The Rochester Subway:
What Might Have Been

Local artist offers a glimpse into the mass transit system City Council wants to bury — As it was, and as it might have looked in the 21st century.

ROCHESTER, NY (September 25, 2008) — As gas prices convince more and more Americans to leave their cars in the driveway, use of mass transportation nationwide is at it highest level in 50 years. It was this phenomenon, and the recent decision by Rochester City Council to fill in the abandoned Broad Street subway tunnel, that inspired local graphic artist Michael Governale to create a modern day map of the 1927 Rochester “subway” – A transit system which he believes could, and should still be in use today.

Governale first had the idea to create a Rochester subway poster last Fall after seeing a documentary about the old Rochester subway line. “I started thinking about all the possibilities that a subway or light rail system could offer a city like Rochester now,” Governale said. With more commuters choosing to use mass transit and the city looking to bring more people downtown, is a return of the Rochester Subway so far-fetched? And if the original subway were still in operation today, what would it look like?” The result is a map that resembles something commuters in larger cities like New York or Washington D.C. are familiar with. Governale’s subway map shows the original 1927 subway line with all of its stops, plus four new lines that might have one day made up more of a complete subway system — taking passengers between downtown Rochester, the airport, Charlotte, Henrietta, and Pittsford. Train routes, stations, transfer points, major sites of interest, and geographic landmarks are included to help would-be riders plan their trip around Rochester.

While he admits it to be somewhat of a “fantasy”, Governale says his map is grounded in reality – based largely on old hand-drawn maps and articles, as well as actual proposals that were brought before the city prior to the subway closing in 1956. Some of these proposals called for converting old industrial railway corridors into commuter surface lines. Today, most of these corridors are abandoned but remain visible from the skies over Monroe County as they cut through city neighborhoods and surrounding suburbs. Using Google Earth (an online satellite based map service), Governale was able to reconnect these old routes and piece together an image of how the subway system might look today – had it grown into the bustling network that many in its heyday had envisioned.

Governale believes the city of Rochester is literally sitting on a hidden treasure. “The abandoned tunnels downtown could one day be a valuable asset for our community,” says Governale. “When I heard of City Council’s plan to fill them with dirt I was disappointed. That tunnel represents wonderful possibilities for the future of Rochester and Monroe County, not to mention the history that’s down there.” And he certainly isn’t the only one who’s fascinated by the story of Rochester’s subway. Fred Armstrong co-produced “The End of the Line – Rochester’s Subway”, the film documentary that inspired Governale’s map. “There’s almost a cult following,” says Armstrong, “I think many people are intrigued by the idea that Rochester actually had a subway. But more so I think Rochesterians like to imagine where it might have taken them today. This poster has some fun with that idea.”

The Rochester Subway poster is available at The Center at High Falls gift shop, Mercury Posters, Poster Art on Monroe Avenue, and online at

About the Rochester “Subway”
The Rochester Subway (AAR reporting marks RSB) or Rochester Industrial and Rapid Transit Railway was an underground rapid transit system in the city of Rochester, New York from 1927 to 1956. It used single streetcar vehicles so by today’s terms would likely be described as a light rail system, even though a large portion of it ran underground. The rail system ran on its own private, grade-separated right of way through its entire length. Known to most simply as the “Subway,” it was built to ease interurban traffic from the streets of downtown. It also served as an interchange for the five railroads that entered the city and as a link to interurban lines serving the east and west.