• Tunnels in Wisconsin

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in the American Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas. For questions specific to a railroad company, please seek the appropriate forum.
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in the American Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas. For questions specific to a railroad company, please seek the appropriate forum.

Moderator: railohio

  by Nukengineer
I am trying to find all the rail tunnels in Wisconsin. These are the ones I know of or need info on finding the exact location. (5 on bike trails, One active and one 'missing')

Three on the Elroy Sparta bike trail (found)
One on the Badger state trail by Exeter (found)
One on the Omaha bike trail (know its there, just havent been there yet)

One on the active CP/Amtrak line at Tunnel City (go figure) havent been there, but probably could find it easy enough.

One on a long abandoned line between Viola and LaFarge near Tunnelville - This one I cant find by a useful map, photo or driving aimlessly around the country side -Any info or photo's on this one would be helpful.

Likewise if there are any I am missing on my list, please let me know.
  by Komachi

The Empire Builder was my main form of transportation between Winona (the closest Amtrak station for me) and Milwaukee (where I attended my last three (of eight) years of college) and traversed said tunnel on many an occasion. It's between LaCrosse and Tomah, if I remember correctly. Below is a link to a PDF from the Wisconsin DOT showing various rail lines in the state, and shows where Tunnel City is (although, not the tunnel itself)...


Hope that helps you with that one.
  by Tony T.
I made it a point to visit the area some years ago, one very fine fall afternoon. Cabeese where still in service, although only 1 Soo freight passed while I was there.

The last time I was there, (post 9/11), I felt uncomfortable walking around the area and did not venture down to the tracks.

Neat little town, reminds me of something you'd see in HO gauge!


(I've also biked the entire ES trail and each tunnel was an adventure!)

  by PZ 1
Nukengineer, it has been quite awhile since you posted, so you may have found the information, but if not I found this.

The Tunnel City tunnel is just west of Tunnel City in Greenfield Township Section 26'

http://www.historicmapworks.com/Section ... -60724.htm

It appears that the Tunnelville one is right at the county line. My best guess is that it crosses under highway 131 at the curve. Both portals are right next to the highway. In this aerial view it appears that the south entrance is right above the word "south".

The north entrance cut looks to be on the other side of the road beyond the road that goes to the left. Zooming out and in and moving the picture will give a better idea of it and show the roadbed. Even though the line was abandoned long ago, it can still be seen up to La Farge and down to Viola.

http://terraserver-usa.com/image.aspx?T ... ville%7cwi

Found this:
http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/ful ... t%3DSearch

An article or even a book on the Wisconsin tunnels would be very interesting.

  by Nukengineer
Thanks for that info on the tunnel city one. I already knew where that one was. The only time I had a chance to actually get up there was a misserable overcast day. The one that I cant find (even on google earth) is the one near Viola, although I havent had much chance to go there and look for it. I didnt try Terraserver though. Maybe after the hunters are done shooting everything and before the snows come, i'll try again for that one using the terraserver info. The roadbed was fairly easy to see from the road in places.

  by SlowFreight
Don't forget that Illinois Central had a few tunnels down south on the line from Madison to Freeport; I think they might have had 1 or two others on a different abandoned branch. Durn if I can remember where I saw the references, though.

I think the Omaha trail one you found may be on the old C&NW line from Wyeville to Winona, also in the Tunnel City area. Lacking a trail map, I'm not positive.

It's OT, but IC and CGW also used a tunnel at Dubuque, IL, to swing wide from north to west to get on the IC (now CN) bridge over the Mississippi. The whole purpose of the tunnel was to get enough room for a wider-radius curve--not to get around an obstacle. Does this make it unique in (prototype) railroading?

  by PZ 1
The Omaha trail tunnel is between Elroy and Camp Douglas, Juneau County, Fountain Township, at the village of Tunnel (once was, anyway). It is one of five tunnels located fairly close together, the other four are in neighboring Monroe County, the furthest two are about 21 miles apart.

It is on the left side of the map, below center. Shown as Tunnel Side Track
http://www.historicmapworks.com/Section ... -40154.htm

Now I will have to search for the others you listed - when I get time.

  by PZ 1
SlowFreight, there is a tunnel on the old Illinois Central line at Exeter which was listed by Nukengineer, but I found no others.

