Utility Tunnels Utility Tunnels FAQ

Utility tunnels (most commonly known as "college tunnels" or "steam tunnels") are dirty, dangerous and uncomfortably hot. Unfortunately, they're also strictly off-limits.

What constitutes a college steam tunnel?
Utility tunnels are most commonly referred to as steam tunnels because their primary function is to transport extremely high-temperature steam from a central boiler to all the buildings of the campus. The tunnels also conduct cold air, electrical wires, telephone lines, network connections, and natural gas.

How much risk is there of getting caught?
Not that much, unless you're exploring a tunnel system with motion detectors (don't!). The administration policy is normally that students caught in the tunnels will be suspended or expelled, and non-students are threatened with serious fines, but instances of tunnellers being seriously punished are few and far between. If you are caught, you may be able to get off with a warning.

How much risk is there of getting injured?
Minor injuries are a possibility. Be sure to watch out for low overhangs, unshielded pipes and steam leaks. Asbestos may be a concern in some tunnel systems.

What supplies should I bring when exploring college tunnels?
At least one flashlight and several beverages per person at the minimum.

How do I find college tunnels?
Start by visiting every basement and mechanical room you can get to on your campus of choice; whenever you see steam pipes, follow them. Pay attention to any door that has mechanical noise behind it or any area that is warm. Another popular trick is to observe closely whenever there is a light covering of snow on the ground -- the snow that is directly above the tunnels will melt first.

What preparations are necessary before entering the tunnels?
If you have the chance, acquaint yourself with the aboveground layout of the campus, and bring a map of the campus along if possible. This will help you determine where you are when underground. Decide in advance if you're going to run, hide or try to talk your way out of it if you're caught -- it's best that everyone in your group agrees on one solution.

Where can I see people infiltrating college tunnels on screen?
Real Genius (1985) - Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) stars in this movie featuring some college tunnels at a fake campus called Pacific Tech (a thinly-veiled substitute for Pasadena's Caltech). In one scene, Lazlo takes an elevator from the steam tunnels to Chris and Mitch's room.

Where can I read more?
Infiltration 4 features information on exploring college tunnels in southern California, in Toronto, and elsewhere.
The Big U by Neal Stephenson apparently features some college tunneling.

What's the deal with alt.college.tunnels and the Underground list?
alt.college.tunnels was once the main place to discuss steam tunneling in the US and Canada, but the group was pretty much spammed into oblivion by marketers trying to sell things to everyone in the alt.college.* hierarchy. Now only an occasional soul wanders in to ask about nearby tunnels.
        In 1998, Paul Rice launched the Underground mailing list as a spam-free alternative to alt.college.tunnels. To find out more about the Underground mailing list, send a message to underground-request@urbanexplorers.net with the command INFO in the body of the message.

Where can I look for more information on the web?
(I've sorted these links by the name of the institution rather than the name of the site.)
Iowa State University - "This ain't on the student orientation tour..."
Ohio State University - A look under OSU, and at the administration's censorship of the site.
Penn State University - A thorough look at the bowels of Penn State.
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale - Steam tunnels, stories, memories and more.
University of California at Berkeley - UnderCal offers pics, logs and a map.
University of California at Los Angeles - An out-of-date but still useful site.
University of California at San Diego - Ben Hines' fairly old description of tunnels under UCSD.
University of Cincinnati - Ben Hines' fairly old but well-mapped findings under UC.
University of Illinois at Chicago - Photo tour of the amazing tunnels and basements under the University of Illinois at Chicago.
University of Missouri - Columbia - Reveals many of the school's secrets.
University of Nebraska - Tunnels under Lincoln, Nebraska.
University of Toronto - Photo tour of several sets of tunnels under UofT.
Virginia Tech Steam Tunnels - Great advice, pics and a detailed map related to the tunnels under Virginia Tech.
Waterloo University - A look beneath Ohio State University.
Back The full, paper version of Infiltration can be ordered for $2 cash (US or Cnd) from Infiltration, PO Box 13, Station E, Toronto, Ontario, M6H 4E1, Canada. Please toss any comments, queries or contributions to Ninjalicious.