In General
Getting Here
Map
Sights
A Quick Tour - Sunnyside to New Rochelle
Signals
Under the Viaduct
Models

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In General


Location / Name:
Queens Borough of New York City, AKA, Queens County

What's Here:
Hell Gate Bridge and its approaches

Data:
GPS Coordinates:
     40.781519, -73.920620 Queens Abutment
     40.783611, -73.923419 Randall's Island Abutment
Phone A/C: 718
ZIP: 11105

Access by train/transit:
Take your pick: the New York City/MTA Subway Q and N lines, and the Bus system

The Scoop:

The Hell Gate Bridge, originally the New York Connecting Railroad Bridge or the East River Arch Bridge, is a 1,017-foot (310 m) steel through arch railroad bridge in New York City.  Today, the bridge carries three tracks: two tracks of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and one freight track.  The bridge spans Hell Gate, a strait of the East River, between Astoria in Queens, and Randalls and Wards Islands in Manhattan.  HOWEVER, remember that the bridge originally carried four tracks - two for the freight.  Sometime in the 80's, the underused second track was removed by Conrail.

The arch across the Hell Gate is the largest of three bridges that form the Hell Gate railroad viaduct. An inverted bowstring truss bridge with four 300-foot (91.4 m) spans crosses the Little Hell Gate, a former strait that is now filled in, and a 350-foot (106.7 m) fixed truss bridge crosses the Bronx Kill, a strait now narrowed by fill. Together with approaches, the bridges are more than 17,000 feet (3.2 mi, 5.2 km) long.

Hell Gate Bridge is arguably the most famous "thing" in New York City, train wise.  Maybe more so than the train stations of Manhattan?  Most people think of Hell Gate Bridge when someone mentions trains and Queens NY.

If you get to see the bridge in person, you will be impressed by it's "massiveness", and never forget how huge a bridge it actually is.  And this includes the approaches to it on both sides.  The approaches more or less divide the neighborhoods they go through, especially on the Queens side.

The bridge has been made famous in the model world by both Lionel and MTH.

History, from Wikipedia: 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.

The bridge originally carried four tracks, two each for passenger and freight, but one freight track was abandoned in the mid-1970s.  At one time, all tracks were electrified with the 11 kV, 25 Hz overhead catenary, the standard of NH and PRR.  The passenger tracks have been electrified since 1917, and the freight tracks from 1927 to 1969, using Amtrak's 25 Hz traction power system.

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 Northeast Regional service between New York and Boston.

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 RR freight trains between Oak Point Yard in the Bronx and Fresh Pond Yard in Queens, where it connects with the New York and Atlantic Rwy.

The bridge holds a special place in my heart, because as a kid spending summers with my grandparents in Jackson Heights, on the top floor of their apartment building, I had a most excellent view of the bridge and the approach to it.  This was during the late 50's and through the 60's into the Penn Central era.  I watched the New Haven freights being pulled by the behemoth EF-4 (E33's) electric engines, and then later once Penn Central took over, Alco DL-701's, or RS-11's.  I wish I had (any) picture of two freights passing each other on the approach, it was a sight to behold.  The E33's I believe, are the only engine to wear the colors of five class 1 railroads: the Virginian, the Norfolk & Western, the New Haven, Penn Central, and finally Conrail.  One is saved in Roanoke VA at the Virginia Railroad Museum.  When the Virginian had them, they were EL-C's, the New Haven called them EF-4's, and the Penn Central called them E33's.

I wonder what it would cost to build the bridge and the approaches today?

Below is a picture I took in 1968 while the New Haven E-33's were still running.  The picture was taken adjacent to my grandparents apartment building, just before the trains would pass under their first road overpass (Broadway) after coming down the grade from Hell Gate Bridge.  If the picture was taken just a fraction of a second earlier, you would have been able to see the semaphore that is just barely visible next to the pantograph.  An HO model of the engine was done in brass, and the most common number for it will be found with 301 on it.



