Tag Archives: George W. Jackson

Miscellaneous Railways – Chicago’s Tunnels

Miscellaneous Railways

Chicago’s Tunnels

article-0-18B88B0C00000578-326_964x7421904 – ‘A typical Street Intersection’

Forgotten underground: Incredible pictures of Chicago‘s abandoned, labyrinth tunnels once used to transport coal, ventilate movie theaters and hide phone cables

  • The Illinois Telephone and Telegraph Company built the expansive tunnel network around 1900 to hold cables
  • When they went bankrupt, the Illinois Tunnel Company took over and used the tunnels to move merchandise and coal
  • 62 miles of tunnels criss-crossed underneath the city
  • The tunnels were six feet wide and 7.5 feet high with one-foot thick concrete walls, powered by overhead trolley wires
  • Several theaters bought tunnel air to keep audiences cool


Chicago is famous for its soaring skyline, but hidden from view is a 62-mile grid of abandoned freight tunnels once considered an engineering masterwork.

Although the impressive grid connects all major railroad freight houses and many commercial establishments in downtown Chicago, few people ever saw this system from construction in 1899 to its abandonment in 1959.

It wasn’t until a contractor kicked a hole into the side of the one of the bores during the 1992 floods that the doomed passageways became big news.


Out of business: Almost a century after construction, the doomed Chicago tunnels had helped facilitate the Chicago Flood of 1992, despite chief engineer George W. Jackson’s original intention that measures to prevent flooding be maintained

Chicago: The Illinois Telephone and Telegraph built the first 26 miles of this concrete tunnel by 1905. But the Illinois Tunnel Company which took over, building another 60 miles, went bankrupt in 1909 and construction stopped

Multi-purpose: In 1912, the Chicago Tunnel Company started using the track to move merchandise, coal and ash before abandoning the unprofitable tunnels in 1959


Under the watchful eye of chief engineer George W. Jackson, the company built the first 26 miles of tunnel to hold telegraph and telephone cables.

In 1905, the Illinois Tunnel Company took over construction, expanding the network to 60 miles before it went bankrupt in 1909.

The network, widely considered cursed, was taken over by the Chicago Tunnel Company which sold the communication installations and cables but continued to use the track to move merchandise, coal and ash in 1912. The group was finally forced to abandon the unprofitable tunnels in 1959.