The Making of the hell gate bridge

history of 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.

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.[9] 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.


what’s in a name?

Although the name Hell Gate can be viewed as quote omnious for a bridge. What most people don’t know is that it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the gates of hell. The word derives from the Dutch phrase Hellegat. It first appeared on a Dutch map as Helle Gadt. The name can be translated to either “bright straight” or “clear opening” which referes to the entirety of the East River.  The bridge was originally called East River Arch Bridge. However the name was soon changed in order to reflect the area where it was located. 

The Hell Gate Bridge has become not just a New York City icon, but also an Astoria emblem of sorts. From store fronts, business, community groups and events; the Hell Gate Bridge can be seen depicted on everything from t-shirts to back packs. 

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Hell Gate Bridge has acted as an inspiration for many bridges across the globe. However no other bridge perhaps more notably so than the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia.

John Bradfiled the “father” of the bridge has all the credit for the design. After perservering with the project after World War I, Bradfieild travelled overseas to investigate tenders. On his return he decided that an arch design (much like our very own) was the way to go. So Bradfield and officers from the NSW Department of Public Works preapred a general design with a single-arch bridge based upon New York City’s Hell Gate Bridge.


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. Reference:

3616 Astoria Boulevard South, Astoria 11103

Phone: 718.274.4926


Our mission

“To properly honor the 100th Anniversary of the building of the Hellgate Bridge, an Iconic Local and Historic Landmark, through Community celebrations and events.”

"To begin discussion and planning to tastefully light and paint the Bridge”

"To disseminate information about the Hellgate and its history and lead the effort to maintain the structure and environs in a proper and safe manner for future generations of users”