Big cities, especially old ones, often feel like a claustrophobic blend of towering buildings, endless roads, inescapable noise and hectic traffic. It’s incredible to imagine that, beneath many metropolises, an intricate network of tunnels, subways and sewers exist, some silent, others carrying commuters beneath the mayhem of the world above.
Abandoned Railway Tunnels
Subterranean passageways of any kind can be dangerous, and gaining access challenging. Sometimes the entrances are so well hidden that even the most discerning explorer will never know they’re there. Railway tunnels are a different matter, with gaping openings that are impossible to hide. Best of all, abandoned railways are often adopted as walking/biking trails which does away with the risk of trespassing. While many are closed off behind heavy iron gates, some tunnels are left open for walkers. You barely know you’re in a tunnel while passing through on a modern train. But take the locomotive away and tunnels become chilly, dark and lonely places that are great to explore.
Atlantic Avenue Tunnel
Ever walked over a manhole cover and wondered where it led? Astonishingly, the unassuming example above in Brooklyn opens out into the oldest subway tunnel in North America, perhaps even the world. Beneath this busy city street is the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel (aka Cobble Hill Tunnel), a half mile stretch of abandoned subsurface railroad between Columbia Street and Boerum Place. Built in 1844, half a century before Brooklyn officially became part of New York City, the tunnel was controversially sealed off in 1861.
Atlantic Avenue Tunnel remained forgotten beneath Brooklyn for four decades, only to be rediscovered in 1981 by 18-year-old Robert “Bob” Diamond. Bob lowered himself through a manhole – possibly the one above -and crawled 70 feet through a filled-in section of tunnel no more than two feet high. With help from city engineers, he broke through the concrete wall that sealed the tunnel end, and finally emerged into the gloomy abandonedment of the Atlantic Avenue subway. Urban exploration at its best – albeit sanctioned by the city – and Bob still conducts tours down there to this day.
Thames Tunnel Tour
On the other side of the pond, but no less deep underground, is the Thames Tunnel, connecting Rotherhithe to Wapping using Marc Isambard Brunel’s cutting-edge – literally! – tunnelling shield technology. The Thames Tunnel was built between 1825 and 1843 at a depth of 75 feet below the River Thames, the first tunnel to be successfully constructed beneath a navigable river. It was designed for horse-drawn carriages but ultimately carried trains. Back in use again after a major upgrade, the pictures above mark the last opportunity to walk through the tunnel, during the London East arts festival in March 2010.
Kingsway Tramway Subway
The Kingsway Tram Subway, opened February 24, 1906, runs under the Holborn district of London. The only one of its kind in Britain, it was built to connect existing tramways on the north and south sides of the River Thames. The last tram rolled along the subterranean route in July 1952 before the iron gates were closed for the last time. Known to historians but seldom entered, the weed-filled tracks disappearing seemingly into nothingness must be a lure for the more adventurous Londoner. Fortunately the Kingsway Tram Subway is occasionally opened to the public. Check out our full article here.
Brighton Sewer Tour
Urban explorers might disagree, but splashing around a smelly old sewer wouldn’t be most people’s idea of a good time. But trust us when we say that Brighton’s magnificent refuse system is a marvel of civil engineering from the glory days of Victorian sewers. It has even been described as “award winning”! Sewers are dangerous places, not least due to rats and disease, and Urban Ghosts Media would never endorse crawling inside one for a look around. But the Brighton sewers are actually open to the public, and tours can even be taken to check out their subterranean civic grandeur.