Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Illinois Terminal Railroad Tunnel?

I am so far unable to find out any facts about what this abandoned railroad tunnel is in old North St. Louis, but a fellow urban explorer seems to think it was once used by the Illinois Terminal Railroad. So, for lack of my own information, I am going to assume he is correct for now. Matt and I were actually trying to figure out how to get somewhere else, but when I realized where we were, I made him stop the car. He reluctantly agreed to come along on this exploration, even though he "just doesn't find an old railroad tunnel intriguing in any way." I think he knew, deep down, that if he didn't come I would question his sexual orientation in public every possible chance I got. He may have been right.

The first thing that I noticed before we even reached the tunnel was this opening in the concrete wall to our left. I couldn't help but wonder why there was so much trash piled up into a makeshit ramp leading into the doorway. After coming closer, I realized that this was obviously somebody's home, and it would be best to leave it alone. Continuing into the tunnel, it was apparent that at least this part of the tunnel was not entirely enclosed. We were definately underneath the street, as I was reminded of every time a car above us drove over a bump and I (I mean Matt) jumped like a little prissy girl, but the part of the tunnel where we entered was more like a half-tunnel, half-bridge hybrid. Hopefully the pictures will illustrate this point better, because it is quite hard to describe.

As we continued on, we began to notice many areas where dirty old pieces of furniture and old mattresses had been arranged into little living areas. In some areas, someone had obviously even created makeshift walls out of trash and rubble. As much as I wondered what was on the other side of these walls, I again thought they were better left alone. I would have hated to peek my head into one of these areas to see some person who was none too pleased with my presence in his home. Further on, the tunnel did become completely enclosed for awhile, and we began to see loading docks alone the wall with still working lights illuminating them. This area was obviously not completely forgotten. Matt kept wondering how much furthur I was planning on going, so I agreed that once we got to and saw what was in the next open area that we could both see up ahead, we would turn around. As we got closer, I could tell that there was actually an old engine car still on the tracks! This also was obviously not forgotten, as it was surrounded by a fence topped with razor wire. As I got closer, I noticed the "No Tresspassing" signs posted on the fence. All of a sudden, a spotlight above me turned on. I can't understand why this car would be here protected by fences and motion lights, when it's owner could have just as easily relocated it somewhere. We began to hear voices coming from the sidewalk above us, so decided that it would be best to just head back.

This trip left me with more questions that it did answers. Now that I know what is down there, I want to figure out why. Does this tunnel keep going, or is the remainder of it unpassable? As much as I want to know these answers, I doubt if I will return to this place. Knowing that it has become a home to many people who have no homes made me feel quite out of place, if not extremely uneasy. If anyone has any information about this tunnel or it's current use, please contact me. And if you plan on going yourself, bring some friends and a bo-staff or something.


Blogger simultaneously said...

I wonder if the folks at the Mercantile library at UMSTL could help you out with more info on this. They seem to have loads of info on trains and waterways, going wayyy back....

1:36 PM  
Blogger M said...

Hey, very cool blog. Anyway I think this is the Illinois Terminal Rail Tunnel. It goes under downtown past the Post Dispatch building (which until recently used the tracks for paper delivery) and continues all the way to the old Globe-Democrat building which back in the day used to be a terminal for the Illinois Terminal Railroad. That would be cool to see, if any of the old train station is still intact there. Hope you go back and take some pictures.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Jurmac said...

In a certain St Louis history book, I forgot the title, I remember a picture of the tunnel construction in the 1930s. It was built with a method called cut-and-cover, where the street is excavated and rebuilt over. I have been in this tunnel a couple of times over the years.

The locomotive pictured is/was used to pick-up cars of newsprint left along a siding south of the Mckinley Bridge. The tracks are elevated from several blocks north of the tunnel to the siding, where they are at ground level and go back on an elevated trestle towards the Mckinley. Last year I was riding on the riverfront trail and decided to check out the elevated approach north of the siding.
There were trees growing through the rotted ties, and the bolts holding the track joining plates had sheared due to rust and hot/cold expansion over the years.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Erik Arnson said...

