Saturday, January 01, 2011
Contra Costa Underground Railroad
While almost everyone is familiar with the Underground Railroad on the east coast, few are aware of the very different kind of underground railroad in Contra Costa County.
Originally started as a simple way to avoid building rail lines over the steep hills of Contra Costa, these rail tunnels were later used during World War II to make the transport of munitions around and near Port Chicago harder to track by on-ground spies. There were even adapted during the cold war to move nuclear weapons in and out of the Concord Navel Weapons Station.
After years of being strictly off-limits to non-military personnel, with the closing of the Weapons Station and the general thawing of the cold war, the extensive tunnel network is being eyed as a possible bicycle transportation solution to the increasingly crowded highways in the area.
We were allowed to ride about 15 miles of the recently repurposed rail tunnels with East Bay Regional Parks representatives last week. Though the tunnels are very dark (more lights are planned for installation), and many remnants of their past linger in the shadows, in general they do indeed make wonderful bicycle routes.
These bike route tunnels address three of the most common concerns that non-cyclists have: Hills, cars and weather. In the tunnels there are no hills — they were build for train cars and are essentially flat. There are no cars and, perhaps best of all this winter, no rain.
Our ride went well, and we look forward to the official opening of a proposed more than 40 miles of underground bike trails in the county.