The Portal Bridge: An Explainer

Amtrak’s Portal Bridge is one of those innocent facets of life you pass by, usually without noticing. However, if you mention it around any commuters from New Jersey, they will begin to shake their heads in agony.

From the twentieth century

The swing bridge, nestled between Newark, New Jersey and New York Penn Station, is one of the single points of failure along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. The aging structure supports over 450 trains per day heading to and from the Big Apple. While handling train traffic, the bridge also needs to be raised and lowered every so often for passing boats. And it has been dutifully performing its task for over a century–it turned 108 this year.

However, nothing can last forever.

Gateway Trustee Rich Bagger Amtrak CEO Tony Coscia Senator Cory Booker Senator Robert Menendez Congressman Donald Payne Jr
An Amtrak Northeast Regional train makes the trek over the Portal Bridge. Photo Credit: Governor Christie’s Office/Tim Larsen

“Train service in/out PSNY is suspended due to Portal bridge being stuck in open position”

Recently, the bridge has been breaking down more frequently. It sometimes cannot open for boat traffic. It can also get stuck and not closely properly to restore train service. About ten years ago, the wooden fenders surrounding the bridge caught fire.

On Thursday, per NJ Transit, the bridge was stuck in an open position, leading to one hour delays to many commuters. In response, the railroad suspended, terminated, or diverted service across its different lines, and activated cross-honoring.

To many, the current situation is untenable, and frustration with riders is mounting.

The future

However, ideas about how to fix the bridge have long been available.

What the new Portal Bridge could look like. Photo: Amtrak

Building a new, higher Portal Bridge, that would be a fixed height and not need to move for boat traffic, has long been a goal. This solution is part of Amtrak’s Gateway package of infrastructure projects to improve transit along the Northeast Corridor. The $1.5 billion project, engineering and design work already completed for years, is essentially shovel ready, but it does not have necessary federal funding to begin.

For now, commuters will have to hope the 108-year old bridge continues functioning properly in order to get to work and back on time.

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