The Hell Gate Bridge, originally the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge or The East River Arch Bridge, is a 1,017-foot (310 m) 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.
The Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, England, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia derived their own designs from the Hell Gate Bridge. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, however, is about 60% larger than the Hell Gate Bridge.
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. 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.
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 5⁄16 inch (7.9 mm). Construction of the Hell Gate Bridge began on March 1, 1912 and ended on September 30, 1916. The bridge was dedicated and opened to rail traffic on March 9, 1917, with Washington–Boston through trains first running on April 1. It was the world's longest steel arch bridge until the Bayonne Bridge opened in 1931.
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 American 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.)
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.
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.
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. In September 1940, coach fares were two cents per 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 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 west most tracks are electrified with 12.5 kV 60 Hz overhead power and are used by Amtrak for Acela Express and regional service between New York and Boston. 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.
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 Long Island City, where it connects with the New York and Atlantic Railway. It is the only direct rail freight link between Long Island and the mainland.
In September 2009, Metro-North revived its planning efforts for its Penn Station Access project, which would use the Hell Gate Bridge to connect its New Haven Line to Penn Station. 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.