Ghost stations and abandoned subways are often considered the holy grail of urban exploration. Despite the grandeur and eerie mystery of many abandoned railway stations, it’s the hidden, lost places beneath that really capture the imagination of urban explorers. Some subway stations have been closed for so long that talk of them has become urban legend. This article examines some very real destinations, some of which haven’t been explored for generations.
Abandoned subways range from shallow cut-and-cover routes to deep level subterranean platforms accessed by decaying corridors and seemingly endless stairways. In some cases their tracks have been lifted. In others they remain in situ, largely inaccessible within sealed tunnels. Some have been used for urban art exhibits, sanctioned and unsanctioned, while others hide vintage artistic treasures lost for generations (see below).
Deserted London Underground (the Tube)
Few subways run as deep as the London Underground, known as the tube. The oldest and second largest subway system (after Shanghai), around 40 abandoned platforms and stations lurk on the network. One of the best known – although rarely photographed – abandoned tube stations is Aldwych (originally called Strand), which operated from 1907 to 1994 and famously sheltered Londoners during the Blitz of 1940.
(Images: via YouTube)
From behind the sealed entrance to the deepest level platform, Aldwych largely remains as it was during the 1940s. The ghost station contains a labrynth of passageways, some of them in use until the station closed in 1994. Several passageways have been closed to passengers since 1917, while others were never even opened to the public.
Aldwych tube station has two abandoned platforms. Platform A (above top) closed in 1994 but is occasionally used by film companies as trains can still access it. Platform B, on the other hand, has been lost and forgotten for generations. Operational for only ten years, the above image offers a rare glimpse of a platform that has been sealed off since 1917. Deep inside the subterranean station, a tiled corridor leads to another London time capsule – the Kingsway Tramway Subway (below).
Kingsway Tramway Subway, London
Until the 1950s, a streetcar line ran through the Kingsway Tramway Subway beneath the Strand. Abandoned for decades, the tracks vanish beneath heavy iron gates at the northern end, while the southern portal is now a road tunnel. Despite its abandonment and onset of urban decay, much of the Kingsway Tramway Subway remains frozen in time. Aldwych and Holborn tramway stations still exist inside the tunnel.
Notting Hill Gate Abandoned Vintage Posters
Even active tube stations have deserted nooks, crannies, corridors and passageways. Recent upgades to Notting Hill Gate station revealed an abandoned lift passageway adorned with vintage posters advertising the latest Rita Hayworth and David Niven movies. Closed off more than half a century ago when lifts gave way to escalators, the posters remain in situ and have once again been entombed within the old passage. (Full story.)
Ghost Stations of the Paris Métro
The Paris Métro, beautifully decorative and influenced by Art Nouveau, is not as extensive as London’s tube but serves more stations (300 in total), so it’s hardly surprising that a few ghost stations lurk on the network. Most of the Paris ghost stations were closed at the outset of World War Two. Many never reopened, while others like Saint-Martin (above and below, top) had a brief resurgence before falling into abandonment, fostering a sense of mystery over Parisians second only to the Paris Catacombs in terms of urban exploration.
In some cases, like Victor Hugo and Porte de Versailles stations, platforms were moved to accomodate longer trains, leaving older ones abandoned. In others, entire stations were deserted or relocated, and now stand silent – but not forgotten – beyond heavy iron gates. Some stations, including the old terminus of Gare du Nord, closed in 1942, have been returned to use as training stations for student drivers.
City Hall Station: New York’s Stunning Subterranean Abandonment
(Image: dsankt, all rights reserved, reproduced with permission)
Serving 468 stations, the New York City Subway is the fifth busiest rapid transit system in the world and the busiest in the western hemisphere, offering 24 hour service, 365 days a year. So once again it’s not surprising that a few old stations have fallen off the grid. Like London and Paris, New York City has several ghost stations, but none more beautiful than City Hall.
(Images: dsankt, all rights reserved, reproduced with permission)
Envisioned as the grand centerpiece of the New York City subway system, City Hall Station in reality was never particularly busy. The station’s tight curve – though architecturally elegant – made it financially unviable to lengthen the platform to accomodate modern trains. As a result, City Hall station closed on December 31 1945. However, the line remains in use as a loop for the Number 6 train, and discerning riders can still catch a glimpse of New York’s famous ghost station.
Urban Exploration in Lower Bay, Toronto
(Image: Mute*, all rights reserved, reproduced with permission)
Opened in 1954 with four lines and 69 stations, the Toronto subway isn’t as old, extensive or busy as those of London, Paris and New York, but still boasts several abandoned stations. The most famous is an abandoned platform beneath the existing Bay station, known as Lower Bay. Opened in 1966, this platform was only active for six months while interline service trials were performed.
Abandoned for 45 years, Lower Bay has been used in movies like Don’t Say a Word and Johnny Mnemonic. Considered a holy grail of urban exploration, one entrance has recently been bricked up and security cameras installed. Even so, Lower Bay station was briefly opened to the public in 2007, 2008 and 2010 for the first time since 1966.
Abandoned Subway Tours, Cleveland, Ohio
Like other Rust Belt cities, Cleveland operates a rapid transit system where falling demand has led to the closure of several stations. Dating back to the early twentieth century, the grand features of the abandoned tunnels makes them popular with urban explorers. Fortunately city officials have recognised this and had the foresight to organise bi-annual tours attended by over a thousand people.
Cincinnati’s Forgotten Subway System
Cincinnati isn’t simply home to a few ghost stations, but an entire abandoned rapid transit system. Incredibly, as cities look towards cleaner transport solutions and traffic reduction, Cincinnati boasts an entire subway system, complete with four stations directly beneath the downtown, that has never hosted a paying customer.
Described as “one of the city’s biggest embarrassments”, subway construction began during the early twentieth century but was halted by the Great Depression, World War Two and the rise of the automobile. Numerous attempts to revive the project have failed, but on a positive note the Cincinnati Subway conducts bi-annual tours, offering a golden opportunity for historians, photographers and urban explorers to take a look around.
Abandoned Subway in Rochester, New York
Active from 1927 to 1956, the Rochester subway, officially called Rochester Industrial and Rapid Transit Railway, was more successful than its counterpart in Cincinnati, but not much. Adapted from the abandoned Erie Canal, the Rochester Subway ran single streetcars with interurban lines routed into the tunnels to ease traffic congestion on the streets above. But the rise of the car put the last nail in the subway’s coffin and it has stood abandoned for more than half a century.
The centre of much controversy, Laurie Mercer described the subway as either “a giant hole waiting to be filled with dirt or an impressive asset in a city that needs to revitalize its downtown.” After spending $1.2 million a year to maintain the tunnels, city officials finally decided to fill some of them in, despite their potential value to the city. Work began in 2010 at an estimated cost of£14 to $16 million.
EDIT: this article originally stated, incorrectly, that London’s was the world’s deepest underground railway.
Keep reading – explore Rochester’s abandoned subway in more detail or head to Scotland to check out the hidden Duchal Moor (“Grouse Moor”) Railway. Alternatively, check out the “O” – an innovative way of exploring abandoned railways.