Route map: Bing
East Portal, near the Deerfield River (2005)
|System||Pan Am Southern|
|Opened||February 9, 1875|
|Owner||Pan Am Southern LLC|
|Length||25,081 feet (7,645 m) long|
|No. of tracks||Single|
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge|
|Tunnel clearance||20 feet (6.1 m)|
|Width||24 feet (7.3 m)|
|Location||From North Adams on the West to the Deerfield River on the East|
|NRHP Reference #||73000294|
|Added to NRHP||November 2, 1973|
The Hoosac Tunnel (also called Hoosic or Hoosick Tunnel) is a 4.75-mile (7.64 km) active railroad tunnel in western Massachusetts that passes through the Hoosac Range, an extension of Vermont's Green Mountains. Work began in 1851 with an estimated cost of $2 million and ended in 1875 with a total cost of $21 million. At its completion, the tunnel was the world's second-longest, after the 8.5-mile (13.7 km) Mont Cenis Tunnel through the French Alps. It was the longest tunnel in North America until the 1916 completion of the Connaught Tunnel under Rogers Pass in British Columbia, and remains the longest active transportation tunnel east of the Rocky Mountains.
The tunnel runs in a straight line from its east portal, along the Deerfield River in the town of Florida, to its west portal in the town of North Adams. It remains an active freight rail line, owned by Pan Am Railways and operating without a schedule. "No Trespassing" signs are posted throughout the area and it is illegal to enter the tunnel or walk on the railroad tracks without permission.
"Hoosac" is an Algonquian word meaning "place of stones".
Proposal and beginning
The tunnel project was originally proposed in 1819 as a canal to connect Boston to Upstate New York via the Deerfield River on the east of the Hoosac Range and the Hoosic River on the west. That project was shelved, and later reborn as part of the new Troy and Greenfield Railroad. The project was nicknamed "The Great Bore" by its critics, including future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who said he'd like to "wall up a dozen lawyers at one end of the tunnel and put a good fee at the other."
The most important proponent of the northern route and the Hoosac Tunnel was Alvah Crocker, a self-made paper mill owner from Fitchburg, Massachusetts. The Science Channel documentary Driven to Invent: Killer Tunnel called Crocker "The Father of Modern Tunneling" for his influence in advancing the use of geologists, explosives, pneumatic tools and boring technology, and said, "He laid down the rules for tunnel construction even to the present day." In 1841, Crocker formed the Fitchburg Railroad (chartered 1842, opened 1845) between Boston and Fitchburg. In 1844 Crocker incorporated the existing Vermont and Massachusetts Railroad, which ran from Fitchburg west to Greenfield, as well as northward (from Millers Falls) to Brattleboro, Vermont. In 1848 Crocker secured from the legislature a charter for the Troy & Greenfield Railroad (T & G), with provisions for a tunnel through Hoosac Mountain.
The first chief engineer of the tunnel project was A.F. Edwards. In 1854, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts provided $2,000,000 in credit to Edward Wellman Serrell and Company, which began work in 1855. In 1856, Herman Haupt took over as chief engineer.
The Western Railroad led by Chester Chapin, which ran a southern route through Springfield and Pittsfield, opposed the Hoosac Tunnel and its northern route through the state. They successfully lobbied to block state funding of the tunnel in 1861, which bankrupted Haupt and temporarily stopped the project. Haupt had excavated 4,250 feet (1,300 m), or about a fifth of the distance, at that point. He left and became a Union Army railroad engineer and general in the American Civil War.
In 1862, the Troy and Greenfield Railroad defaulted on its loan from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which foreclosed on the mortgage and took control of the railroad, including the tunnel project. The state sent engineer Charles Storrow to Europe to study modern tunneling techniques, including the use of nitroglycerine and compressed air. In 1863 the state, with Alvah Crocker now superintendent of railroads, restarted the project and made Thomas Doane the chief engineer.
In 1868, the Massachusetts state legislature appropriated $5 million to complete the project. Canadian engineer Walter Shanly (sometimes spelled Shanley) and his brother Francis took over the project from the state, and remained through the completion of tunnel boring. Among the consulting engineers at the time was Benjamin Henry Latrobe, II, a noted civil engineer who was serving as the chief engineer of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
The final chief engineer was Bernard N. Farren, who took over on November 19, 1874, and completed the work, including enlarging sections of the tunnel, reinforcing weak areas with arching, completing drainage systems and completing the east tunnel facade.
