Hell Gate Bridge

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Hell Gate Bridge
Hell Gate Bridge by Dave Frieder.jpg
Coordinates 40°46′57″N 73°55′18″W / 40.7824°N 73.9217°W / 40.7824; -73.9217Coordinates: 40°46′57″N 73°55′18″W / 40.7824°N 73.9217°W / 40.7824; -73.9217
Carries Amtrak Northeast Corridor rail line (2 tracks); CSX Transportation/Canadian Pacific (Delaware & Hudson) freight rail line (1 track)
Crosses Hell Gate of the East River
Locale Queens and the Bronx in New York City via Randall's and Wards Islands
Maintained by Amtrak
Design Through arch bridge
Material Steel
Total length 17,000 feet (3.2 mi; 5.2 km)
Width 100 feet (30.5 m)
Longest span 978 feet (298 m)
Clearance below 135 feet (41.1 m)
Architect Gustav Lindenthal
Designer Henry Hornbostel
Engineering design by Harold W. Hudson
Fabrication by American Bridge Company
Construction begin 1912
Construction end 1916
Opened September 30, 1916; 98 years ago (1916-09-30)
Hell Gate Bridge is located in New York City
Hell Gate Bridge
Hell Gate Bridge

The Hell Gate Bridge (originally the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge[1] or The East River Arch Bridge[2]) is a 1,017-foot (310 m)[3] steel through arch railroad bridge in New York City. The bridge crosses the Hell Gate, a strait of the East River, between Astoria in Queens and Randalls and Wards Islands in Manhattan.

The bridge is the largest of three bridges that form the Hell Gate complex. An inverted bowstring truss bridge with four 300-foot (91.4 m) spans crosses the Little Hell Gate (now filled in); and a 350-foot (106.7 m) fixed truss bridge crosses the Bronx Kill (now narrowed by fill). Together with approaches, the bridges are more than 17,000 feet (3.2 mi; 5.2 km) long.[citation needed]

This bridge was the inspiration for the design of Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, which is about 60 percent larger.[4]


Hell Gate Bridge, ca. 1917
Hell Gate bridge under construction circa 1915
Truss bridge over Bronx Kill

The bridge was conceived in the early 1900s to link New York and the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) with New England and the New Haven Railroad (NH).

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.[5] 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.[5]

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 12 inch (13 mm). Construction of the Hell Gate Bridge began on March 1, 1912 and ended on September 30, 1916. It was the world's longest steel arch bridge until the Bayonne Bridge opened in 1931, and was surpassed again by the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932.[citation needed]

During World War II, it was among the dozen or so targets of economic value of significant enough importance to attract the attention of Nazi German sabotage planners. The Nazis' Operation Pastorius landed German agents on US soil in 1942 in hopes of wrecking the bridge and other key targets. (Operation Pastorius failed due to detection of some landing activity by US shore patrols and subsequent defections among some of the German landing team's members to the Allied side.)[6]

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, however, the red color began to fade before the work was completed, leading to the bridge's currently faded, splotchy appearance.[7]

The bridge would be the last New York City bridge to collapse if humans disappeared, taking at least a millennium to do so, according to the February 2005 issue of Discover magazine. Most other bridges would fall in about 300 years.[8]

The approach to Hell Gate bridge under construction circa 1915.
This photograph appears to have been taken from the top of the north tower of the Hell Gate Bridge itself. The view looks north toward the construction site of the bridge over Little Hell Gate (location:,[9] 2007 photo:[10]), which forms part of the northern approach to the Hell Gate Bridge proper.


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. (See 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.[11] In September 1940 coach fares were two cents a mile, so Boston to New York was $4.60, the same to Grand Central Terminal or to Penn Station. But 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 is used by Amtrak and by some CSX, Canadian Pacific, Providence & Worcester Railroad, and New York and Atlantic freight trains. The Metro-North Railroad's Train to the Game services (Operated by New Jersey Transit, from main stations on the New Haven Line to Secaucus Junction) also use the bridge since September 2009 on every Sunday 1pm Giants or Jets NFL game at MetLife Stadium.[12] 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 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.

In September 2009, Metro-North revived its planning efforts aimed at using the Hell Gate Bridge to connect its New Haven Line to Penn Station.[13] 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 project scheduled for completion in 2023. The environmental assessment and a draft Penn Station operations study were planned for completion in 2015.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schneider, Daniel B. (March 19, 2000). "F.Y.I.". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  2. ^ Gruson, Lindsey (November 30, 1991). "Long Unlucky, Rail Bridge Hits $55 Million Repair Jackpot". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-23. 
  3. ^ The arch is 1,087.5 feet (331.5 m) measured center to center of the concrete towers.
  4. ^ "Sydney Harbour Bridge repainting" (PDF). NSW Roads and Traffic Authority. Retrieved 2011-10-03. 
  5. ^ a b Anderson, Steve. "Hell Gate Bridge". NYCRoads. Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  6. ^ MacDonnell, Frances (2 November 1995). Insidious Foes: The Axis Fifth Column and the American Home Front. Oxford University Press. p. 131. ISBN 0-1950-9268-6. 
  7. ^ Kilgannon, Corey (8 March 2012). "A Bad Impression Outlasts a Bridge’s New Paint". New York Times. Retrieved 10 January 2015. 
  8. ^ Weisman, Alan (February 2005). "Earth Without People: What would happen to our planet if the mighty hand of humanity simply disappeared?". Discover. Retrieved 2006-11-06. 
  9. ^ "Wikimapia - Let's describe the whole world!". wikimapia.org. 
  10. ^ Amtrak Railway Bridge on Randall's Island NYC (Little Hell Gate) | Flickr – Condivisione di foto!. Flickr.com (2007-09-01). Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
  11. ^ New York Times, 20 December 1951. p33.
  12. ^ Silberstein, Judy (September 24, 2009). "Football Fans Take New Train to the Game". Larchmont Gazette. Retrieved 2011-07-03. 
  13. ^ a b "Penn Station Access Study". Metropolitan Transportation Authority. September 2009. Retrieved 2008-04-12. 

Further reading[edit]

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