Tunnel vision

In Digital, Inspiration
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In the late 1800s a railroad magnate and New York engineer formed a partnership to build a streetcar tunnel to connect two business districts in Kansas City. The 810-foot tunnel was built in 348 days and its walls and ceilings were carefully covered with more than three million bricks.

Completed in 1888, it was used for cable cars and streetcar traffic for nearly 70 years. In 1956 the tunnel was abandoned and sealed. It was essentially forgotten until rediscovered by engineers studying a proposed building site in 1996. Now that this tunnel has been discovered again, officials might decide to make use of this tunnel that is already built. They could consider making it an underground rail system, linking the two business districts. It would make sense to utilize this tunnel system, so it might be worth keeping up to date with the railway news in your area to see if any rail plans are proposed for this tunnel.

Currently, it’s closed to the public, but I was lucky enough to be invited on a private tour with a handful of local photographers. As you might imagine, we all jumped at this rare opportunity. What photographer doesn’t crave a little adventure–and a new place to capture our imaginations?

Tunnel group 72ppi

Tunnel 361 72ppi

So on a chilly, rainy day, we were escorted by security guards to a locked chain-link gate in an underground parking garage. Joking that this might be the start of a new reality television show, we went through two more doors until we found ourselves inside. A local historian acted as our tour guide, providing the back story for this place and giving us context for what we were seeing.

Tunnel look 72ppi

We stepped out onto a wooden walkway that’s situated over old railway ties and covered in mineral deposits. We were fascinated by so many details: original light fixtures, elaborate brickwork, pieces of cable hanging from the ceiling and occasional nooks hidden in the side of the tunnel.

Cameron 72ppi

Conditions weren’t perfect for capturing elaborate images and we abandoned some ideas for particular photo set-ups. The harsh lighting on one side of the tunnel created deep shadows and alternating pockets of light and darkness. The challenges were outweighed, however, by the wonder of this place and the history it represents.

Tunnel Brent 72ppi

We were allowed about an hour here before it was time to leave. I think we could have stayed much longer, lost in a small piece of history hidden under our city, exploring quietly with our cameras. I’m glad to have these shots as a memento of a unique experience. And I’m hoping for more urban adventures to come.

P.S. I’d love to hear about your urban (or rural) adventures! What’s the most interesting place you’ve explored?




  1. What a great opportunity to learn the history of the KC tunnel and what a place to capture moody portraits. Sounds like you all had a good adventure too…

  2. Thanks, Nikki! It was a great opportunity and neat to see it with other photographers.

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