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Hell Gate Bridge

Hell Gate Bridge
Coordinates40°46′57″N 73°55′18″W / 40.7824°N 73.9217°W / 40.7824; -73.9217
CarriesAmtrak Northeast Corridor; CSX Y102 and P&W FPCH and CHFP freight trains
CrossesHell Gate of the East River
LocaleQueens and the Bronx in New York City via Randall's and Wards Islands
Maintained byAmtrak
DesignThrough arch bridge
MaterialNickel-manganese steel
Total length17,000 feet (3.2 mi; 5.2 km)
Width100 feet (30.5 m)
Longest span1,087.5 feet (331 m)
Clearance below135 feet (41.1 m)
Rail characteristics
No. of tracks3
  • 2 for Amtrak Northeast Corridor
  • 1 for CSX/P&W
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Structure gaugeAAR
Electrified12.5 kV 60 Hz AC catenary (Northeast Corridor only)
DesignerGustav Lindenthal
Engineering design byHarold W. Hudson
Constructed byAmerican Bridge Inc.
Fabrication byAmerican Bridge Company
Construction start1912
Construction end1916
OpenedMarch 9, 1917; 106 years ago (1917-03-09)[1]

The Hell Gate Bridge, originally the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge[2] or the East River Arch Bridge,[3] is a 1,017-foot (310 m)[a] steel through arch railroad bridge in New York City. Originally built for four tracks, the bridge now carries two tracks of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and one freight track across the Hell Gate, a strait of the East River, between Astoria in Queens and Randalls and Wards Islands in Manhattan.

The arch across the Hell Gate is the largest of three bridges that form the Hell Gate railroad viaduct. An inverted bowstring truss bridge with four 300-foot (91.4 m) spans crosses the Little Hell Gate, a former strait that is now filled in, and a 350-foot (106.7 m) fixed truss bridge crosses the Bronx Kill, a strait now narrowed by fill. Together with approaches, the bridges are more than 17,000 feet (3.2 mi; 5.2 km) long.[4] The designs of the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, England and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in New South Wales, Australia were derived from the Hell Gate Bridge.[5]


Bridge under construction c. 1915
Bridge seen c. 1917

The bridge was conceived in the early 1900s to link New York and the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) with New England and the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad (NH).[6] As part of the plan, the Hell Gate Bridge would carry four tracks, which would connect to the NH's four-track lines on either side of the Hell Gate.[7]

Construction was overseen by Gustav Lindenthal, whose original design left a gap of 15 feet (4.6 m) between the steel arch and the masonry towers. Fearing that the public assumed that the towers were structurally integral to the bridge, Lindenthal added aesthetic girders between the upper chord of the arch and the towers to make the structure appear more robust.[8] The original plans for the piers on the long approach ramps called for a steel lattice structure. The design was changed to smooth concrete to soothe concerns that asylum inmates on Wards and Randall's islands would climb the piers to escape.[8]

Lindenthal's chief assistant for the project was Othmar Amman, who went on to design the George Washington, Verrazano-Narrows and other major spans.[9] David B. Steinman was the 3rd highest ranking engineer on the project, which he took a leave of absence from the University of Idaho to join. The two began a career-spanning rivalry while working together on the Hell Gate Bridge.[10]

The engineering was so precise that when the last section of the main span was lifted into place, the final adjustment needed to join everything together was just 516 inch (7.9 mm). Construction of the Hell Gate Bridge began on March 1, 1912, and ended on September 30, 1916.[11] The bridge was dedicated and opened to rail traffic on March 9, 1917,[1] with Washington–Boston through trains first running on April 1.[12] It was the world's longest steel arch bridge until the Bayonne Bridge opened in 1931.[13]

During World War II, its economic value made it a target of the Nazi sabotage plan known as Operation Pastorius.[14]

In the 1990s, the bridge was repainted for the first time since it opened. It was painted a deep red called "Hell Gate Red". Due to a flaw in the paint, the red color began to fade before the work was completed, leading to the bridge's currently faded, splotchy appearance.[15]

On March 27, 2017, the Greater Astoria Historical Society, in conjunction with Amtrak, celebrated the centennial of the opening.[16]


If humans were to disappear, the bridge could last for at least a millennium, according to the February 2005 issue of Discover magazine. Most other bridges would fall in about 300 years.[17]


Truss bridge segment over Bronx Kill
The bridge as seen from a cricket field on Wards Island
The bridge seen from Queens


The bridge originally carried four tracks, two each for passenger and freight, but one freight track was abandoned in the mid-1970s. At one time, all tracks were electrified with the 11 kV, 25 Hz overhead catenary, the standard of NH and PRR. The passenger tracks have been electrified since 1917, and the freight tracks from 1927 to 1969, using Amtrak's 25 Hz traction power system.