Found one at Strawbridge that was on a zinc mining line. A picture and story are here:

There is also one listed as at Buncombe which was near Strawbridge, so it may be the same tunnel.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galena_and ... n_Railroad

This is near the Wisconsin/Illinois state line in LaFayette County in the lead mining region.
Last edited by PZ 1 on Sat Dec 22, 2007 12:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

  by Metra 47 607
There is also an abandoned CNW tunnel in Tunnel city. It is paralel to the active CP ex MILW tunnel and the portals are bricked up at both ends. It has also collapsed and that was the reason the CNW and UP has trackage rights on the CP from Tunnel city to Winona,MN.

  by PZ 1
Metra- there is no date with this picture, but it shows the Tunnel City tunnel. It looks like what may be the old tunnel to the left.

http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/ful ... p?id=24918
Last edited by PZ 1 on Sat Dec 22, 2007 12:33 pm, edited 3 times in total.

  by Komachi
PZ 1,

I just had a book on the Milwaukee Road on loan from the local library that talked about that bore. I believe it was excavated sometime in the mid to late 1870s. I don't have the tome in hand to confirm this, but I think (heavy on the THINK) that's the rough timeline of when it was dug.
  by trailryder
Most people would think that the Midwestern part of the United States is flat enough that Railroad Builders would not need to construct Tunnels, but this is not the case.
Their are/were about a dozen railroad tunnels in the State of Wisconsin alone. Some no
Longer exist, and others are on bike paths and a few are on private property and only one is still used by a railroad.

1. “Buncombe Tunnel”
Location: Buncombe, Lafayette County, Wisconsin.
Chicago & North Western – Abandoned 1938
Length: 350 Feet Long
History & Photo - http://www.pbase.com/trailryder/image/64475715

2. “Strawbridge Tunnel”
Location: Strawbridge, Lafayette County, Wisconsin.
Chicago & North Western – Abandoned 1927
Length: 650 Feet Long
History & Photo - http://www.pbase.com/image/64475716

3. “Stewart Tunnel”
Location: Between Exeter & Belleville, Green County, Wisconsin.
Illinois Central – Abandoned Late 1990s - Badger State Trail
Length: 1260 Feet Long
History - http://www.whrc-wi.org/History/stewarttunnel.htm
Photo - http://www.whrc-wi.org/ICG99/ic99d2.htm

4. Tunnel between LaFarge and Viola
Location: Tunnelville, Vernon County, Wisconsin.
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific – Abandoned 1950’s
It appears to have been blasted out to remove a dangerous hill and bend in State Highway 131.

5. “Omaha Tunnel”
Location: Between Hustler & Elroy, Juneau County, Wisconsin.
Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railroad – Abandoned early 1980’s
Juneau County Omaha Trail opened spring 1992
Length: 875 Feet Long
Photo - http://www.great-trails.com/omaha.shtml

6. Elroy and Sparta Trail Tunnel #1
Location: 3 miles from Kendall and 6 miles from Wilton, Monroe County, Wisconsin.
Chicago & North Western – Abandoned 1965
Length: 1,694 feet long
Photo - http://www.elroy-sparta-trail.com/tunnel-1.htm
History - http://www.elroy-sparta-trail.com/history.htm

7. Elroy and Sparta Trail Tunnel #2
Location: 2 miles from Wilton and 4 miles from Norwalk, Monroe County, Wisconsin.
Chicago & North Western – Abandoned 1965
Length: 1,694 feet long
Photo - http://www.elroy-sparta-trail.com/tunnel-2.htm
History - http://www.elroy-sparta-trail.com/tunnels.htm

8. Elroy and Sparta Trail Tunnel #3
Location: 3 miles from Norwalk and 8 miles from Sparta, Monroe County, Wisconsin.
Chicago & North Western – Abandoned 1965
Length: 3,810 feet long
Photo - http://www.elroy-sparta-trail.com/tunnel-3.htm
History - http://www.elroy-sparta-trail.com/history.htm

9. Tunnel City, Milwaukee Road Original Tunnel
Location: Tunnel City, Monroe County, Wisconsin.
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific -
Length: ???
Photo - http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/ful ... p?id=24918
History - There is some rather sketchy info floating around that the first tunnel collapsed either during construction or shortly after completion. It is seen boarded up on the left side of the photo above.