The tunnel construction project required excavation of 2,000,000 tonnes (2,000,000 long tons; 2,200,000 short tons) of rock. On March 16, 1853, "Wilson's Patented Stone-Cutting Machine" (a tunnel boring machine) was used; it failed after excavating 10 feet (3.0 m) of rock. Tunnel builders resorted to hand digging, and later used the Burleigh Rock Drill, one of the first pneumatic drills. Construction also featured the first large-scale commercial use of nitroglycerine and electric blasting caps.
Digging the Central Shaft also allowed workers to open 2 additional faces to excavate: once the shaft was complete in 1870 workers dug outwards from the center to meet the tunnels being dug from the east and west portals. Engineers built a 1,000-foot (300 m) elevator to hoist the excavated rock from the Central Shaft.
One of the many engineering challenges posed by the project was getting the proper alignment between the four tunnel segments that were being dug: the east and west portal tunnels, and the two tunnels dug outward from the central shaft. Engineers cleared a path through the forest over the mountain, and strung a straight line from the east to west portals, through "sighting posts" on the east and west peaks of Hoosac Mountain. Repeated surveys verified the line ran true between the posts, and steel bolts were installed at fixed intervals along the line.
On December 12, 1872, workers opened the east portal tunnel to the Central Shaft-dug tunnel, which were aligned within 9⁄16 inch (1.4 cm), a tremendous engineering achievement at that time. On November 27, 1873, the remainder of the tunnel was opened to the west portal tunnel.
Lewis Cuyler of the Hoosac Tunnel Museum Society described the project as the 'fountain-head of modern tunnel technology.'
Deadly accidents during construction killed 193 workers, leading the survivors to dub the Tunnel the "Bloody Pit". Many of its victims died in explosions, most by black powder, others by the more stable nitroglycerin (the Hoosac project marked nitro's first commercial application in the United States).
On March 20, 1865, Ned Brinkman and Billy Nash were buried when foreman Ringo Kelly accidentally set off a blast of dynamite.  Kelly disappeared after the accident; a year later his strangled body was found buried in the tunnel where Brinkman and Nash had died. 
Among the deadliest incidents was the horrendous Central Shaft accident. On October 17, 1867, workers were digging the tunnel's 1,028-foot (313 m) vertical exhaust shaft when a candle in the hoist building ignited naphtha fumes that had leaked from a "Gasometer" lamp. The ensuing explosion set the hoist on fire, and it collapsed into the shaft. Four men near the top of the shaft escaped, but 13 men working 538 feet (164 m) below were trapped by falling naphtha and pieces of iron. The pumps were also destroyed, and the shaft began to fill with water. A worker named Mallory was lowered into the shaft by rope the next day; he was overcome by fumes and reported no survivors, and no further rescue attempts were made. Several months later, workers reached the shaft's bottom and found that several victims had survived long enough to fashion a raft before suffocating.
The Troy and Boston Railroad and its Southern Vermont Railroad and Troy and Greenfield Railroad opened in 1859 from Troy, New York, on the New York Central Railroad and Hudson River Railroad, east to North Adams at the west portal of the tunnel.
The 1863 state buyout of the Troy and Greenfield Railroad opened the way for competition through the tunnel. The Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Railway was organized in 1877 to build from near the Massachusetts/Vermont border, where state ownership ended, parallel to the Troy and Boston Railroad to near Johnsonville, New York and then west via Schenectady to Rotterdam Junction on what became the New York, West Shore and Buffalo Railway in 1880. The line was being planned as a part of the Delaware and Hudson Company's system, and as part of the Erie Railway system via the Delaware and Hudson Company's Albany and Susquehanna Railroad. East of Greenfield, the east end of state ownership, the BHT&W would have built its own line to terminal facilities at Winthrop.
The first train passed through the tunnel on February 9, 1875. Regular service via the tunnel between Boston and Troy, New York began in 1876. The tunnel and Troy and Greenfield Railroad were bought by the Fitchburg Railroad in 1877. The Boston and Maine Railroad bought the Fitchburg Railroad in 1900.
