Portal Bridge

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Portal Bridge
Portal Bridge from I95 jeh (cropped).jpg
Coordinates40°45′13″N 74°5′41″W / 40.75361°N 74.09472°W / 40.75361; -74.09472Coordinates: 40°45′13″N 74°5′41″W / 40.75361°N 74.09472°W / 40.75361; -74.09472
CarriesNortheast Corridor
CrossesHackensack River
LocaleNew Jersey Meadowlands
DesignPratt truss swing bridge
MaterialBessemer steel
Total length961 ft (293 m)
No. of spans6 deck girder + 1 swing span
Clearance below23 ft (7.0 m)
Constructed byPennsylvania Steel Company
Portal Bridge is located in New York City
Portal Bridge
Portal Bridge
Location on a map Port of New York and New Jersey

The Portal Bridge is a two-track moveable swing-span railroad bridge over the Hackensack River in Kearny and Secaucus, New Jersey, United States, just west of Secaucus Junction. Owned and operated by Amtrak as part of the Northeast Corridor and considered the busiest train span in the Western Hemisphere,[1] carrying between 150,000 and 200,000 passengers per day[1][2][3] on approximately 450 daily trains (an average of one train every six minutes over a 24 hour period).[1]

Originally opened in 1910,[3] the bridge was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in conjunction with service to the newly constructed Pennsylvania Station in New York City. It is 961 feet long. The bridge clearance of 23 feet (7.0 m) requires it to swing open to allow even small commercial boats to pass underneath it. By the 2000s, the Portal Bridge was considered obsolete and train speeds are limited to 60 miles per hour (97 km/h).

Plans to replace the bridge in the first phase of the Gateway Project have failed to come to fruition due to funding disputes between state and federal governments. As of March, 2019, the estimated cost for replacing the bridge was at least $1.5 billion ($15.6 million per foot),[4][1] but only New York, New Jersey, NJ Transit and Amtrak have agreed to contribute towards funding the replacement while the Trump administration has refused to provide any funding for the project.[5]

Preliminary site-preparation work for one span, Portal Bridge North, began in October 2017 and was expected to be complete in 2019.[6][7][8]

Design and construction[edit]

The bridge shortly after its construction in 1910. Note the electric third-rail prior to catenary electrification in the early 1930s.

The Portal Bridge is a 961-foot (293 m) steel structure with masonry abutments. The bridge consists of a 300-foot (91 m) through-truss swing span and six 110-foot-long (34 m) open-deck girder approach spans (three on each side of the center span).[9](p8) The bridge itself is partially made of wood.[1]

Construction of the bridge was begun in August 1905, and the bridge was placed in service on November 27, 1910,[9](p8) based on bridge designs from the 1840s.[citation needed] The bridge was designed to last 100 years.[3] Overhead catenary to supply power to electric locomotives was installed in the 1930s.[9](p8) Some of the bridge machinery was updated in 1931. Minor repairs were made in the 1970s, and major repairs to structural, mechanical and electrical equipment were completed as part of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor Improvement Project between 1982 and 1984 by William F. Hegarty, Inc. of East Hanover, New Jersey.[citation needed]


Rail service[edit]

Rail traffic is carried over the swing bridge when it is closed. Rail service is currently at capacity, having grown from 40,000 daily passengers in 2005[10] to 150,000 to 200,000 daily passengers in 2015[2][3] on approximately 450 daily trains[1] for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.

As of 2011, Amtrak operated some 103 scheduled trains in both directions over this segment of the Northeast Corridor between Newark Penn Station and New York Penn Station. Four NJ Transit rail lines (Northeast Corridor Line, North Jersey Coast Line, Morris and Essex Lines, Montclair-Boonton Line) with 393 trains use the bridge each weekday in both directions.

River traffic[edit]

River traffic along the Hackensack River can flow under the swing bridge when it is open. Bridge schedules exempt the Portal Draw from opening weekdays 6 am to 10 am and 4 pm to 8 pm, during peak commuter travel periods over the bridge. At other times, the bridge opens on signal if a vessel gives one hour of notice, also in the hours leading up to peak periods, which can affect train schedules.[11][12]

When closed to river traffic, the bridge bears upon six wedge blocks. Two blocks are at each end of the bridge while two more sit adjacent to the center of the bridge. After the wedges are withdrawn the center-bearing supports the structure as the bridge is opened and returns it to its closed position once the river traffic has passed through one or both of the navigation channels.

