|Locale||New Jersey Meadowlands|
|Design||Pratt truss swing bridge|
|Total length||961 ft (293 m)|
|No. of spans||6 deck girder + 1 swing span|
|Clearance below||23 ft (7.0 m)|
|Constructed by||Pennsylvania Steel Company|
The Portal Bridge is a railroad bridge over the Hackensack River in northeastern New Jersey, United States, just west of Secaucus Junction. It is a two-track, moveable swing-span between the towns of Kearny and Secaucus owned and operated by Amtrak as part of the Northeast Corridor and also used by New Jersey Transit. As of 2015[update], it was considered the busiest train span in the Western Hemisphere, carrying between 150,000 and 200,000 passengers per day.
The bridge is considered obsolete and under review for replacement. Currently, the bridge limits train speeds to 60 mph and is so low that it often has to be opened to allow commercial boats to pass underneath it causing more delays. For these reasons, it has been called the Achilles' heel of the Northeast Corridor. Existing design and engineering plans for the bridge's replacement call for two fixed bridges.  Work on the replacement bridges has stalled due to lack of funding and as of 2014 funding for the $940 million to build it had not been identified.
Amtrak intends to replace the bridge as in the first phase of the Gateway Project. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey plan to contribute $300 million to the project. As of 2016, the expected schedule was for engineering phase to begin in 2017 and revenue service to start in 2024.
Design and construction
Portal Bridge is a 961 feet (293 m) steel structure with masonry abutments. The bridge consists of a 300 feet (91 m) through-truss swing span and six (three on each side of the center span) 110-foot-long open-deck girder approach spans.(p8) The bridge itself is partially made of wood. The bridge's lowest beams are just 23 feet (7.0 m) above the surface of the Hackensack River at high tide.
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 After the wedges are withdrawn the center-bearing supports the structure as the bridge is opened and returns it to its closed position once the river traffic has passed through one or both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.
Construction of the bridge was begun in August 1905, and the bridge was placed in service on November 27, 1910,(p8) based on bridge designs from the 1840s. The bridge was designed to last 100 years. Overhead catenary to supply power to electric locomotives was installed in the 1930s.(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, NJ.
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 to 150,000 to 200,000 daily passengers in 2015 on approximately 450 daily trains for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit.
As of 2011[update], 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 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. The bridge opens on signal at other times.
As of 2015[update], the only regularly scheduled commercial traffic on the river is a barge full of sludge traveling from Bergen County Utilities Authority complex in Little Ferry to a sewage treatment plant in Newark. For the last four months of 2014, of the 90 times the bridge was opened, 75 were to provide service to the sludge barge. 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.
The bridge requires millions of dollars of yearly maintenance. 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); Drew Galloway, Amtrak Assistant V.P. of Planning and Development and the chief of Planning and Performance for the Northeast Corridor; New Jersey Transit Executive Director Richard Sarles.
Accidents and incidents
The bridge was site of a derailment on November 23, 1996 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.(pp1–5) There were no deaths; thirty-four people were hospitalized. The reason for the derailment was that a rail was 5 inches higher than it was supposed to be, and acted as a ramp. As a result of the derailment, the maximum speed on the bridge was lowered to 60 mph, helping to make the bridge a choke point for the entire Northeast Corridor. The cost of the derailment was estimated at $3.6 Million(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. The immediate result of the fire was to block all traffic until the next morning. The cost of the incident was $5M. On August 4, 2014, the bridge caught on fire, interrupting rail traffic for half an hour.
In December 2008, the Federal Railroad Administration approved a $1.34 billion project to replace the Portal Bridge with two new bridges—a three-track bridge to the north, and a two-track bridge to the south. The new bridges were 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.
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. On January 28, 2010, the federal funds were released as a TIGER grant as part of a larger package of $112M for the entire Northeast Corridor. The $38.5 million in federal funds were intended for final design for the new bridge.
The beginning of construction of a replacement, expected to follow design work and begin in 2010, did not occur. 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.
In 2014, design work for the new Portal Bridge North had been completed. The proposed Portal Bridge North would be over 50 feet (15 m) tall, would not be a swinging bridge, and would allow train speeds of at least 90 mph. 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.
Progress on the Portal Bridge North is 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. As of 2015[update], however, the project is lacking $940 million in funding.
