The Downtown Crossing and South Station stations in downtown Boston both have central support columns identical to those in Cincinnati's Brighton and Liberty St. stations.   The Broadway station has an island platform with columns similar to Cincinnati's Race St. station.  Between South Station and Broadway a tunnel leading to the line's old service yard features the same concrete construction and portal style as Cincinnati's various tunnel portals.

Central Parkway
Central Parkway was built above the subway through a separate funding source and opened in 1928.  The street today is fairly unusual for several reasons.  First, Central Parkway parallels Central Ave. for much of its length, leading to much confusion and countless lost drivers over the last 70 years.  Moreover, neither "central" street runs through the center of the city.  Additionally, the Parkway makes a harsh 90 degree turn at Plum St., meaning it is both a north/south and east/west road in the street grid, and that one must turn in order to stay on it.  This situation has also led to much confusion, which could  have been easily avoided by keeping the native "Canal St." moniker for the east/west portion.  Also, since few buildings were built facing the canal north of the Plum St. turn, numerous surviving canal era buildings face away from the Parkway, most conspicuous of which is Music Hall (1878).  There is also a series of old row houses whose plain backsides face the Parkway near the Brighton's Corner Station.  Many proposals have been made to rename Central Parkway -- proposals for General MacArthur Parkway, John F. Kennedy Parkway, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Parkway have all failed.   

Central Parkway construction in 1928, at the Plum St. turn looking east.

Since the backs of most old buildings faced the Parkway, many were demolished and replaced in the mid-1900's.  Therefore north of Liberty St. the Parkway is an oasis of vintage suburban roadside architecture in the middle of a densely built 19th century row house neighborhood. The downtown stretch of the Parkway between the Plum St. turn and Broadway has largely stagnated for the last 40 years but has recently shown signs of life.

The American Building at Central Parkway & Walnut.
[January 2004 Jake Mecklenborg]

<>The American Buildng was built in the late 1920's two blocks from the Race St. Station, both in anticipation of the subway's completion and the "new downtown" forseen for Central Parkway's environs.  It and the Kroger Headquarters (1958) were until 2004 the only large buildings built along the Parkway since its opening in 1928.  The American Building was redeveloped into condominiums in 2004.  The College of Applied Sciences (partly visible at right) was also redeveloped into condominiums in 2000 after sitting vacant for a few years.  

Early construction view from 12th & Vine of new Kroger Garage & Condos.
[April 2004 Jake Mecklenborg]

The City of Cincinnati broke ground on a large parking garage and condominium building in April of 2004.  This was the first large building to be constructed along the downtown section of Central Parkway since 1958.  The building occupies the block between 12th St., Vine St., and Jackson St. and includes over 1,000 parking spaces and thirty condominiums. Another large project, construction of a new campus for the School of Creative and Performing Arts, broke ground in fall of 2007 and should open in 2009. SPCA will occupy all of a full-size 400x400 block that sat for many years as a parking lot.

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

Back to