Photo Tour: Cleveland’s Abandoned Subway

Cleveland is one of many Rust Belt cities that once operated a subway system. Twice a year, they open it up for tours and also hold an art show inside.


The subway closed in 1954, according to The Plain Dealer.


You can see here where it has been sealed off.


About 1,400 people attend these tours semi-annually.


My friend, Greg Ruffing, Cleveland’s finest freelance photographer, donated these amazing photos.



I heard Cincinnati has a subway that was never finished. Also, Atlanta, Georgia, uses their defunct subway lines as a mall.


This looks like a really neat event.


Filed under Featured, The Big Urban Photography Project

14 responses to “Photo Tour: Cleveland’s Abandoned Subway

  1. Very cool… Those tunnels seem poised to for re-use one of these days. I actually have a book entitled, “When Cleveland Had a Subway.”

    St. Louis’s light-rail system actually utilizes its century-plus old subway tunnels (I don’t know how to post pics, but I’d be happy to send you some photos if you’d like).

  2. Very cool. How do you get into the tunnels? Is there any old signage left? Great post.

  3. schmange

    Thanks you guys! I’d love to see what St. Louis, or any other city for that matter, is doing.

  4. Cleveland never really had a true subway system. There have been several plans over the years, but they were never realized for various reasons. These pictures show the closest thing the city had: the lower deck of the Detroit-Superior Bridge.

    • schmange

      Hmm. The county engineer and Plain Dealer both refer to it as a subway. The PD even has interviews with people who remember riding it. Check out our links.

  5. From the pictures in my book, it appears that the system was essentially an underground streetcar. But it was most definitely in operation.

  6. Yes, it was in operation until 1954. The streetcars ran on the bridge’s lower level, so people called it a subway. It’s worth visiting if you have the chance. There’s a Flickr group devoted to the bridge, and it has lots of great images of both levels.

  7. I have dim (pre-1954) memories of rapid transit in Cleveland. I was very little and a visitor from Youngstown, but it seemed quite marvelous. These photos show structures that have been kept in good shape. Are they really? Amazing to think that government could be so foresighted.

  8. geozinger

    As a former Steel Valley resident who spent eight years in Atlanta, I can tell you that the mall you refer to in one of the captions is NOT their defunct subway tunnels, but rather the old city. Underground Atlanta, is the old downtown preserved with the new downtown built on top of it. It was really touristy when I lived there, probably the best part of it was the backdoor access to the World of Coca-Cola. No, really!

    Atlanta’s ‘subway’ part of the MARTA system of buses and trains, isn’t really a subway either, more like a commuter train that runs underground for sections of the routes, both east and west and the north and south trains. They meet in the main downtown train station called Five Points, which is underground.

    I rode the trains and buses through town for the better part of four years there. The traffic was awful then (I can’t imagine it now), it was really the best way to deal with daily commuting.

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  10. Michael Gill

    The Trolly line that is pictured here ran from the west edge of Lakewood on the surface of Detroit Road. It dipped underground at West 28th street, just a few hundred feet before the Detroit–Superior Bridge, which crosses the Cuyahoga River Valley. They call it the subway because it uses the “subway” level of the Detroit-Superior Bridge to cross the valley. It came back up onto the surface on Superior Road, on the East end of the bridge.

    No, Cleveland doesn’t have a full fledged subway system, but this trolly line briefly dipped underground, and the RTA Red Line–which runs on the surface from the Airport to downtown–dips underground at the Terminal Tower, runs in a trench (not a tunnel) east of their until coming up on the surface again.

    The red line walls are covered with colorful graffiti.

    The subway level of this bridge will be used for an arts festival (a joint venture between Ingenuity, the Cleveland Urban Design Center of Kent State University, and the County Engineer’s office later in September.

  11. Bob Cerny

    As a kid I use to travel the maze of tunnels beneath the terminal tower. Thet are all still there but entry to most is closed. I also walked this “subway bridge” as a kid to get to Ohio City.

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  13. Karen

    Growing up in Cleveland I remember riding the streetcar and was always a bit scared crossing the bridge because you could see the river water down through the rails. We lived off Madison Avenue that had a line that went that same way to downtown as the Detroit line. The comment about Atlanta (where I live now) is true that the old Underground Atlanta is a mall. It is really under bridges where they tried to elevate streets to help traffic congestion. Did not help for long. East-west and north-south interstates go right through the heart of town.

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