As of 2015, the only regularly scheduled commercial traffic on the river is a barge full of sludge[3] traveling from Bergen County Utilities Authority complex in Little Ferry to a sewage treatment plant in Newark.[1] For the last four months of 2014, of the 90 times the bridge was opened, 75 were to provide service to the sludge barge.[3] The bridge has caused numerous delays in train service in order to allow for river service, though Amtrak does not keep specific records of delays.[3] All sludge has been trucked since 2016.[13]

Operational issues[edit]

The Portal Bridge has been called the Achilles' heel of the Northeast Corridor for several reasons.[2] Currently, the bridge limits train speeds to 60 mph (97 km/h)[1][2][3] The bridge's lowest beams are just 23 feet (7.0 m) above the surface of the Hackensack River at high tide.[1] As a result, the bridge often has to be opened to allow commercial boats to pass underneath it, which causes more delays for both train and boat traffic.[2][3] The Portal Bridge fails to close properly one out of seven times it opens, because the rails can fail to lock into place. In extreme cases, rail crews must bang the rails into place with sledgehammers before trains can cross.[14][15]


In Summer 2019 the bridge will undergo a timber replacement.[16]

Accidents and incidents[edit]

1996 derailment[edit]

The bridge was site of a derailment on November 23, 1996[9] when the swing bridge failed to close properly. Amtrak's Fast Mail Train No. 12, with twelve passenger and mail coaches pulled by two locomotives on a Washington-to-Boston run with 88 passengers and 20 crew members, derailed as it reached the bridge. It sideswiped an oncoming passenger train, but continued across the bridge, prevented from plunging through the trestles into the river by guide rails that parallel the main tracks. Then its twin locomotives, a baggage car, and three passenger coaches plunged over an embankment.[9](pp1–5) There were no deaths; thirty-four people were hospitalized.[17] The reason for the derailment was that a rail was 5 inches higher than it was supposed to be, and acted as a ramp.[9][18] As a result of the derailment, the maximum speed on the bridge was lowered to 60 mph (97 km/h),[1] making the bridge a choke point for the entire Northeast Corridor. The cost of the derailment was estimated at $3.6 million[9](p8)


On May 13, 2005, the bridge caught on fire. NJ Transit engineers believe that the 13kV overhead electrical wires overheated, sending shards of metal towards the creosote-covered wooden fenders at the base of the bridge.[19] The immediate result of the fire was to block all traffic until the next morning.[10] The cost of the incident was $5 million.[20]

On August 4, 2014, the bridge caught on fire, interrupting rail traffic for half an hour.[21][22]


The bridge requires millions of dollars of yearly maintenance.[10] According to several officials, the bridge is considered a "choke-point" which reduces the potential speed and capacity of the line. These officials include U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (NJ);[2] Drew Galloway, Amtrak Assistant V.P. of Planning and Development[1] and the chief of Planning and Performance for the Northeast Corridor;[2] New Jersey Transit Executive Director Richard Sarles.[10][23]

In December 2008, the Federal Railroad Administration approved a $1.34 billion project to replace the Portal Bridge with two new bridges:[1] a three-track bridge to the north, and a two-track bridge to the south.[20] The new bridges were then scheduled to be completed in 2017, at which time the Portal Bridge was to be dismantled. In course of design work the number of tracks on the north bridge has been reduced from three to two.[24]

Design work progressed in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, New Jersey applied for $38.5 million in funding for the replacement from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.[25] On January 28, 2010, the federal funds were released as a TIGER grant[26] as part of a larger package of $112 million for the entire Northeast Corridor.[27] The $38.5 million in federal funds were intended for final design for the new bridge.[27][28][29]

The original timeline for the project called for construction of the new bridge to begin in 2010, with the bridge replacement to be complete by 2017. However, partly due to cancellation of the Access to the Region's Core project in 2010, as well as funding issues, this original plan was reduced to a single two-track bridge constructed north of the current bridge with room for a new bridge south of the current bridge left open to follow.[1] In 2014, design work for the new Portal Bridge North had been completed.[1] The proposed Portal Bridge North would be a fixed span rising over 50 feet (15 m) above mean water level, and would allow train speeds of at least 90 mph (140 km/h).[2] The new bridge would also be a part of the Amtrak Gateway Project—itself a partial replacement of the Access to the Region's Core—estimated to cost $13.5 billion.[30][31][32]