Some passengers paid to use the bridge; some fares over the bridge were higher than the usual fares for the same mileage.[18] In September 1940, coach fares were two cents per mile, so the trip from Boston to either Grand Central Terminal or New York Penn Station was the same amount, at $4.60, even though only trains to Penn Station used Hell Gate. The trip from Boston to Washington, D.C. was $10.00 instead of the expected $9.10; for a few decades after 1920, 90 cents was added to all fares via Hell Gate except tickets to New York itself. In April 1962, New Haven to New York cost $3.43, New York to Philadelphia cost $3.91, and New Haven to Philadelphia was $8.24. (1962 fares do not include federal tax, then 10 percent.)


The bridge and structure are owned by Amtrak and lies in the New York Terminal District, part of its Boston to Washington, D.C. electrified main line known as the Northeast Corridor. The bridge's two western tracks are part of the Hell Gate Line and are electrified with 12.5 kV 60 Hz overhead power and are used by Amtrak for Acela Express and Northeast Regional service between New York and Boston. In September 2009, the Metro-North Railroad's Train to the Game services, operated by New Jersey Transit from key stations on the New Haven Line to Secaucus Junction, started using the bridge during every Sunday 1:00 PM Giants or Jets NFL game at MetLife Stadium. This service was suspended in 2017.[19]

The bridge is also part of the New York Connecting Railroad, a rail line that links New York City and Long Island to the North American mainland. The third track forms part of the CSX Fremont Secondary and carries CSX, Canadian Pacific and Providence & Worcester Railroad freight trains between Oak Point Yard in the Bronx and Fresh Pond Yard in Queens, where it connects with the New York and Atlantic Railway.[20][b]

In September 2009, Metro-North revived its planning efforts for its Penn Station Access project, which would use the Hell Gate Bridge to connect the New Haven Line to Penn Station.[21] Such a service would terminate at Penn Station on platforms freed up by the planned completion of the Long Island Rail Road's East Side Access tunnel to Grand Central Terminal, which is scheduled for completion in late 2022.[21] If the plan is implemented, through-running between the New Haven Line and New Jersey Transit would be possible, linking business centers in Connecticut and New Jersey while providing access to Newark Liberty International Airport.[22] The draft Environmental Assessment was originally expected to be available for public review in late 2018.[23] Subsequently, in January 2019, it was announced that Amtrak and the MTA had reached an agreement regarding track usage rights, and $35 million was approved for initial engineering design work.[24][25][26] The MTA was expected to begin service on the line by 2023.[27]: 53  This was later delayed to 2027.[28]

The approach to Hell Gate Bridge under construction c. 1915, looking north toward the construction site of the bridge over Little Hell Gate,[29] which forms part of the northern approach to the Hell Gate Bridge proper.

See also



  1. ^ The arch is 1,087.5 feet (331.5 m) measured center to center of the concrete towers.
  2. ^ Long Island's railways only have two direct connections to the mainland. The other link to the mainland is via Penn Station, which goes through Manhattan first to get to the mainland. There is also a rail freight barge service between Brooklyn and New Jersey operated by New York New Jersey Rail, LLC.[20]


