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Rochester Subway
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About the Rochester Subway


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About This Site

After moving to Rochester from Long Island in 1995, I began digging into the history of this place. The story of Rochester's abandoned subway I found particularly fascinating. An adaptation of the old Erie Canal; what creativity, ingenuity, determination, and foresight it must have taken to construct. Then to be overshadowed by the conflict and heartbreak of its eventual decline, abandonment, and conversion into a highway. This single conduit has carried the life blood of this place for 200 years. I believe it also carries incredible stories, and lessons for the future. This web site exists to help spark public dialogue around how we can better connect the neighborhoods of Rochester NY, surrounding communities, and their cultural offerings. Rochester's future is written in her past. Let's rediscover it.



See photos of the abandoned Rochester Subway tunnel as well as archival photos taken when the subway was being constructed and in use.

Watch video taken from inside the abandoned Rochester Subway tunnel and clips from “The End of the Line” documentary.

This tracking map shows the Rochester Subway as it was in 1928 with stations, suburban rail lines, and connections.

Crowds board commuter trains at City Hall station during WWII (circa 1944) Illustration of the Aqueduct after the addition of subway tracks and the Broad Street road surface. Entrance to the City Hall subway station. This kiosk is on Broad Street at the northwest corner of Exchange Street, with the Times Square building in the background. A man in a summer hat is seen walking on the sidewalk. Stairway to the Monroe Avenue subway platform. From the Monroe Avenue bridge looking North toward downtown. Construction of the Monroe Avenue bridge and subway entrance. Looking north with the Monroe YMCA in background. Subway car interior.

The impressive reach of the subway was possible because it utilized the bed of the old Erie Canal. When the subway opened in 1927, it was celebrated as a rebirth for the old canal and aqueduct as a new “instrument of transportation and commerce.” In the photo above, crowds board commuter trains at City Hall station during WWII (circa 1944). [ View Images View Images ]


About the Once Vital,
Now Abandoned
Rochester Subway

- From The Orphan Rochester Subway by Otto M. Vondrak

A Short History

The Erie Canal, responsible for much of upstate New York's economic growth, was considered an obsolete eyesore by the turn of the century. The state legislature allocated money for relocation of the canal, and the last boat traveled through the city locks in 1919. After much debate about what to do with the abandoned canal bed, the city of Rochester then purchased the land for construction of a trolley subway that would greatly reduce the amount of surface traffic in the populous city. Eight years after the last canal boat was piloted through the city, the Rochester Industrial & Rapid Transit Railway was opened to the public in December 1927. Known to most simply as the "Subway," it was built to serve as a freight interchange for the five railroads that served the city. Running from the General Motors Rochester Products plant southeasterly through Rochester, and southeast to Rowlands, the Subway was not more than ten miles long. See where the subway took passengers in 1928.

From its opening date, the Subway was never utilized to its full potential. The exception was the World War II era when the Subway ran four-car trains at the height of rush hour. Public outcry for Subway service improvements and extensions fell on deaf ears. Eventually, against public statements to the contrary, the city council voted in secret to discontinue subway passenger service after 1955, and construct the Eastern Expressway (I-490) in its place. The last passenger run on the Subway was Saturday, June 30, 1956.

Today, few traces of the subway survive. The western section that was filled in remained undeveloped, and can be traced nearly uninterrupted all the way out to the former General Motors plant. The only remaining Subway car (Car 60) is in the custody of the Rochester Chapter NRHS, at the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum. The subway car is in the middle of a multi-year fundraising and restoration effort. Ruins of the Subway exist downtown, partially obscured by the I-490 that succeeded it. The two-mile tunnel under Broad Street is in need of serious repairs, and there has been heated debate over the idea of filling the man-made cavern under the city. The two stations that were in the tunnel, West Main Street and City Hall, have remained hidden from the public for over forty years, with little remaining to indicate they were ever there.

What Might Have Been

The Subway was never really meant to die. There were several proposals in the final years that would have significantly expanded the routing of the line along existing railroad rights of way. In January 1954, an ambitious proposal was published explaining an expansion to points outside the city. See how the Rochester Subway system might have looked today — had it survived.

See Also:

Rochester's Adventure in Optimism
by Sean Kirst [City Newspaper. June 2, 1983.]


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¤ Rochester Subway Poster Press Release
¤ Article by Otto M. Vondrak
¤ Design by Mike Governale

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¤ Rochester Subway (Wikipedia)
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