Former subway bed under Broad Street
|Locale||City of Rochester and Brighton, New York|
|Dates of operation||December 1, 1927–June 30, 1956|
|Length||About 7 miles|
|Headquarters||Rochester, New York|
The Rochester Industrial and Rapid Transit Railway (reporting mark RSB), more commonly known as the Rochester Subway was a light rail rapid transit line in the city of Rochester, New York from 1927 to 1956. The subway was constructed in the bed of the old Erie Canal, which allowed the route to be grade-separated for its entire length. Two miles (3.2 km) of the route through downtown were constructed in a cut-and-cover tunnel that became Broad Street, and the only underground portion of the subway. The Rochester Subway was designed to reduce interurban traffic on city streets, and to facilitate freight interchange between the railroads. The line was operated on a contract basis by New York State Railways until Rochester Transit Corporation (RTC) took over in 1938. The last day of passenger service was June 30, 1956. Portions of the right-of-way were used for expressway construction, while the rest was abandoned and filled in over the years. The largest remaining section is a stretch of underground tunnel under Broad Street from Exchange Street to the intersection of Court Street and South Avenue.
In 1918, the Erie Canal was re-routed to bypass downtown Rochester, and in 1919 the abandoned portion of the canal was bought to serve as the route of the subway. The subway was built below, and Broad Street above. Only 2 miles (3.2 km) were in the tunnel, the rest of the route in open cut. The term "subway" did not refer to the tunnel, but to the route being grade-separated and operated as rapid transit. Interurban lines were also run through the subway and off city streets, easing growing congestion. The segment over the Genesee River utilized the former Erie Canal: Second Genesee Aqueduct.
Construction was completed and operations began in 1927, under contract with New York State Railways. Ten former Utica and Mohawk Valley Railway 2000-series cars were transferred from the Utica Lines to provide dedicated service in the Rochester Subway. New York State Railways entered receivership in 1929, but continued to operate the subway on a contract basis with the city of Rochester. Interurban railways began using the new subway almost immediately. Starting in 1927, the Rochester and Eastern Rapid Railway connected at Rowlands and terminated at City Hall station. The Rochester and Syracuse Railroad began using the subway in 1928, using a new connection established just east of Winton Road station. The Rochester, Lockport and Buffalo Railroad entered from the west side starting in 1928 using a ramp constructed at Lyell Avenue.
In 1929, a special subway-surface operation began using a ramp at Emerson station to connect with the Dewey Avenue line to provide rush-hour service to Kodak Park, a major employer in the city. On June 1, 1929, local service on the Rochester Subway was extended from Winton Road to Rowlands loop.
When the remainder of the Utica & Mohawk Valley Railway was abandoned, New York State Railways transferred the relatively new and faster steel cars to Rochester to replace the older 2000-series center-door cars that had been in service since the opening of the subway. They were brought to Rochester and reconditioned in 1937.
In the aftermath of the Great Depression, New York State Railways fell into bankruptcy along with other railroads that operated interurban lines in the area. By 1931, all of the connecting interurban railways had ceased operation leaving the subway as an east-west line with no rail connections outside the line.
The former Rochester Lines of New York State Railways were reorganized as the Rochester Transit Corporation on August 2, 1938, and operation of the subway was transferred to the new company. In an effort to cut costs, weekday service was reduced and Sunday service was eliminated in 1952. The service contract was awarded on a month-to-month basis until the city council voted in 1955 to end all subway service on June 30, 1956. Freight service was operated by RTC until 1957, when the remaining rail operations were turned over to the connecting New York Central (NYC) and Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) railroads.
The former Utica cars ran until the end of passenger service. Car 60 was set aside for preservation in 1956, and was donated to the Rochester Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. The trolley car was loaned to other organizations and returned to the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum in 1998 where it is undergoing an evaluation for restoration. Locomotive L-2 was rescued from a Rochester scrap yard in the 1970s, and has been set aside for a potential future restoration by the New York Museum of Transportation.
The subway bed from Court Street to Winton Road was used for the construction of a portion of the Eastern Expressway (I-490) in 1959, with the section from Winton Road to Rowlands used for I-590. Limited freight service operated by connecting railroads lasted on the western portion of the subway route from Court Street to General Motors until 1976, when the city of Rochester elected to fill the cut to eliminate maintenance on the numerous bridges. Rail freight deliveries in the subway tunnel continued until 1996, when Gannett Newspapers moved its printing operations from the Gannett Building which the subway ran under to another location. Capelli Sport Stadium was constructed on a portion of the filled-in cut in 2006.
In 1976, after the announcement of the fill, the City of Rochester allowed the New York Museum of Transportation to collect the rail from the portion of the line being filled. The former rail is still in use by the museum. In 2010, when the city decided to fill the portion of the tunnel between Brown and the B&O ramp, the museum was allowed to collect the remaining rail, surviving switches and other railroad fixtures from the tunnel.
Rochester Subway Car 60 is at the Rochester and Genesee Valley Railroad Museum where it is undergoing a formal evaluation for cosmetic restoration. Built in 1916 for Utica Railways and moved to Rochester in 1936, Car 60 is the only surviving example from the 12-car fleet that served the Subway.
While the subway has been abandoned, the entire property belongs to the city of Rochester. There is much controversy over what should be done with it. In the words of Laurie Mercer, "It's either a giant hole waiting to be filled with dirt or an impressive asset in a city that needs to revitalize its downtown."
Rochester officials want to do something with the tunnels, because it costs an estimated $1.2 million in repairs and shoring up every year to maintain them. There were proposals to use some of the tunnels in a new rapid transit system. Another proposal was to transform the Broad Street Aqueduct into an underground walkway connecting the Rochester Riverside Convention Center with the Blue Cross Arena. A component of this walkway would include a Rochester Transportation Museum. Some suggested filling the remaining subway tunnel with water, re-routing the Erie Canal and restoring the aqueduct to its original purpose.
Rochester city officials decided in 2004 to fill the remaining subway tunnel with earth. This decision caused public outcry, since residents regard the subway as part of their history.
On June 15, 2006, the city promised to form a committee to investigate all possible options. In July 2008, the city voted to fill in a portion of the tunnel, citing safety concerns. The westernmost end of the tunnel was filled as part of the Broad Street Tunnel Improvement project. Work began in spring 2010 at a cost between $14 and $16 million. The city removed the Broad Street section from East Main to Brown Street and filled that section of the subway tunnel, but rebuilt the former B&O ramp into what remains of the subway, making that ramp the western access point into the subway. The remains of the Rochester Subway run from the B&O ramp just east of East Main Street to Court Street.
In 2017, the site of Court Street station was demolished, and the entrance filled in, to make way for a mixed-use commercial and luxury residential highrise. There are no longer any remaining public subway entrances, though the city maintains a maintenance doorway underneath the Gannett Building. This entrance is not open to the public.
In 2018, a plan dubbed ROC the Riverway was unveiled that proposes removing the Broad Street level of the aqueduct and re-flooding the former canal and subway bed on the aqueduct with water similar to what was done with the historic canals at Canalside in Buffalo, NY.
The City also in 2018 released a plan to turn the remaining part of the tunnel between Main Street and Exchange Street into underground parking.