4. The Hell Gate Bridge Can Carry Sixty 200-Ton locomotives

Photo by Dave Frieder

The Hell Gate’s “live load” capacity is 24,000-pounds per foot (that is 12 tons per foot), one of the most extreme load capacities for a bridge. In fact Lindenthal designed the bridge so, 60, 200 ton locomotives could be placed end to end and the structure could easily take the weight.

Yet throughout the bridge’s history the bridge has never come close to testing that capacity. According to Sharon Reier’s book The Bridges of New York City, on the very day the Hell Gate Bridge opened in April 1917 the future of private rail in the United States was being called into question. A mere two days later the United States would declare war on Germany and a year later all rail would be nationalized for the war effort. The Pennsylvania Railroad would have a hard time bouncing back from this precedent over the next fifty years. At its height the PRR would run about 65 trains daily over the bridge which would plummet to four after the failure of the Penn Central in 1970. Currently Amtrak runs approximately 40 trains over the bridge.