Progress on the Portal Bridge North has stalled due to funding. In April 2011, Amtrak applied for federal funding of $570 million for construction, with New Jersey expected to commit $150 million.[33][34] As of 2014, however, the project was lacking $940 million in funding.[1][2] The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey planned to contribute $300 million to the project.[35][36][37]

As of 2016, the expected schedule was for engineering phase to begin in 2017 and revenue service to start in 2024.[38] In May 2017, NJ Transit awarded a contract to carry out this work.[39] In June 2017, the Gateway Development Corporation formally applied for federal funding for the project.[40] The Federal Transit Administration approved the Environmental Impact Statement for the replacement bridge in August 2017.[41] Construction on the first of two replacement bridges began in October 2017.[7] Amtrak has estimated the cost of the bridge's replacement to be $1.5 billion.[6] In June 2018, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy sold off $600 million in bonds to fund the replacement of the bridge.[42]

Jersey City, which owns a 14-acre parcel originally earmarked for preservation and recreation, will sell it to make way for construction of the bridge.[43]

In October 2015, a $16 million TIGER grant was awarded for use to support early construction activities such as realignment of a 138kV transmission monopole, constructing a temporary fiber optic cable pole line, building a finger pier construction access structure, a service access road and a 560-foot retaining wall.[44][45] The work was completed in February 2019.[46][47]

In June 2018, the State of New Jersey approved $600 million in bonds to finance the project.[48][49][42] Despite state funding, the federal government is withholding funds for the project.[50][51]

