CL&N RR Tunnel

This tunnel was built by the Cincinnati, Lebanon, & Northern Railroad in 1881. It measures about 1/3 mile in length with a 19ft. bore and originally served two narrow gauge tracks but was later converted to single track standard gauge. The north portal is located under the NE corner of Oak St. and May St., two blocks east of Bethesda Hospital and just east of I-71. The tunnel's south portal emerges in a cut between William Howard Taft and McMillan St., parallel to the N 71 entrance ramp. There is a short underpass of identical brick construction under McMillan St. just south of the southern tunnel portal which is visible from I-71 during the winter months. The south approach to the tunnel parallel to I-71 ascended a 3.4% grade but the tunnel itself is level.

In the 1920's this line reportedly generated more freight in a five mile stretch than any other in the Cincinnati area. One 1927 proposal called for construction of a double-track elevated line over the CL&N for use by the Rapid Transit Loop, however the line would have had to diverge from the existing railroad alignment in the tunnel vicinity.

The tunnel was still in operation when I-71 was constructed and until the late 1980's. Other remaining pieces of the line include a pair of bridges over I-71, one near the old Natural History Museum (now Channel 9) and the other just north of Blair Ave. and south of Victory Parkway. The wooden approaches of an overpass at Florence Ave. north of Dorchester also remain. The CL&N right-of-way has been purchased by SORTA and part will almost certainly be used eventually by rail transit north of Dana Ave. What if any right-of-way between downtown and that point will be used is unclear.  

[January 13, 2008 Jake Mecklenborg]

[January 13, 2008 Jake Mecklenborg]

There is still some possibility that the tunnel will return to active status, as it and some remaining right-of-way have periodically been reconsidered as an alternate route for the downtown approach of a new light rail transit line. However the single track bottleneck may once again eliminate the tunnel from mass transit consideration, although for some time a single track arrangement on the Clay Wade Bailey Bridge was considered for the I-71 line, so anything is possible.

The CL&N tunnel is still in good condition and can be visited on foot, although reaching the tunnel is quite difficult during the summer because of the dense foliage and steep hills at each of the portals. Large pools of water stand at each portal in all but the hottest months, and in the winter ice makes entering the tunnel quite dangerous.

This satellite image shows the location of the tunnel and short McMillan St. underpass to the south.  I-71 is located at center.  Gilbert Ave. in bottom right corner and Reading Rd./Burnett Ave. fork at left edge.  The McMillan St. underpass can be clearly seen in the winter when driving on I-71 north.  During the summer it is blocked from view by high grass and bushes.

1. CL&N Tunnel Photos

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