Due to the competition between the two companies, various challenges were made. In late 1878 the T&B attempted to evict the BHT&W from the roadbed of the abandoned Albany Northern Railroad between Hart's Falls and Eagle Bridge. The BHT&W lost that in court, but continued to use the right-of-way. The case lasted until late 1881, when it was overturned. In May 1879, a frog war was feared at Hoosick Junction, where the BHT&W was to cross the T&B's Troy and Bennington Railroad. In July that year Cornelius Vanderbilt, who owned the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, acquired a controlling interest in the T&B, threatening to build a branch to Saratoga Springs unless the BHT&W/D&H alliance was ended. In November, an appeals court ruled that the application to cross the Troy and Bennington was improperly made to the Troy and Boston, and the T&B claimed that the improvements including a stone bridge were forfeit.
The first train ran over the full BHT&W to Mechanicville on December 6, 1879, and revenue service began December 20, with general offices at North Adams. In 1881 the BHT&W was being planned as part of a larger system west to Oswego and Buffalo. That line was not built, but the BHT&W opened an extension west to Rotterdam Junction on the New York, West Shore and Buffalo Railway. The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad took over the NYWS&B in 1886, and in 1887 the Fitchburg Railroad bought both the T&B and the BHT&W, as well at the Troy and Greenfield Railroad including the tunnel, ending the rivalry.
The last regularly scheduled passenger train passed through the tunnel in 1958. As of 2012, the tunnel is part of Pan Am Railways, formerly the Guilford Rail System, and is used to transport freight. It was converted to single track in 1957. Clearances were increased in 1997 and 2007, the former by lowering the track, the latter by grinding 15 inches off the roof, allowing trailer on flat car (TOFC) and tri-level automobile carriers to pass. In March 2012, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded a $2 million grant to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation for preliminary engineering on further increasing clearance in the tunnel to allow double stack container trains to use the tunnel.
Currently, as many as 30 trains per day operate through the tunnel, including cooperative traffic from Norfolk Southern.
- Western Gateway Heritage State Park
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Berkshire County, Massachusetts
- Box Tunnel
- Byron, Carl R. (1995). A Pinprick of Light: The Troy and Greenfield Railroad and Its Hoosac Tunnel. SGP shortline RR series (Shelburne, Vermont: New England Press). p. 144. ISBN 978-0828903240.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
- Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Hoosac Tunnel". Encyclopedia Americana.
- Latrobe, Benjamin H. II (1869). Report of Benj. H. Latrobe, Consulting Engineer, on the Troy and Greenfield Railroad and Hoosac Tunnel. Boston.
- Coleman, Loren (2007). Mysterious America: The Ultimate Guide to the Nation’s Weirdest Wonders. United States: Simon & Schuster. p. 336. ISBN 1416527362.
- Aaron Mahnke (23 March 2015). "Lore". http://www.lorepodcast.com/ (Podcast). Retrieved 8 August 2015.
- "Hoosac Tunnel History" on HoosacTunnel.net (Google cache)
- Massachusetts Awarded $2 Million to Initiate Improvements Needed to Expand Freight Rail Service Into New England
- Byron, Carl R. A Pinprick of Light, The Troy and Greenfield Railroad and its Hoosac Tunnel Shelburne, Vermont: New England Press, 1975. ISBN 1-881535-17-7
- Hampson, Rick. "Tunnel a Wonder of the 19th Century", Chicago Daily Herald (August 24, 1980) p. 42
- Piper, James J. (1866). Facts and Figures Concerning the Hoosac Tunnel. Fitchburg, Massachusetts: John J. Piper, Printer. Retrieved 2014-10-02.
- "The Story of the Hoosac Tunnel", Atlantic Monthly, (March 1882)
- "The Hoosac Tunnel Tragedy", The Defiance Democrat (Ohio) (November 16, 1867) p. 1
- "Fighting for Eastern Traffic", New York Times (January 2, 1879) p. 5
- "Railroad Rioting Feared", New York Times (May 25, 1879) p. 1
- "The Hoosac Tunnel Route", New York Times (July 5, 1879) p. 1
- "Railroad Methods", New York Times (November 26, 1879) p. 1
- "Railroad Management", New York Times (December 7, 1879) p. 1
- "First Train Over the Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western", New York Times (December 21, 1879) p. 2
- "A Great Railroad Project", New York Times (April 11, 1881) p. 1
- "Boston, Hoosac Tunnel and Western Victory"', New York Times (October 5, 1881) p. 2
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hoosac Tunnel.|
- HoosacTunnel.net - a website dedicated to the Housac Tunnel
- Hoosac Tunnel information - from the Catskill Archive
- Hoosac Tunnel: Abode of the Damned? - Exploration of the tunnel, October 14, 2002