THE magazine of railroading

SEARCH TRAINSMAG.COM

Enter keywords or a search phrase below:

Hell Gate Bridge turns 100

4584 views
53 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • 761 posts
Hell Gate Bridge turns 100
Posted by NKP guy on Saturday, March 04, 2017 7:53 AM

   Today's NY Times (also known by some who fear and hate it as the "failing New York Times") has a fine article and photos of the Hell Gate Bridge, which turns 100 years old next Thursday.  Who doesn't enjoy the ride up and over this magnificent bridge and its approaches?  For nearly 50 years, every time I cross this bridge I put down what I'm doing and just look...and admire.  So does everyone else in my car usually.

   Here is an example of what our great-grandfathers' generation could do when challenged.  A big thank you to Gustav Lidenthal, its brilliant designer, and the wonderful old Pennsylvania Railroad.

   By the way, has anyone here ever owned the Lionel Trains copy of the bridge?  Even that's impressive!

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/nyregion/hell-gate-bridge-a-good-place-to-hide-from-zombies-turns-100.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fnyregion&action=click&contentCollection=nyregion&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0

 

  • Member since
    August, 2010
  • From: Henrico, VA
  • 6,805 posts
Posted by Firelock76 on Saturday, March 04, 2017 11:59 AM

Not just a bridge, it's a monument to the men who designed and built it.

  • Member since
    January, 2002
  • 3,007 posts
Posted by M636C on Sunday, March 05, 2017 4:00 AM

wanswheel

I assume that is Gustav Lindenthal in the middle of the front row in that October 1916 photo. That is exactly how I would imagine someone with that name at that time.

Peter

 

  • Member since
    November, 2005
  • 3,830 posts
Posted by wanswheel on Sunday, March 05, 2017 9:30 AM

Lindenthal’s Smithfield Street bridge at Pittsburgh

Same bridge, different look to it.

  • Member since
    October, 2006
  • From: Allentown, PA
  • 9,149 posts
Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Sunday, March 05, 2017 9:47 AM

Note that the catenary doesn't appear to have been installed yet at the time of these photos.  I'll have to look and see if that's referenced in Bill Middleton's books on either electrification or the great engineering achievements. 

EDIT: Apparently the 2 passenger tracks were electrified by the time of the formal opening in 1917, but the freight lines were not electriifed until 1927:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Connecting_Railroad#Electrification 

"Hell Gate Bridge Question": http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=96&t=35062 

Also in the picture referenced by M636C, note that a construction crane is still atop the abutment in the background.

- PDN. 

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
  • Member since
    November, 2005
  • 3,830 posts
Posted by wanswheel on Sunday, March 05, 2017 11:15 AM

M636C

I assume that is Gustav Lindenthal in the middle of the front row in that October 1916 photo. That is exactly how I would imagine someone with that name at that time.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Othmar-Herman-Ammann#ref249212

Electrification of NY Connecting RR was spoken of in the future tense in November 1917.

https://archive.org/stream/transactionsofam82amer#page/852/mode/2up

Done according to Railway Age by June 1918.

https://archive.org/stream/railwayage64newy#page/1366/mode/2up

RME
  • Member since
    March, 2016
  • 2,009 posts
Posted by RME on Sunday, March 05, 2017 12:29 PM

Did everyone catch the part about the 60' boulevard and trolley tracks carried on a separate upper level 'at a comparatively moderate expenditure'?  I hadn't heard that before reading this.

Also found for the first time, to my relative horror, that I have been using the wrong name for the part of the PRR between Newark and Penn Station.  And that the Bay Ridge freight connection of the New Haven was actually LIRR.  And that the Hell Gate Bridge was originally intended as a New York Central connection.

Thanks for a great deal of insight in a comparatively short time, from an impeccable reference.

As usual.

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: US
  • 11,951 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Sunday, March 05, 2017 2:34 PM

wanswheel

Lindenthal’s Smithfield Street bridge at Pittsburgh

Same bridge, different look to it.

Crossed that bridge too many times to count when I lived in Pittsburgh.  The 'car shed' shown in the first picture is for the P&LE's Pittsburgh Station that was used by B&O through trains (after trackage rights were obtained) and the P&LE.  The station is immediately to the right of the bridge in the 2nd two pictures.  It still exists and has been 'redeveloped' as Station Square.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

  • Member since
    September, 2010
  • 945 posts
Posted by Electroliner 1935 on Sunday, March 05, 2017 5:41 PM

RME
Did everyone catch the part about the 60' boulevard and trolley tracks carried on a separate upper level 'at a comparatively moderate expenditure'?  I hadn't heard that before reading this.

