Chicago the World’s Youngest City, 1929.
Underground Transportation of Freight in Central Area
by Sherman W. Tracy
President, Chicago Tunnel Company
The gathering and distributing of package freight and the hauling of coal, cinders and excavated material are the particular services rendered by the Chicago tunnels which are owned and operated by the Chicago Tunnel Company and the Chicago Warehouse and Terminal Company. In their economic aspects, the tunnels are an integral part of Chicago’s great scheme of trade and transportation and they are savers of time, labor and money. In their civic value they relieve street congestion, eliminate wear on the pavements and reduce the volume of noise and dirt. They offer sanitary advantages in the movement of foods and perishables, because the tunnels are clean and the air within them is pure and of even temperature. They are an influence in lowering the much-discussed cost of distribution.
Section of the Illinois Tunnel Company Map
The tunnels are forty feet under the surface. They are below the sewers, the mazes of pipes, wires, cables and conduits; and are below the level of any passenger subway that may be built. They are unheard as well as unseen. Unlike a tunnel through a hill or under a stream, they emerge nowhere. They are reached only by elevators and they end against blank walls of concrete.
Typical Street Intersection
The great business of the tunnels is the transportation of package freight. On the testimony of those who use them, they have brought nearer to solution the complex problem of gathering and delivering this kind of freight in the most congested section of an overcrowded commercial city. Transportation is an essential accessory of trade and commerce, in the means it affords of reaching distant places as well as in the gathering of the freightage from the thousands of points where it originates. In the process of gathering for shipment by railroad, the freight of each shipper does not go to one freight terminal or in one direction. One shipper may send goods in all directions and over many railroads. A truck laden with package freight may visit half a dozen terminals. Three or four trucks, none fully loaded, may be used; but however many the trucks, there will be delays in congested streets, with waits at each freight warehouse; and the time of their performance may not be estimated with any degree of accuracy. The Chicago Tunnels long have been contributing their share toward the solution of a great problem. They have reduced the movements of package freight and made them easier and shorter. They have expedited the gathering by systemization and they have reduced the delays that come of movements through the congested streets of the central business district.
Forty feet below the World’s Busiest Corner, State and Madison
As an engineering project, the tunnels measure up to the highest standard. The tubes are six feet wide inside and seven and one-half feet high, shaped like a horseshoe. They are bored through a stratum of blue clay and the walls are faced with concrete a foot thick. There has been no perceptible settling, and the foundations of the buildings adjacent to the tunnels have remained unaffected. It would be the natural expectation that these long, dim corridors forty feet below the street levels would be damp and filled with heavy air. As a matter of fact, they are dry and cool. The ventilation is sometimes too active. Currents of air rushing for the shafts are stirred by the trains, and from the river drifts they blow with chilling vigor. The temperature is practically constant at fifty-five degrees. As a provision against dampness, there are sixty-three electric pumps and a complete system of pipes and eleven hundred sumps from which any accumulations of water are raised to the sewers above. There is very little seepage. The tunnel floors are dry and clean . Waterproof and fireproof doors are provided, to isolate connections with buildings and commercial terminals in case of fire or water from above. Scientific tests have shown that the air in the tunnels is remarkably pure. It is drawn up from them through shafts for the ventilating and cooling of many buildings and theaters.
Two Morgan Locomotives posed for a publicity photo in 1904 at State and Randolph.
Superintendent George W. Jackson is at the controls on the left.
The noise made by moving trains is all that breaks the silence in the tunnels. They are a railroad, in their organization; and everything in their operations suggests order and system. The designation of lines as “one way streets” gives some liberty in the operating of trains; but the motorman of one train knows what another train, passing an intersection, is loaded with, where it is from and where it is going. The loading of coal and refuse material is mechanical and one man can load a train. Of the source of the material, nothing is observable except the end of the chute. Cars delivered to their destinations pass on to higher levels and trains are made up of cars that descend on elevators from shipping rooms above. There are no interferences, no crossing gates, no other kinds of traffic, no congestions, no delays.
A tunnel mail car, on the platform in Grand Central Station, in front an elevator leading down to the freight tunnels. The tunnel car was one of hundreds of convertible cars built by Bettendorf.
