the Labyrinth tunnel system


First off, let me make it clear: the TCRT tunnels were not primitive subway tunnels. They never carried passengers. These tunnels carried power lines for the electric streetcar system, which ran on the surface.

Twin City Rapid Transit began electric streetcar operations in 1889, replacing their fleet of horse-drawn streetcars. The electric street cars were quite popular for a few decades, since they had many advantages over a horse and buggy. At its peak, the TCRT ran 444 route-miles with a 1,000-car fleet. It linked the Minneapolis and St. Paul central business districts with residential, employment, and recreational areas covering approximately 800 square miles. TCRT designed and built all but 141 of its streetcars. It bought and operated various parks to get people to use the lines beyond working hours, and, for awhile, everything was peachy.

TCRT, locally owned from its inception, was bought by an outside investment firm in 1949. The new management immediately began to retire the streetcars, and had completely replaced them with GM buses by 1954. This followed a disturbing national trend.

Starting in the 1920's, General Motors executives -- placing their profit motives ahead of the public interest -- masterminded the purchase and destruction of the nation's trolley companies. Tracks were taken up, destroying a mass transit infrastructure that would cost billions to replace. Trolley cars were torched and replaced with GM-manufactured diesel-fueled buses. Some citizens fought to keep their streetcar systems, but to no avail. The citizens of Los Angeles and Minneapolis/St. Paul, for example, wanted to keep their beloved car trolleys, but before long, the GM-controlled trolley company had switched to buses, dramatically increasing pollution in Los Angeles.

By 1946, National City Lines, a bus company funded and controlled by GM, Standard Oil, and the Firestone tire company, operated public transit in over 80 cities. The ascendancy of the car was soon to follow. Minneapolis' streetcars are still being used to this day --- in Mexico City. This "American Streetcar Scandal" led to an investigation by the FBI and several anti-trust indictments, but the damage was already done.

Today, the Twin Cities, like several dozen other metropolises around the country, are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in order to, essentially, recreate the lost streetcar lines by building a light-rail transportation infrastructure from the ground up. Lovely!

In comparison to the other systems of the Labyrinth, the Streetcar tunnels are both more and less interesting that the other component systems. Let me explain.

They are less interesting in terms of both their scope and structure. With only 2 main tunnels and one minor side branch, there is not much in them to explore. Furthermore, the tunnels were remarkably consistent in shape and materials: some areas were brick walls, others were bare sandstone, but all were the same height and width. Other than the rusted metal arches that once supported the power lines and some bricked-off side passages, there are very few features to be seen.

However, they are in other ways of greater interest to Action Squad than the other tunnels, in that they are totally abandoned and sealed off from the world. Unlike the other systems, which are at least partially used for something, the streetcar tunnels are totally disused; buried, and forgotten; utterly abandoned by the species that created them … with the exception of us, of course. They're a relic of another era, a time when streetcars roamed the earth, and everything was in grainy black and white. And all this, to me anyway, is fascinating.

Anyway, back to describing. The main line, like so many of the Labyrinth systems, runs beneath Wabasha Street: from the base of the Wabasha Bridge to about 10th Street. At the south end of the Wabasha tunnel, the tunnel dead ends at a cement wall with a round 8-inch hole cut through it to the outside, which pigeons use to enter and leave the shelter of the tunnel. (Note: the "pigeon hole" has been destroyed by construction since this writing.) The metal arches closer to this hole (and therefore more exposed to damp river air) are the most rusted out in the system, and most would collapse if you so much as accidentally brushed them with a fingertip.

The second tunnel of the system runs out from Wabasha under 7th Street. This tunnel dead ended a few blocks later, where someone had sunk a giant foundation pillar right down into the center of the tunnel, blocking it entirely.

We were displeased by this development.

So, one night Danarchy and Captain Nordic went down and dug an almost complete little tunnel around the blockage, through the sandstone, with kitchen knives and a screwdriver. However, by morning they were still not able to get through, so a couple of weeks later Slim Jim, Morning Star, Danarchy, Captain Nordic and I returned. Another hour or so of scraping and digging got me through, and with a worker on each side we soon got everyone through the hole. On the other side, we found that the tunnel continued on for quite a long ways before ultimately hitting a cinderblock wall just past a really odd connection to a storm drain tunnel.


Incident Report:

Slim Jim; Pigeon Herder

In which Action Squad masters the art of pigeon prevention, and Slim Jim gets all bestial and stuff.