Portal Bridge Replacement Approved

The New York Times reported today that the Portal Bridge in New Jersey will be replaced with two new spans, thanks to approval from the Federal Railroad Administration.Portal Bridge Track Schematic

The bridge (Google Maps location) is incredibly important in the Amtrak and New Jersey Transit systems because it lies directly between Newark Penn Station and Secaucus, one of the most-traveled track segments in the country, with 400 NJT commuter and 100 Amtrak intercity trains a day running into and out of Manhattan.

But it’s constantly encumbered by its almost 100-year-old age. Not only does it frequently fall into disrepair, but it also restricts trains traveling across it to decelerate to 60 mph, slower than the 90 mph express trains can reach on the track around it. Its low height (23 feet) means that the bridge must literally turn – preventing trains from passing – when boat traffic goes through. A new bridge will allow trains to travel at full speed and it will be high enough to allow boats to pass at all times without blocking train traffic.

The $1.34 billion project to replace the bridge is being jointly funded by Amtrak, the Department of Transportation, and NJ Transit. According to the Times, it will incorporate two spans – one with three tracks north of the current bridge, and one with two tracks south of the bridge – increasing capacity by 250% from the two tracks today. The southern bridge will be lower, and incorporate a turning mechanism – but trains will be able to use the northern bridge when boats need to pass around the southern span. View the track schematic pictured above (from the project’s EIS) for a better understanding of the project.

The existing bridge will be demolished after the project is completed in 2014. The new bridges will be designed to work with the Access to the Region’s Core project, whose tunnels will double capacity going into and out of New York City from New Jersey.

Good news for New York-region commuters – this project will clear up a problematic bottleneck and continue the restoration of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

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