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03.01.2015
Urban explorer Steve Duncan goes underground, examining the hidden infrastructure of major cities all over the world: their tunnels, subways and sewers. Duncan and Kagge in the West Side Tunnel, originally a freight train route in the 19th century and now used by Amtrak trains. After a fragrant sewer crawl beneath Canal Street, the tools of the trade are displayed on a sidewalk: Manhole hooks, headlamps, chest-waders and air meters. Kagge, here in the West Side Tunnel, has completed the trifecta: He has climbed Everest, hiked the South Pole, and he was the first man to walk alone to the North Pole. Duncan, here smiling after the third night camping underground, is a graduate of Columbia University and is working on his doctorate in urban history at the University of California. In New York City, his favorite underground adventure, he could drown when the tide comes in or succumb to toxic gases in the sewers. Duncan, 32, is a graduate of Columbia University working on his doctorate in urban history at the University of California. Producer Brent Baughman and I followed Duncan — not down every manhole, but, hey, we stood anxiously beside a few — on a journey through 25 miles of New York City underground.
Steve Duncan, an urban explorer who has examined the hidden infrastructure of major cities all over the world, emerges from a manhole in New York City. Looking a bit like Thor, Kagge showed up in a cherry-red sweater with a big white furry heart.
We waited in the snow as the explorers descended below, along with a videographer and a New York Times reporter. Then, it was off to cross the Harlem River to the subway, head back south and find a place to sleep.
Employees filling vending machines in Buell Hall didn’t give us a second glance as we headed downstairs to the basement. The second night out was beginning, and after a brief stop at the New York Athletic Association on swanky 59th Street — an underground river runs beneath the building — we ended up somewhere off Delancey Street, contemplating visiting abandoned subway stations. That’s the dilemma of this kind of urban exploration — of seeing things most people will never see.
After that, the explorers went on to crawl below Canal Street in lower Manhattan, in an old sewer they entered through a manhole.
The Waldorf-Astoria has historically epitomized New York City glamour with much ease, but beneath the surface of this Art-Deco luxury hotel lies…an abandoned train track?!
Though not exactly a train station of its own, the Waldorf-Astoria was built atop one of Grand Central Terminal’s many early platform lots through a lease of air rights. The famous (yet unconfirmed) story about the Waldorf-Astoria platform features Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One use that we hope is true is that the platform also served as an underground party space for Andy Warhol in 1965, according to William D. Brennan also traces the construction of the freight elevator that runs from platform level to 49th Street to the construction of the Waldorf-Astoria itself, not prior. Somehow the plans changed, and the elevator never went directly to the hotel itself, just the street.


Today, the platform serves little purpose and is restricted to any passenger service and blocked from visitation.
Travelling on a subway in New York City may be efficient and cost-effective, but it certainly leaves you with no cell phone reception love.
T-Mobile has signed a 10-year agreement with Transit Wireless for access to an underground network they are building to service the NYC subway system. The transportation hub has connections to 11 New York City subway lines and the underground PATH trains that connect New York and New Jersey. The hub was designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish architect who has worked on buildings throughout Spain, Switzerland, and Canada.
The original design meant for the wings of the hub to open and close — much like the Milwaukee Art Museum, which Calatrava also built — but troubles with the budget forced the Port Authority to keep the wings from moving.
The glass roof is meant to bring in natural light to the expected 100,000 commuters that will travel through it. Although there are no stores in the hub at the moment, there are plans to open up many popular retail spaces in August.
Today the New York City Subway system celebrates 107 years of operation and continues to be one of the busiest mass transit systems in the world with 486 stations in operation.
Late in 2010, NPR’s Jacki Lyden joined Duncan and a group of subterranean adventurers in New York. Their flashlights shine on an abandoned train in Brooklyn’s East New York train tunnels.
The line runs mostly underground between 125th Street and 34th St along Manhattan’s West Side.
In the center, Kagge’s red sweater, probably the most charming clothing ever worn in a sewer. The explorers trudge through raw sewage, and crawl through tiny spaces full of rats and cockroaches. The urban explorer goes underground, examining the hidden infrastructure of major cities all over the world — their tunnels, subways, sewers.
If you could have followed Alice down that rabbit hole, or Jules Verne to the center of the Earth, or gone to see the mandrake god in Pan’s Labyrinth, wouldn’t you do it?
But while you sleep, he’s plunged far below the city surface — headlamp on, an urban mole, exploring the nether regions of New York. Kagge, who is in his late 40s, has completed the trifecta: He has summitted Everest, hiked the South Pole, and he was the first man to walk alone to the North Pole. The men climbed over a wall and lowered themselves into a freezing stream flowing into a culvert. There were no express trains, but we had to avoid service trains and other, unscheduled locals. They had now been in nearly every borough of New York, and Duncan and Kagge wanted to hike through a storm sewer that emptied into Jamaica Bay. This fun fact is fairly well-known in urban exploration circles and was included in our Top 10 Secrets of Grand Central, but we thought it was worth its own shout out.


The now barren subterranean space once served as a means to transport the hotel’s more famous guests discreetly, like General Pershing who first used the platform in 1938. In some accounts, he used this platform to transfer himself into an employed custom-made train cart. The platform was of course never used or intended to be used in regular passenger service, and it was not even built for the hotel; it just happens to be in the right place. However, you can catch a glimpse of the site and its noted security train cart when onboard the Metro-North, looking to the right, leaving Grand Central Station.
This agreement will allow T-Mobile to provide service for customers in 277 subway stations across New York City.
The exterior is unique, with a wing-like rib structure that is meant to resemble a bird taking flight.
As the city grew, so did the Subway system, and in the process of keeping pace, some stations had to be completely abandoned. These tunnels are now partially abandoned, with a section still used for occasional freight trains. Duncan jimmied a locked door with a knife, and we wormed through darkness and beside pipes into a coffin-sized passageway next to heating ducts and the boiler. The vehicle would commute him straight to the hotel and was armored for the traveler’s protection. The first pieces of the ribs were installed in 2008, a year before the original projected opening.
They would have to walk 30 or 40 blocks, with their waders on, to a climb out of the previously scouted manhole on the residential street in the Bronx where we would be waiting.
Then, we climbed back up and emerged into the philosophy department — during the faculty Christmas party. In another version, his armored train on Metro-North would disconnect and drive onto the platform and into the freight elevator. Backpacks and hiking boots didn’t quite fit the dress code, so we retreated back into the night, reluctantly. Nonetheless, Joseph Brennan of Abandoned Subways has been unable to substantiate even one visit that utilized the platform, including Roosevelt’s foreign policy address at the Waldorf. At a subway platform, to the astonishment of passengers, the men hauled me up, backpack and all.
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