Does this look familiar?

11:19 PM  
Blogger Lindsey said...

Hello, I visted the tunnels not to long ago as well and, like you, it left me with a few questions. I was doing some research today and came across your blog. I found this article from the 1873 describing the plans for the railroad, check it out

I have some friends who head down there to talk with the homeless people, there are quite a few living down there. They have told me that there are a few groups living down there of mostly white homeless people who do not fend well in the shelters. I also have heard that there is another group of people living futher back in the tunnels that are very anti-social.

I want to research about the tunnels and find what is occupying them today. I hope with more information known about the homeless population in STL it will bring about some change.

Let me know if you find anything else. I enjoyed your pictures, do you have any more?

10:55 AM  
Blogger trainfreak said...

Interesting post. Found this post that explains this tunnel:,283519
Enjoyed this blog.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

This was in fact the Illinois Terminal's trackage in the tunnel. That and the underground portion of the station were excavated in 1930 to replace the 12th st station. The building itself is fully intact and in use by another business. Photos and references of the complex are in the books Illinois Terminal Vol 1 and 2 by Morning Sun Books and Illinois Terminal: The Road Of Personalized Services by Dale Jenkins, who worked for the RR as a special agent for many years. Feel free to e-mail me at or call me at 314-448-2821 if you like.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Jane said...

My memory of riding on the Illinois Terminal Railroad between St Louis and Granite City IL goes back to about 1935 and extends to 1953. I must have made the trip hundreds of times as I had family in both places. St Louis was our venue for major shopping, doctors' appointments, first-run movies etc, also several adults in my family worked in St Louis and commuted on the streetcars. The ITR was absolutely our lifeline. The streetcars were orange and the seats were green plush. The backs of the seats could be shifted depending on the direction of travel and at the end of every run the conductor would walk the length of the car moving seat backs with both hands, working on either side of him. Each car carried a motorman and a conductor---both wore dark blue uniforms with round visored hats. On the Illinois side the car circled around Granite City, passing through downtown and past the Stamping Works and the Rolling Mill (the town's major industries then) and slowly progressed through Madison and Venice. Just at the river we passed the Mallinckrodt Chemical Works which always smelled like cabbage, and a big sign that said Cahokia. Crossing over the river you could look straight down between the gratings and see the muddy waves of the Mississippi: kind of scary. After the streetcar crossed the McKinley Bridge into Missouri it zoomed over the high lines (some grownup always pointed out to me the Old Court House and told me that once, slaves had been sold on the steps). I remember the cars as traveling very fast on the high lines, just flying along. This would terrify relatives visiting from out of town but I had made the trip so often it didn't worry me. Then we would zoom into the dark underground part of the terminal with a whoosh of cold air and eventually come to a stop in the basement of the Globe Democrat Building on 12th Street. There was something shiny, maybe mica, in the concrete down there. There were always other streetcars parked down there and I think there was an Alton car that left from there too. We went up to street level on a big old elevator that always made a sound like Eeerrrrrpp. Upstairs the terminal had long wooden benches and a newspaper stand that sold little glass telephones and cars filled with candy that I thought were very fine. Those old orange streetcars left me with a permanent love of public transportation. I would give anything to make that trip again. Homeless folks are living down there now? God bless them. It's a different world now. I wonder what ever happened to the cars or where I could get a picture, maybe on a postcard, of one of the old orange streetcars with the door in the middle, the trolley line on the top, and the cowcatcher on the front.

10:15 PM  
Blogger samantha said...

Found this post that explains this tunnel. Let me know if you find anything else. I enjoyed your pictures,

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10:04 PM  
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9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey can somebody list the approximate address of this particular location? please and thanks

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

email me with the info thanks

7:52 AM  
Blogger Jim Monroeable said...

Perhaps this page can provide more info on the tunnel as well as the engine you found. One of the contributors to this blog ran the final freight movement in that tunnel.

9:35 PM  

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