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East Side Railroad Tunnel

East Side Railroad Tunnel
The western portal of the abandoned tunnel
LocationProvidence, Rhode Island, US
StartGano Street
EndNorth Main Street
OperatorNew York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, Penn Central, Conrail, Providence and Worcester Railroad
Length5,080 feet (1,550 m)[1]
Tunnel clearance22 feet (6.7 m)[2]
Width31 feet (9.4 m)[2]

The East Side Railroad Tunnel is a former railroad tunnel that runs underneath the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island. The tunnel runs 5,080 feet (1,550 m), under College Hill, from Gano Street to just west of Benefit Street. It was opened on November 16, 1908, at a cost of $2 million. All rail service ceased through the tunnel in 1976 and has been abandoned since.


Postcard of west portal of East-Side Tunnel in operation


Prior to the opening of the East Side Railroad Tunnel in 1908, there was no direct connection between Providence Union Station and railroad lines on the eastern bank of the Seekonk River; for instance, trains traveling between Bristol and Union Station would have utilized a less direct route along what is now the East Junction Branch and the Northeast Corridor. During the late nineteenth-century, the Old Colony Railroad made attempts to run full size freight cars over at-grade trolley tracks from India Point to Union Station; however, this resulted in frequent derailments.[3] This issue prompted the need for both a bridge span over the Seekonk River along with a mile-long tunnel under Providence's east side to allow for more direct travel for both freight and passenger service around the Providence metro area.

The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad acquired the Old Colony Lines in 1883; this initiated renewed interest in constructing an east-side access corridor to Union Station.[4] The East-Side Tunnel was first envisioned in 1903 as a more direct connection between the old Union Station in the center of Providence with several other New Haven-acquired railroad lines that ran east of the Seekonk River. Construction on the tunnel started in May 1906; one crew worked east from the Benefit Street entrance and one worked west from the Gano Street entrance. The tunnel was opened for NYNH&H regional rail services on November 15, 1908.[1]

The project also included the Crook Point Bascule Bridge over the Seekonk River and a downtown Providence rail viaduct.[5] The entire cost of the project, including the bridge, the tunnel, and the approach to Union Station, was $2 million.[1]


The east portal is located at what is now Gano Street Park near the intersection of Gano Street and Amy Street. The viaduct from the west portal to downtown was demolished in 1982-1983. A short open-air approach above beyond the portal was converted to a parking lot. It is about 500 feet north of the west portal of the East Side Trolley Tunnel. The portal is just north of Thomas Street, between North Main Street and Benefit Street.


The tunnel had originally opened with full double-tracked mainline. Between 1908 and 1934, the tunnel was electrified with a 600 Volt DC overhead single-wire trolley system to accommodate electric passenger trains from Providence to Bristol, Rhode Island and Fall River, Massachusetts. All passenger services ceased in 1938.[6] For the remainder of the tunnel's service life freight trains, along with the occasional fan trips on chartered passenger trains, utilized the East-Side Tunnel southbound. Event passenger services also ran northward to the Narragansett Park horse racing track during the racing season; this service ended in the late 1960s.[7]

NYNH&H successor Penn Central took control of the East-Side access line in 1969. In 1970, PC requested ICC permission to abandon the Bristol Secondary due to low freight demand. Conrail inherited the East Side Tunnel from PC in 1976, and further attempts were made to rail-bank the right-of-way. The newly independent Providence and Worcester Railroad assumed operation of the line later in 1976; however, the Bristol Secondary was abandoned by the end of that year.[8] The Crook Point Bascule bridge and the East Side Tunnel were subsequently abandoned later that year; the downtown Providence viaduct was demolished when the Northeast Corridor was re-routed to facilitate remodeling of the downtown area in Providence in the early 1980s.

After 1976, the short mile-long East Providence portion of the line could only be accessed via the East Junction Branch or East Providence Branch. Freight would continue to service a scrapyard at Wilkesbarre Pier until the early 2000s; by 2006, this portion had been abandoned by the P&W.[9]

1993 incident

The western portal of the tunnel in 2005, prior to the construction of the parking lot

On May 1, 1993, a group of students gathered at the western end of the tunnel below Benefit Street to celebrate Beltain-May Day. The students started fires, wore masks and beat drums until early in the morning.[10] Campus security tried to break up the party; the students claimed the officers had no jurisdiction in the tunnel. A fight broke out between a security officer and a student who refused to stop drumming.

City police were called and by the time they had arrived the party had grown larger. Law enforcement tried to break up the party with tear gas, but the students responded by throwing rocks and bricks. Officers finally broke up the party by forming a riot line, and surrounding the students. The following day, the police claimed that they had found signs of "satanic rituals".[11][2]

The tunnel portals were soon blocked with corrugated steel, with small doors at either end; these doors were later welded shut. Since then, there have been sporadic attempts to re-open the site for art and performances.[12] There have also been sporadic calls by Providence city officials to reutilize the East Side Tunnel as a light-rail alignment; however, no project has ever been formally proposed.[9][13] There are no current plans to reuse the tunnel for transit or public use.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "PROVIDENCE TUNNEL OPENED.; Underground Way Only Partly Completed, but Suburban Trains Use It". The New York Times. November 16, 1908. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c "Dark Shadows of the Eastside Tunnel". Strange New England. 1 September 2017. Retrieved 2022-12-30.
  3. ^ "The Providence, Warren and Bristol Railroad - Abandoned Rails". Retrieved 2023-06-11.
  4. ^ "RHODE ISLAND RAILROADS - PW&B ROUTE". Retrieved 2022-11-05.
  5. ^ "Providence. Work Planned for the Railroad Tunnel". Boston Daily Globe. Boston, MA. December 31, 1905. p. 112 – via access icon
  7. ^ "East Providence Stations". Retrieved 2022-11-19.
  8. ^ Karr, Ronald Dale (2017). The Rail Lines of Southern New England (2nd ed.). Pepperell, Massachusetts: Branch Line Press. pp. 165–169, 175–183. ISBN 978-0-942147-12-4. OCLC 1038017689.
  9. ^ a b Dujardin, Richard. "Visions of a new East Providence waterfront". 13 July 2003
  10. ^ "Providence's Tunnel of Love: It's Not the Trolley Tunnel". The College Hill Independent. November 20, 2008. Retrieved 2013-09-05.
  11. ^ "Diamonds & coal Diamonds & coal Diamonds & coal Diamonds and coal". The Brown Daily Herald. October 6, 2004. Retrieved 2013-09-05.
  12. ^ Wohl, Emmy (May 3, 2013). "In the Dark: Art in the East Side Railroad Tunnel". The College Hill Independent. Retrieved 2022-02-10.
  13. ^ Boffi, Dante. "Rhode Island Department of Transportation Rail Corridor Feasibility Study- Executive Summary". RIDOT, November 1994
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East Side Railroad Tunnel
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