In October 2015, $16 million TIGER grant was awarded and will be used 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.
- List of crossings of the Hackensack River
- List of bridges, tunnels, and cuts in Hudson County, New Jersey
- List of NJ Transit movable bridges
- McGeehan, Patrick (2014-09-25). "104-Year-Old Portal Bridge Presents $900 Million Problem for Rail Commuters". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
- Porter, David (2014-11-15). "New Jersey's Portal Bridge, bane of the Northeast Corridor, is due for upgrade". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
- Maag, Christopher (2015-02-21). "When Bergen County sludge meets rusty Amtrak bridge, both sides lose". The Record (Bergen County). Retrieved 2015-04-21.
- "Portal North Bridge Project Hudson County, New Jersey New Starts Project Development Information" (PDF). FTA. June 2016. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
- DERAILMENT OF AMTRAK TRAIN NO. 12 AND SIDESWIPE OF AMTRAK TRAIN NO. 79 ON PORTAL BRIDGE NEAR SECAUCUS, NEW JERSEY, NOVEMBER 23, 1996 (pdf) (Report). Washington, D.C.: National Transportation Safety Board. 2007-12-18.
- McGeehan, Patrick (2005-05-19). "Repairing New Jersey Bridge May Take a Year, Amtrak Says". The New York Times.
- U.S. Coast Guard. "Drawbridge Operation Regulations: Hackensack River." Code of Federal Regulations, 33 C.F.R. 117.723.
- "NJ moves to replace key N.E. Corridor rail bridge". philly.com. Archived from the original on 28 August 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
- McFadden, Robert D (1996-11-25). "Broken Bars on Drawbridge Are Blamed in Amtrak Crash". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-02-09.
- "America's ageing infrastructure: The Achilles' heel of the Northeast Corridor". Gulliver. The Economist. Washington, D.C. 2014-10-21. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
- McGeehan, Patrick (2005-05-14). "Trains Crawl Back Into Service After Kearny Bridge Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
- Belsen, Ken (2008-12-31). "Approval Given for New Jersey Rail Bridges". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-02-08.
- Kunzmann, Kevin (2014-08-04). "Fire on Portal Bridge shuts down NJ Transit". The Star-Ledger.
- Amtrak, The Northeast Corridor,NEC Projects 2015. "Portal Bridge Replacement Project."
- Tri-State Transportation Campaign, New York, NY (2009-01-08). "Feds Open 'Portal' to Expansion of NJ Transit's Network."
- "High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-02-10.
- Frassinelli, Mike (2010-01-28). "NJ Transit announces $38.5M for Portal Bridge project, names executive director". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2011-02-08.
- "Portal Bridge Capacity Enhancement". Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved 2011-02-08.
- Whiten, Jon (2010-02-08). "Advocates Want Bike/Ped Path as Part of Portal Bridge Project". Jersey City Independent. Retrieved 2011-02-08.
- "AECOM JV Bags US$18 Mln Contract For New Jersey's Portal Bridge Replacement Project - Quick Facts". RTTNews. 2010-01-05. Retrieved 11 January 2010.
- Frassinelli, Mike (2011-02-06). "N.J. senators, Amtrak official to announce new commuter train tunnel project across the Hudson". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
- "Gateway Project" (PDF). Amtrak. February 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-07.
- Fleisher, Liza; Grossman, Andrew (2011-02-08). "Amtrak's Plan For New Tunnel Gains Support". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2011-02-08.
- "Amtrak Seeks $1.3 billion for Gateway Project and Next-Generation High-Speed Rail on NEC". Amtrak. 2011-04-04. Retrieved 2011-04-08.
- Jackson, Herb (2011-04-04). "Amtrak seeking $1.3B for Hudson River tunnel planning, bridge replacement". The Record (New Jersey). Archived from the original on May 16, 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
- CHRISTOPHER MAAG. "NJ Transit gets $16M grant for rail bridge replacement". NorthJersey.com. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
- "$16M federal grant will help replace Portal Bridge". NJ.com. Retrieved 27 October 2015.
- "The Portal Bridge Link" - Enhancement project newsletter, January 2007
- NTSB Special Investigation Report regarding 1997 derailment
- Movable Railroad Bridges of New Jersey-photo catalog
- Portal Bridge photos and notes
- FRA ROD