Friday, October 16, 2020

Chicago Tunnel Company, "Forty Feet Below"

This is one of those topics that I can't believe I have not written about it yet. But I can't find any notes on it. So, to avoid wasting time looking for notes in the future, I wrote these notes.

Bruce Moffatt has written the book Forty feet below: the story of Chicago's freight tunnels.

Dave Durham posted
I have seen a few photos of the Illinois Tunnel Company before, but in this pics description it mentions that the system crossed back and forth under the Chicago River 11 times, delivering various commodities to merchants...didn't know that!
The tunnel crossing at Kinzie Street was ground zero for the 1992 Chicago Loop

The tunnel system was started in 1899 by a phone utility. 2' gauge track was laid to haul dirt out and concrete, spools of wire, etc. in. In 1903 the franchise was renegotiated to allow freight and rail service. In 1913 the tunnel company (I use generic terminology because the corporate name kept changing.) agreed to sell its telephone operations to AT&T and by 1920 all telephone cables were removed. Freight included coal and ash as well as general merchandise. It was regulated by the ICC as an interurban railroad. The last trains ran in 1959.  [Wikipedia]

The driving of pilings for a dolphin for the Kenzie Street Bridge damaged the tunnel wall. The damage was discovered in a timely fashion, but the city leisurely pursued a bidding process for the repairs. However, six months after the damage, the water started pouring into the tunnels. On April 13, 1992 the "Great Chicago Leak" happened. Court fights ruled that it was a leak instead of a flood. This was very important because insurance doesn't pay for flood damage, but it does pay for leak damage. [Wikipedia] The "leak" caused about $1.9 billion worth of damage. [NeilGale]

Parts of the tunnel system are now used for its original purpose: cables. [Wikipedia] But internet over fiber optic cables is probably the driving economic force in the 21st Century.

1910 Map, Public Domain via Wikimedia
Close to the max of 60 miles of tunnel had been built by this time

This photo shows the marks of the draw knives that were used to slice off the blue clay that underlies Chicago. And it shows the thick concrete lining that was added.
1902 Construction Photo, Public Domain via Wikimedia

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