Did this ever happen? In the pictures posted there are no roadways going through the side portals of the "towers" and no highway lanes exist today as near as I can determine. I know the Hoey P Long Bridge in New Orleans has highway lanes and other bridges are dual purpose but did the Hell Gate ever carry non rail vehicles?

  • Member since
    November, 2005
  • 3,830 posts
Posted by wanswheel on Sunday, March 05, 2017 10:09 PM

  • Member since
    May, 2002
  • From: Massachusetts
  • 2,387 posts
Posted by Paul3 on Monday, March 06, 2017 1:26 AM

No love for the New Haven RR in all this?  The PRR didn't build it all by themselves.  Heck, the NH operated the entire New York Connecting RR as part of their system, not the PRR's.  Not a single PRR engine crossed the Hell Gate until the PC merger of 1969.  Yes, the PRR put down most of the cash, but it was a New Haven bridge.

I'm somewhat reminded of the Walkway Over The Hudson park in Poughkeepsie, NY, using the NH's old Maybrook Line bridge.  They have a plaque describing the different levels of donations to the park, using railroad names for the various levels.  The NH isn't even mentioned and it was their bridge for 65 years!  Number 1?  The New York Central level...and they only went under the darn bridge.  Sigh  No respect...

  • Member since
    June, 2002
  • 12,624 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Monday, March 06, 2017 7:59 AM

No highway lanes, except possibly construction lanes, ever crossed the bridge.  Of course ever since the late 1930's it is entirely paralleled by the Triboro Bridge's Bronx-Queens lanes.

  • Member since
    October, 2006
  • From: Allentown, PA
  • 9,149 posts
Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Monday, March 06, 2017 8:04 AM

Re: Tri-Borough Bridge article posted by wanswheel just above:

 ". . . suspension bridge of the cheap "pole-and-washline" architecture . . . only 300 feet below Hell Gate Bridge . . . "  Laugh 

I wonder if he was writing about all suspension bridges - he might well have been, in view of the monumental style of the bridges he designed - or just this particular scheme.

- PDN.  

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
  • Member since
    December, 2008
  • From: Toronto, Canada
  • 969 posts
Posted by 54light15 on Monday, March 06, 2017 8:49 AM

Paul3- My late ex-father in law said that he rode over the Poughkeepsie Bridge on a troop train and he could feel it sway. I had friends there who recall the fire on the bridge in 1974 and it dropped debris for years before all the old ties and such were finally removed above the east side sometime in the 1980s. The approach tracks on both sides were pulled out in about 1984. I wonder if Andy's restaurant is still going, located below the bridge on the east side. Best chili in town! 

Another thing I recall. Supposedly a guy bought the bridge from Conrail for one dollar. Central Hudson ran their wires on brackets on the side of the bridge and sent checks to the guy and then stopped when they ran wires under the river. Years later attempts were made to find him and get permission to put the walkway on it but no one remembered just who he was. All they had was a phone number that turned out to be from a taxi stand in Scranton, PA. 

  • Member since
    November, 2005
  • 3,830 posts
Posted by wanswheel on Monday, March 06, 2017 9:45 AM

Good old days before Triborough

  • Member since
    September, 2013
  • 1,520 posts
Posted by Miningman on Monday, March 06, 2017 10:47 AM

Paul3- The New Haven has to be one of the most overlooked and underappreciated railroads out there. Their diversity of equipment in steam, diesel and electric was as interesting as the Pennsy. 

PA's, C-Liners, DL 109's, and so on plus they had their fair share of freight haul...their contribution to the overall economy was enormous. 

RME
  • Member since
    March, 2016
  • 2,009 posts
Posted by RME on Tuesday, March 07, 2017 8:35 AM

Paul_D_North_Jr
Re: Tri-Borough Bridge article posted by wanswheel just above:

 ". . . suspension bridge of the cheap "pole-and-washline" architecture . . . only 300 feet below Hell Gate Bridge . . . "  Laugh 

I wonder if he was writing about all suspension bridges - he might well have been, in view of the monumental style of the bridges he designed - or just this particular scheme.

