About the Once Vital,
- 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.
how the Rochester Subway system might have looked today had it survived.
Rochester's Adventure in Optimism
by Sean Kirst [City Newspaper. June 2, 1983.]