10. Tunnel City, Milwaukee Road Current Tunnel
Location: Tunnel City, Monroe County, Wisconsin.
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific – Still in Use by CP, UP & Amtrak
Length: ???
Photo - http://www.rrpicturearchives.net/showPi ... ?id=292917
History – Engineered by D.J. Whittemore and Constructed by Harrison & Green in 1875

11. Tunnel City, Chicago & North Western Tunnel
Location: Tunnel City, Monroe County, Wisconsin.
Chicago & North Western – Collapsed in 1972 Sealed and abandoned in 1975
Length: ???
Photo - http://flickr.com/photos/nordique72/2123319261/
History - The Tunnel City bore of the CNW's collapsed in 1972. In 1975 a new connector track was built in town so the CNW could use the Milwaukee Road Tunnel and tracks to the town of Winona, MN. The tunnel had collapsed due to an underground spring that ran in the rock vein right over the bore that had not been discovered by the engineering crew when the tunnel was bored in 1910-11. The tunnel was one of a kind as it was the only double track tunnel on the CNW, although only one track was ever laid through it.

There may be other railroad tunnels in Wisconsin that this list does not cover, but as far as I know this is it.
I have plans to build a website devoted to the Railroad Tunnels of the Midwest, I am only in the beginning stages and I look forward to adding more.

Later Bill

  by Scoring Guy
Some little notes:

The three tunnels along the Elroy-Sparta route, in their day, had doors which were manually opened and closed in the winter. The roofs of those tunnels leaked and dripped on the track, and in the winter the doors were kept closed, when trains were not going through, in order to maintain enough heat in the tunnel to allow the water to drain through, rather than freeze on the tracks.

The original Milwaukee tunnel , at Tunnel City, had water problems, and was replaced with the second, bigger tunnel. Later, the Milw. Rd, attenpted to redig the original tunnel so that double track could go through that location, but cave ins, nixed the project. The second tunnel was redug in the 60's, to make it taller inside, by digging the floor lower.

The C&NW at Tunnel City, was actually dug to accommodate double track, but only a single track was ever laid.

  by PZ 1
Earlier this winter, I traveled the 400 recreation trail from Sparta to Reedsburg by snowmobile. The tunnels are closed during the winter and the trail bypasses them. I assume the reason is because of the same problem the railroad had - if the doors were left open the ice would build up to the point that they would be impassable. It appears that the doors on the tunnels are still from the railroad days. A few years ago, I ran the Omaha line by snowmobile and that tunnel was open. There was some ice that appeared to be a few inches thick in places on the floor, but apparently there is not as much water running in that tunnel to necessitate it being closed.

I assume that the length of the tunnels on the Elroy-Sparta line required a door tender at each end. That would have been a lot of expense for the railroad in the winter. One of the door tenders shanties is still present, I think it is at the easternmost tunnel. Would they have stayed there for days at a time or were there shift changes? There must have been a whistle notification when a train approached and also telegraph communication to the shanties?

I urge anyone who can, to travel the 400 (and Omaha) by snowmobile. Especially those who would like to see it but do not wish to walk or bicycle it. It's interesting and very scenic in the winter. There may be snowmobile rentals at some point on the line, but I am not sure.
  by KERRDau
Hi --
Last activity here quite a while back. For what this is worth, my GGrandfather worked as night watchman on tunnels, probably tunnel #3, on C&NW line in Norwalk area.

They (he & a brother in law) were responsible for opening tunnel doors in winter when train was coming - so they received signal of some sort. Doors were closed to keep ice from building up as there was significant moisture dripping into tunnel year round.

My GGrandfather came to the area to help build the tunnel (excavate, etc. -- lay stone for tracks, so forth). We have been told he was not a C&NW rr employee, but rather worked for a company that built the tunnel/s. Does anyone have any information on the name of the company that would have built these tunnels ?