He's almost certainly writing about the tendency of mid-Thirties suspension-bridge construction to use thin tower construction, making the result look like clotheslines strung from a couple of chair backs. 

Compare his friend Ammann's George Washington Bridge ... both with its original limestone cladding, and later in the form that made Jeanneret talk about architecture throwing off its chains and beginning to laugh...

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • 761 posts
Posted by NKP guy on Tuesday, March 07, 2017 9:00 AM

RME
He's almost certainly writing about the tendency of mid-Thirties suspension-bridge construction to use thin tower construction, making the result look like clotheslines strung from a couple of chair backs.

 

   You're not thinking of the 1930's bridges over San Francisco Bay, are you?  

   As much as I admire Lindenthal's work, such as the Smithfield Street Bridge and Hell Gate Bridge, in my opinion the Golden Gate Bridge is the most beautiful bridge of all.  Seen from the bay, the two towers look to me like tuning forks with their narrowing toward the top.  Most elegant.

   I have never understood the appeal (other than size) of the George Washington Bridge; I'm sorry the towers were never clad as designed.  

   The other railway bridge that must be admired and respected is the spectacular Firth of Forth bridge north of Edinburgh.  Impressive, to say the least.

   The photos in this thread from wanswheel and others are beautiful and have that amazing clarity of b/w pictures from years ago.  Many thanks.

   And Paul3, you're right: the New Haven deserves much more praise and attention than it often gets.  

   Speaking of that, the four tracks that connect the NE Corridor at (or near) New Rochelle to the tracks to & from GCT were built/owned/operated by whom?

  • Member since
    March, 2016
  • From: Burbank IL (near Clearing)
  • 10,015 posts
Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Tuesday, March 07, 2017 10:06 AM

I personally prefer the Pont du Quebec, which is also approaching its 100th birthday.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
  • Member since
    November, 2005
  • 3,830 posts
Posted by wanswheel on Tuesday, March 07, 2017 3:42 PM

RME
He's almost certainly writing about the tendency of mid-Thirties ...

It's only 1928 yet, when Lindenthal writes that letter to the editor. He still hopes to build another bridge.

Excerpt from Civil Engineering, 2008

http://ascelibrary.org/doi/pdf/10.1061/ciegag.0000814

 

In working with Lindenthal, however, Ammann became aware of another bridge design for the Hudson that Lindenthal had initially proposed in 1888. The rail bridge was to carry 14 tracks and a pedestrian promenade. The ambitious project was widely supported and received authorization from the federal government, but the financial crisis and stock market downturn of 1893 effectively choked off funding for the project, estimated at $16 million. Lindenthal refused to give up on what he considered his magnum opus, however, and revised his plans over the next several decades—decades that saw the birth of the automobile and the sensational growth in its popularity after World War I. By 1923 Lindenthal’s bridge had become enormous; it was to be 235 ft (71.6 m) wide and have 12 railroad tracks on two levels. Moreover, it was to have 20 lanes for automobile and trolley traffic and two 15 ft (4.6 m) wide pedestrian promenades. Its cost was estimated at $200 million. Ammann was not alone in regarding Lindenthal’s design as excessive. “In vain, I as well as others have been fighting against the unlimited ambition of a genius who is obsessed with illusions of grandeur. He has the power in his hands and refuses to bring moderation into his gigantic plans,” wrote Ammann to his mother in late 1923. Lindenthal persisted with his design and once reprimanded Amman for being shortsighted.

 

 

Excerpt from Invention & Technology, 1992

http://www.inventionandtech.com/content/father-modern-bridges-1

Not long after the Hell Gate project, Lindenthal tried to revive his plan to bridge the Hudson. The problem had long intrigued engineers, for it was clear that such a span would be necessary for the development of the New Jersey suburbs. In the text he ghostwrote for Kunz, Ammann closes his discussion of long-span bridges with a review of four proposals for a Hudson River bridge, including those of Lindenthal and Mayer. Lindenthal had drawn up plans independently as early as 1887; his latest design was for a huge twenty-lane rail and automobile bridge at Fifty-seventh Street. Ammann argued against this, saying that the midtown area, already congested by 1920, could not handle the added traffic flow. Lindenthal insisted that he was planning “for a thousand years” and would not accept Ammann’s suggestion to scale the project back and move the crossing northward. From their first work together, the two men had never been well matched; Ammann’s quiet temperament contrasted with Lindenthal’s fiery spirit. Further disagreements ensued, and ultimately they could no longer work together. The two men parted in 1923.