Twenty-four commercial houses have direct, individual connections with the tunnels through the facilities provided by the Chicago Warehouse and Terminal Company. These connections consist of tunnel approaches, switches, tracks, shafts and elevators for lifting cars to the level of the street floors; and are used only for the shipping and receiving of freight transported through the tunnels to and from railroad freight terminals. These connections have been in use for a long time. They are as much a part of the shipping facilities of these commercial houses as are packing and shipping rooms. Such dependence is placed on the tunnels that in many instances the buildings are not provided with the usual loading space for teams and trucks, and there is no possibility of securing such space without tearing out parts of the buildings. Tenants have been attracted to the warehouses by their desire for tunnel service. One of the large concerns with space in a warehouse near one of the “Universal Stations” is shipping an average of one hundred tons daily through the tunnels to various railroads.
Opening of Chicago subway for freight traffic: On July 7, 1905, an 11-car train was dispatched from the Erie freight house. These five cars were delivered to the Milwaukee freight house and the elevator in the foreground goes down to the tunnel
Naturally the largest business of the tunnels is with the railroads. Two thousand tunnel cars filled with freight are delivered to the various railroad terminals daily, and eight hundred cars are loaded for delivery to local consignees and other railroads. In a year the tunnels deliver to railroad freight terminals about 650,000 tons of package freight—enough to load approximately 100,000 ordinary freight cars. The Chicago Tunnel Company’s four public receiving depots, known as “Universal Freight Stations,” are outside of the loop; but each of them is strategically located for business from that district.
- Station No. One is at 746 West Jackson Boulevard, where the general offices of the company are also located.
No. Two is at Erie and Kingsbury Streets.
No. Three is at Seneca and North Water Streets.
No. Four is at Canal Street and Roosevelt Road.
These stations are for the use of shippers who have no private connections with the tunnel right-of-way. At their doors the freight is received for shipment over all railroads, and the entire job of shipping is completed there. The Tunnel Company is a common carrier, subject to the supervision of the Interstate Commerce Commission and it issues through bills of lading.
Many commercial houses and office buildings have tunnel connections only for coal and cinder service. Underground delivery of coal offers no obstruction to street traffic which, in the case of coal trucks, is particularly obtrusive. One large coal concern has the tunnel service in its yard and makes its loop deliveries through the tunnels. Others have their coal cars placed at the tunnel chutes, where they unload into the chutes whence coal is delivered by tunnel cars to the boiler rooms of buildings as it is ordered.
Nearly twenty years ago the tunnels were used for the delivery of mail between postoffice and railroad stations. It may, perhaps, be so used in the future, when the railroad passenger terminals now in prospect have been definitely located and when the new general postoffice on the west side has been completed. The tunnels have something specific to offer in saving of time, and perhaps of money, in the delivery of mail.
Services of the Chicago Tunnel Company and the Chicago Warehouse and Terminal Company have been woven into the transportation fabric of Chicago. The investment of the two companies that own and operate the tunnel system is only a part of the total investment. A vast amount of business is geared to their services. This supplants other equipment in the form of trucks, loading platforms, team space and what not, which could now be installed only at great expense and with much difficulty in some cases and not at all in others. The value of the tunnel system to Chicago is not to be measured in terms of freight facilities alone. A system that can move 3,000 cars or more every day, within the most crowded area, and add nothing to the traffic congestion of the streets in doing it, is an urban asset of the greatest value.
Illinois Tunnel Company
Plans for passenger subway service in Chicago date back to the turn of the 20th century, and the original permits to dig the freight tunnels allowed for future cut-and-cover subway development above the tunnels. In the 1930s, when the Chicago Rapid Transit Company and the city finalized the design of the State Street and Dearborn street subways, plans called for the tunnels to be dug through the blue clay along the line originally followed by the freight tunnels. Excavation debris from the new subway tunnels was hauled away by the Chicago Tunnel Company as the subway replaced the freight tunnels along their route.
The Chicago Tunnel Company went bankrupt and applied for voluntary reorganization in 1956. The tunnel company attempted to sever itself from the bankrupt holding company, claiming it could operate at a profit, but by 1959, the tunnel asked for abandonment permission. The Interstate Commerce Commission consented to abandonment that July, and the tunnel assets were sold at auction for $64,000 in October.
Subway System Proposal
Lifting the Lid In the Loop
Forty Feet Under Chicago
Published in 1915 by The Chicago Tunnel Company