As of March 2019, the Trump administration continued to refuse to provide funding for the project.[52]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o McGeehan, Patrick (September 25, 2014). "104-Year-Old Portal Bridge Presents $900 Million Problem for Rail Commuters". The New York Times. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Porter, David (November 15, 2014). "New Jersey's Portal Bridge, bane of the Northeast Corridor, is due for upgrade". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Maag, Christopher (February 21, 2015). "When Bergen County sludge meets rusty Amtrak bridge, both sides lose". The Record (Bergen County). Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  4. ^ "Portal Bridge Replacement Project". Amtrak: The Northeast Corridor. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  5. ^ Young, Elise (March 15, 2019). "Portal Bridge's Reign of Misery Ending for NYC-Area Train Riders". Bloomberg.
  6. ^ a b Russ, Hilary (October 13, 2017). "Construction starts on New Jersey bridge, a step to fixing region's rail". Reuters.
  7. ^ a b Tate, Curtis (October 8, 2018). "There's no new Portal Bridge yet. But smaller pieces are falling into place". Retrieved October 16, 2018.
  8. ^ https://www.njspotlight.com/stories/18/10/25/work-on-new-portal-bridge-reaches-milestone-federal-funding-not-yet-in-place/
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Derailment of Amtrak Train No. 12 and Sideswipe of Amtrak No. 79 on Portal Bridge Near Secaucus, New Jersey, November 23, 1996 (Report). Washington, D.C.: National Transportation Safety Board. 1997.
  10. ^ a b c d McGeehan, Patrick (May 19, 2005). "Repairing New Jersey Bridge May Take a Year, Amtrak Says". The New York Times.
  11. ^ 33 C.F.R. 117 Subpart B §723
  12. ^ Higgs, Larry (November 3, 2018). "This bridge keeps killing your commute because of a loophole. Officials want it to change". NJ.com. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  13. ^ https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-edit-portal-bridge-20180615-story.html Bridge of lies: Amtrak's dumb Portal Bridge plan is a weak link in overblown Gateway], Daily News Editorial, June 18, 2018
  14. ^ "What the heck is the Portal Bridge and why does it keep getting stuck open?". NJ.com. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  15. ^ Davidson, Cameron. "The Tunnel That Could Break New York". Politico. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  16. ^ https://njbiz.com/amtrak-nj-transit-invest-31m-northeast-corridor/
  17. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (November 25, 1996). "Broken Bars on Drawbridge Are Blamed in Amtrak Crash". The New York Times. Retrieved February 9, 2011.
  18. ^ "America's ageing infrastructure: The Achilles' heel of the Northeast Corridor". Gulliver. The Economist. Washington, D.C. October 21, 2014. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  19. ^ McGeehan, Patrick (May 14, 2005). "Trains Crawl Back Into Service After Kearny Bridge Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  20. ^ a b Belsen, Ken (December 31, 2008). "Approval Given for New Jersey Rail Bridges". The New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  21. ^ Kunzmann, Kevin (August 4, 2014). "Fire on Portal Bridge shuts down NJ Transit". Retrieved October 16, 2018.
  22. ^ Kunzmann, Kevin (August 4, 2014). "Fire on Portal Bridge shuts down NJ Transit". The Star-Ledger.
  23. ^ "NJ moves to replace key N.E. Corridor rail bridge". philly.com. Archived from the original on August 28, 2009. Retrieved May 14, 2015.
  24. ^ "Portal Bridge Replacement Project". Amtrak: The Northeast Corridor.
  25. ^ "Feds Open 'Portal' to Expansion of NJ Transit's Network". Tri-State Transportation Campaign. January 8, 2009.
  26. ^ "High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on January 5, 2011. Retrieved February 10, 2011.
  27. ^ a b Frassinelli, Mike (January 28, 2010). "NJ Transit announces $38.5M for Portal Bridge project, names executive director". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  28. ^ "Portal Bridge Capacity Enhancement". Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, United States Department of Transportation. Archived from the original on February 8, 2011. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  29. ^ Whiten, Jon (February 8, 2010). "Advocates Want Bike/Ped Path as Part of Portal Bridge Project". Jersey City Independent. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  30. ^ Frassinelli, Mike (February 6, 2011). "N.J. senators, Amtrak official to announce new commuter train tunnel project across the Hudson". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved February 7, 2011.
  31. ^ "Gateway Project" (PDF). Amtrak. February 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 7, 2011. Retrieved February 7, 2011.
  32. ^ Fleisher, Liza; Grossman, Andrew (February 8, 2011). "Amtrak's Plan For New Tunnel Gains Support". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  33. ^ "Amtrak Seeks $1.3 billion for Gateway Project and Next-Generation High-Speed Rail on NEC". Amtrak. April 4, 2011. Retrieved April 8, 2011.
  34. ^ Jackson, Herb (April 4, 2011). "Amtrak seeking $1.3B for Hudson River tunnel planning, bridge replacement". The Record (New Jersey). Archived from the original on May 16, 2011. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  35. ^ "Port Authority Makes Largest Financial Commitment To The Gateway Program, One Of The Nation's Most Important Infrastructure Projects" (Press release). The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. October 20, 2016. Retrieved October 16, 2018.
  36. ^ "Port Authority commits money to replace Portal Bridge". Associated Press. October 21, 2016. Retrieved October 16, 2018.
  37. ^ "Port Authority approves funds to replace Portal Bridge". Crain's New York Business. October 21, 2016.
  38. ^ "Portal North Bridge Project Hudson County, New Jersey New Starts Project Development Information" (PDF). FTA. June 2016. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
  39. ^ "NJ TRANSIT Board Awards Construction Contract For Portal Bridge Project" (Press release). NJ Transit. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  40. ^ Rubinstein, Dana (June 1, 2017). "Gateway builders forge ahead amid Trump uncertainty". Politico. Retrieved June 2, 2017.
  41. ^ Salant, Jonathan D. (August 2, 2017). "Portal Bridge project clears another hurdle". NJ Advance Media. Retrieved August 30, 2017.
  42. ^ a b "Floating a $600 Million Bond Issue to Build New Portal Bridge". NJ Spotlight. June 12, 2018. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  43. ^ https://hudsonreporter.com/2019/02/01/paving-the-way-for-gateway-project/
  44. ^ Maag, Christopher. "NJ Transit gets $16M grant for rail bridge replacement". NorthJersey.com. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  45. ^ "$16M federal grant will help replace Portal Bridge". NJ.com. Retrieved October 27, 2015.
  46. ^ https://www.masstransitmag.com/rail/infrastructure/article/21069650/nj-transit-completes-portal-bridge-early-action-contract
  47. ^ https://www.nj.com/traffic/2019/02/the-rusty-old-bridge-that-kills-your-nj-transit-commute-is-very-close-to-being-replaced.html
  48. ^ "Will new state funding move the feds to chip in for Portal Bridge?". North Jersey. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  49. ^ "NJ Transit board approves $600M bond to replace Portal Bridge". NJBIZ. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  50. ^ Munoz, Daniel J. (September 4, 2018). "First phase of Gateway project 'shovel-ready,' Murphy says". NJBIZ.
  51. ^ Reitmeyer, John (September 5, 2018). "Talk About Stalled Trans-Hudson Tunnel, Portal Bridge Takes on Ominous Tone". NJ Spotlight.
  52. ^ Cite error: The named reference bloomberg2019 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).

External links[edit]