  • Member since
    October, 2006
  • From: Allentown, PA
  • 9,149 posts
Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Tuesday, March 07, 2017 9:28 PM

RME
Paul_D_North_Jr
Re: Tri-Borough Bridge article posted by wanswheel just above:

 ". . . suspension bridge of the cheap "pole-and-washline" architecture . . . only 300 feet below Hell Gate Bridge . . . "  Laugh 

I wonder if he was writing about all suspension bridges - he might well have been, in view of the monumental style of the bridges he designed - or just this particular scheme.

Compare his friend Ammann's George Washington Bridge ... both with its original limestone cladding, and later in the form that made Jeanneret talk about architecture throwing off its chains and beginning to laugh... 

Thanks for that insight, RME.

See this article, esp. about halfway down the History section for Jeanneret's quote (I think he got a little carried away, but that's probably the usual engineer vs. architect prejudice): 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Bridge#History 

Time prohibits me from a lengthier post, but I want to go back and take a look at Middleton's book about great engineering landmarks on American railroads.  I have a suspicion that there's more than one of Lindenthal's massive structures - but in his defense, he had to consider and design for the extremely heavy and concentrated railroad loadings, which back then (it seems to me) to have been going up about 'an E-10' rating about every 10 years or so (e.g., E-60 to E-70, or 6,000 lbs. per LF of track to 7,000 lbs., etc.).  Someday I'll have to research that and document it a little better . . .  

- PDN. 

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
RME
  • Member since
    March, 2016
  • 2,009 posts
Posted by RME on Wednesday, March 08, 2017 10:38 AM

Paul_D_North_Jr
I have a suspicion that there's more than one of Lindenthal's massive structures - but in his defense, he had to consider and design for the extremely heavy and concentrated railroad loadings, which back then (it seems to me) to have been going up about 'an E-10' rating about every 10 years or so (e.g., E-60 to E-70, or 6,000 lbs. per LF of track to 7,000 lbs., etc.). Someday I'll have to research that and document it a little better . . .

PDN, you and Mike, in particular, could find out what the Cooper rating of Lindenthal's 'union' Hudson bridge was going to be.  (If I recall correctly it was ultimately sized to have about 22 tracks, divided among the putative participating railroads to avoid trackage-rights issues, and both the War Department height restrictions and the squabbling about 'which railroads would pay what' both for maintenance and upkeep killed the idea.)

I have to wonder if this was a WWI-era analogue to the Poughkeepsie Bridge, effectively designed 'too light' for the practical increases in freight and passenger cars that were even then developing, and suffering more than usual with advancing age and the typical lack of maintenance from the '60s onward.  The drawings I remember show very heavy structure, but even so the practical load rating for trains might remain low...

I still think the Transmanhattan Bridge (at 125th Street, with a viaduct right across Manhattan at high level with no road connection to the island, and express truck lanes and multiple stack-train-capable tracks) is an idea that should be pursued.  Sure, it spoils the view of the Riverside Drive viaduct, but think of the traffic improvement through the ridiculous bottlenecks of the lower Manhattan road crossings...

  • Member since
    November, 2005
  • 3,830 posts
Posted by wanswheel on Wednesday, March 08, 2017 3:39 PM

Excerpt from Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of America by Henry Petroski (1996)

http://publicism.info/history/engineers/5.html

As Lindenthal grew older, each birthday was noted by the press. On the occasion of his eightieth, in 1930, for example, he was reported to have planned to spend part of the day at the office of the North River Bridge Company, in Jersey City, and the rest of the day at his home in Metuchen, New Jersey. He later admitted to being a bit miffed that his associate on the bridge project, the consulting engineer Francis Lee Stuart, called him to come into Manhattan for an important business lunch at the Engineers Club. It proved to be a surprise birthday luncheon, perhaps marred only by his being asked if he was not cheered that the war was over and that the War Department was going to reconsider his proposed North River Bridge. “He waved the inquiry aside,” however, saying “he would rather not discuss the bridge on his birthday.”