  1. ^ a b Thom, William G.; Sturm, Robert C. (2006). The New York Connecting Railroad. Long Island-Sunrise Chapter, National Railway Historical Society. p. 46. ISBN 9780988691605.
  2. ^ Schneider, Daniel B. (March 19, 2000). "F.Y.I." The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 22, 2010. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  3. ^ Gruson, Lindsey (November 30, 1991). "Long Unlucky, Rail Bridge Hits $55 Million Repair Jackpot". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 13, 2013. Retrieved January 23, 2011.
  4. ^ Staff. "Growing a Bridge From Both Ends" Archived April 5, 2022, at the Wayback Machine, p. 769, The Literary Digest, Volume 51, No. 14, October 2, 1915. Accessed July 7, 2016. "The whole length of the structure (arch and two approaches), from abutment on Long Island to abutment in the Bronx, is 17,000 feet, or considerably over three miles."
  5. ^ "Tyne Bridge". BBC Inside Out. September 24, 2014. Archived from the original on March 1, 2017. Retrieved December 28, 2016. Tyne Bridge was designed by Mott, Hay and Anderson... in turn derived its design from the Hell Gate Bridge
  6. ^ Capo, Fran. Myths and Mysteries of New York: True Stories of the Unsolved and Unexplained Archived December 7, 2021, at the Wayback Machine, p. 71. Rowman & Littlefield, 2011. ISBN 9780762768974. Accessed July 7, 2016. "In the early 1900s, a plan was conceived for a bridge that would make Hell Gate even more accessible and would also link the New Haven and Pennsylvania railways, creating direct passenger service from New York to Boston."
  7. ^ Mills, William Wirt (1908). Pennsylvania Railroad tunnels and terminals in New York City. Moses King. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Anderson, Steve. "Hell Gate Bridge". NYCRoads. Archived from the original on June 17, 2010. Retrieved April 13, 2010.
  9. ^ Hopkins, Henry J. (1970). A Span of Bridges: An Illustrated History. New York, Praeger. p. 230.
  10. ^ Weingardt, Richard (2005). Engineering legends: great American civil engineers; 32 profiles of inspiration and achievement. Reston, Va: ASCE Press. ISBN 978-0-7844-0801-8.
  11. ^ Hell Gate Bridge at Structurae
  12. ^ "HELL GATE SERVICE APRIL 1.; Through Trains from Washington to Boston Will Be Started Then". The New York Times. March 14, 1917. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved February 29, 2016.
  13. ^ "Best Places to See NYC's Bridges" Archived April 22, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Accessed April 18, 2016. "When it opened in 1931, the Bayonne Bridge surpassed the Hell Gate to become the longest steel arch bridge in the world and remained so for 45 years."
  14. ^ MacDonnell, Frances (November 2, 1995). Insidious Foes: The Axis Fifth Column and the American Home Front. Oxford University Press. p. 131. ISBN 0-1950-9268-6.
  15. ^ Kilgannon, Corey (March 8, 2012). "A Bad Impression Outlasts a Bridge's New Paint". New York Times. Archived from the original on January 10, 2015. Retrieved January 10, 2015.
  16. ^ Calisi, Joseph M. (2017). "HELL GATE Hits 100". Passenger Train Journal. White River Productions. pp. 10–11.
  17. ^ Weisman, Alan (February 2005). "Earth Without People: What would happen to our planet if the mighty hand of humanity simply disappeared?". Discover. Retrieved March 28, 2023.
  18. ^ Staff. "I.C.C. Orders Inquiry on 90c Extra Fare On Certain Trips Over Hell Gate Bridge", The New York Times, December 20, 1951. Accessed July 7, 2016.
  19. ^ Silberstein, Judy (September 24, 2009). "Football Fans Take New Train to the Game". Larchmont Gazette. Retrieved July 3, 2011.
  20. ^ a b "Railroads in New York - 2016" (PDF). New York State Department of Transportation. January 2016. Retrieved December 9, 2018.
  21. ^ a b "Penn Station Access Study". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. September 2009. Retrieved April 12, 2008.
  22. ^ "Connecticut Presentation (2013)" (PDF). Metropolitan Transportation Authority. March 2013. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  23. ^ "Penn Station Access Background". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. July 2018. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  24. ^ "MTA | news | Project to Build Bronx Metro-North Stations Advances". Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  25. ^ Castillo, Alfonso A. (January 22, 2019). "Metro-North riders will finally get Penn Station access". am New York. Archived from the original on January 23, 2019. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  26. ^ Spivack, Caroline (January 22, 2019). "MTA to build new Metro-North stations linking Bronx to Penn Station". Curbed NY. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  27. ^ "Capital Program Oversight Committee Meeting" (PDF). Metropolitan Transportation Authority. April 2019. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  28. ^ "$US 2.87bn Penn Station Access Project contract awarded". December 22, 2021.
  29. ^ Location: "Wikimapia - Let's describe the whole world!". Archived from the original on May 26, 2020. Retrieved April 26, 2011.

Further reading

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Hell Gate Bridge
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