Lonely Planet Writer

Brooklyn's subway tunnel tours close

It felt too good to be true. The world's oldest subway tunnel – built in Brooklyn in 1844, closed in 1861, then forgotten before being dug up three decades ago by a Brooklynite train buff – has been home to the city's greatest underground attraction. The raw, grass-roots tours were fascinating, beginning with an unexpected queue of in-the-know locals descending below busy Atlantic Avenue.

Last month, perhaps inevitably, the city's fire department closed down the tours, till at least 2018. That means 'permanently' per Brooklyn Historic Railway Association founder Bob Diamond, who discovered the tunnels at age 19 in 1980 and began the tours two years later. (Meanwhile, New York Unearthed, part of the South Street Seaport Museum, closed its collection of subterranean artifacts found around New York last week too! Is there a New York conspiracy against the underground?).

I had the pleasure of taking one of Bob's tours last July (see video). Much of the two hours was filled with Bob recounting city transit history and, more interestingly, how he found them. (He also led an aborted attempt to connect Red Hook, Brooklyn, using old rail cars – an abandoned one sits behind the Fairway grocery store on the harbor.)

Bob is a breathless, interesting, hilarious guide – one of those New Yorkers that makes New York 'New York' – churning out so much factoids and construction terms I was left reeling after two hours. Considering Diamond's spitfire jabs at city officials during tours, it's not difficult to wonder if he got under the skin of the city. But the fire department's concerns over safety seem perfectly legit too.

I hope the tunnel reopens. Meanwhile, I can't wait to see what Bob turns to next.

What's your favorite underground attraction?