On his eighty-first birthday, in the year when the George Washington Bridge was to be opened at 179th Street, The New York Times reported that the War Department had still not ruled on Lindenthal’s bridge 120 blocks to the south. Nevertheless, he was now confident that it would, as he spent the day hard at work in his office from eight-thirty in the morning till five in the evening. The application for a permit was eventually “pigeonholed for eight or nine years,” however, and approval was never to come. Honors, not bridges, came to Lindenthal in his old age. Late in 1932, for example, he was hailed at a dinner given by the Architecture League as the “grand old man of engineering.” In response to his introduction as one of the guests of honor, Lindenthal spoke of his career and “of his difficulties with politicians particularly in the building of the Manhattan, Williamsburg, and Queens-borough bridges and of his feeling of satisfaction when unhampered by political interference he built the great Hell Gate arch.” He evidently never did learn how to or want to deal with politicians, and this, more than any other factor, kept him from realizing his dream of a North River Bridge…

Lindenthal did not go to his office on his eighty-fifth birthday. He spent it at his New Jersey home, which he had named The Lindens, recuperating after a long illness. He was never to regain his health, and he died two months later. Until his final illness, he had remained active as president and chief engineer of the North River Bridge Company, working on “his dream of forty years.” The funeral was held at the family home. Of the two younger engineers most closely associated with Lindenthal during the construction of the Hell Gate Bridge, only David Steinman was reported to be in attendance.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_B._Steinman

https://archive.org/stream/proceedings2248amer#page/n95/mode/2up/

  • Member since
    September, 2011
  • 3,135 posts
Posted by MidlandMike on Wednesday, March 08, 2017 11:45 PM

NKP guy

...  

   Speaking of that, the four tracks that connect the NE Corridor at (or near) New Rochelle to the tracks to & from GCT were built/owned/operated by whom?

 

They are NH, and have their catenary.  NH passenger electrics had 3rd rail shoes that could operate on NYC and LIRR type 3rd rail.

  • Member since
    March, 2016
  • From: Burbank IL (near Clearing)
  • 10,015 posts
Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, March 09, 2017 6:56 AM

It was once noted by DPM in "Second Section" that the EP5's were equipped with seven power pick-ups:  four third-rail shoes, two conventional pantographs and a third-rail pantograph (like the S-motors) for the third-rail gaps in GCT.

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
  • Member since
    November, 2005
  • 3,830 posts
Posted by wanswheel on Thursday, March 09, 2017 10:38 AM
  • Member since
    June, 2002
  • 12,624 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Thursday, March 09, 2017 12:00 PM

The two tracks from Oak Point, The Bronx, across the Hell Gate Bridge to Harold Tower in Sunnyside, Queens were owned by the New York Connectding RR, jointly owned by NYNH&H and PRR.   Ditto the two freight tracks from Oak Point to Fresh Pond Junction.   The tracks from Oak Point to New Rochelle and beyond and from Woodlawn to New Rochelle were owned by the New Haven.  The New YHork Connecting was dispatched and maintrained by the New Haven.

  • Member since
    June, 2002
  • 12,624 posts
Posted by daveklepper on Thursday, March 09, 2017 12:10 PM

[quote user="Miningman"]

Paul3- The New Haven has to be one of the most overlooked and underappreciated railroads out there. Their diversity of equipment in steam, diesel and electric was as interesting as the Pennsy. 

PA's, C-Liners, DL 109's, and so on plus they had their fair share of freight haul...their contribution to the overall economy was enormous. 

[/quote above]
 
Don't forget the first air-conditioned commuter cars, the washboards or 4400s, the beautiful I-5 Hudsons, and the earliest mass ordering of lightweight air-conditioned coaches, the 8200 American Flyers.  Some of the latter are still around on tourist lines and most made it into the Amtrak era and Metro North.
  • Member since
    March, 2017
  • 1 posts
Posted by Jess James on Thursday, March 09, 2017 8:09 PM

I was reading so much about the New York City’s Hell Gate Bridge lately and thought I’d share with you a 100th Anniversary Commemorative design of the Bridge someone shared with me today, http://www.raisedonconcrete.com/product/hellgate_100years. I'm not a fan of T-Shirts but I'm really considering to get me one of these. I'm in love with this Bridge and I admire it's highly detailed and technical composition, such a beautiful structure, a genuine NYC pride!.

Hell Gate Brigde 100 years

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Trains free email newsletter
NEWS » PHOTOS » VIDEOS » HOT TOPICS & MORE
GET OUR WEEKLY NEWSLETTER DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Connect with us
ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER

Search the Community