Another picture from the "way back machine", is this picture I shot out of the side, when they used to let you take pictures out of an open vestibule window.  It is a picture of a New Haven semaphore still "up" in 1974, as we're getting ready to go under East 149th St in the Bronx.  Keep in mind, that when the Penn Central took over from the New Haven in 1968, all of the signals in use were semaphores.  So I'm guessing during the Conrail era, when they decided to replace the semaphores, they used the Pennsy PL signals, because at the time, Sunnyside Yard was full of them, and that's all the maintainers had around to use.  Most of the signals you will find between New Rochelle and Sunnyside are the standard all yellow Pennsy PL's, while others have been colorized with the "red eyes".





Acknowledgements:
Mitch Waxman
Jersey Mike

Websites and other additional information sources of interest for the area:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell_Gate_Bridge
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_railroad_yards_in_New_York_City
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_Point_Yard
https://www.railroadsignals.us/signals/unusual/index.htm You'll find the Penn Station signals on this page
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_Station_(New_York_City)
https://jasongibbs.com/pennstation/
http://newpenn.nyc/reference/historic-penn-station/


Getting Here

Getting to the bridge is an involved process since nothing is right off an interstate exit.  So I won't even begin to guide you here.  GPS or a good map is going to be your best friend here.  sorry.  :-)  :-)
 


Map



Below, composite USGS map from 1889, before Hell Gate bridge was built


Sights


Hell Gate Bridge







The Ditmars Blvd station under the Hell Gate approach in Astoria.


1915

1917





A Quick Tour


On January 11th, 2020, my buddy John and I took a trip to Boston to visit my aunt for her 100th birthday.  We decided to ride up in business class, hoping the business car would be the last car of the consist, and luckily, it was.  Here are a few of the pictures I took out the rear window.  I start with leaving the track 9 platform in Penn Station in the middle of "JO" interlocking, and work my way to New Rochelle.









The signal(s) at the entrance to the tunnel are unique to Penn Station, they are not used anywhere else in the world.  See my link above for more information on them.  From here on, into Penn Station, and over to the portal in New Jersey, they are the only type of signal used.

 

















Signals at Sunnyside are all "tri-lights" style colorlight.  If we had taken pictures here 20 years ago, EVERYTHING would have been (almost) all yellow Pennsy PL signals - on the Long Island as well as Amtrak, for the Long Island RR used them too, since they were at one time they were partially owned by the PRR.



Notice that early on, while still in the yard proper, both LIRR and Amtrak use these tracks, as evidenced by the third rail.







The next picture comes from Mitch Waxman, he is standing on the 39th St overpass, which I am going under in the picture above.  An outbound LIRR train is passing under him.  Looks like the track off to the left is a relative new-comer, for in the aerial shot, we can see the track is not complete, and the ties are squeaky clean! :-)  I was going under 39th Street when I took the picture (the black arrow), and Mitch is standing on the bridge at the yellow arrow.  It's a great sunset shot!!!













We pass over an inbound LIRR commuter train.











Here we see the inbound and outbound NEC tracks part ways for their trek thru Sunnyside Yard.







Once we have left Sunnyside Yard behind, and start climbing the grade to the bridge, we go through a set of double crossovers at 31st Ave in the Queens.  Signaled at both ends.  Building the approach on both sides of the bridge must have been a huge undertaking at the time, but at least, when it was done, neither side was developed like it is today, or even when I was born in the 50's.  For comparison, I've included a picture from 1917, around the time the #7 IRT line was built in the Queens, and as you can see, there was virtually nothing around at the time!!! :-)















Next up just around the curve from the crossovers, is where the freight line and the passenger lines join up.









Well, we've made it to the bridge.  Just before going thru the concrete abutment we have a set of NB and SB signals.  In the New Haven days, there was a NB semaphore off to the right side, for the track that is no longer there.









Here we descend the grade on the Bronx side approach.















Here, the freight line(s) and passenger lines split to make room for line that heads west into the Harlem River Yards





In this view, you can see the line in the middle that heads off into the yard, while the freight and passenger lines start their ascent to to Hell Gate Bridge.





Not sure, but from up here, it sure does look like these short bridge sections may have at one point gone over another set of tracks heading to a small river front yard.









Here we see a string of cars of CSX's infamous "trash train", which rolls thru most of the east coast towns into Virginia.
This line of cars blocked my view of Oak Point Yard.



Interesting building we go under at Hunts Point Ave, but I don't have a clue......









The number 6 IRT line goes over us at Westchester Ave.











Just north of the bridge over the Bronx River is a set of signals, presumably for the bridge.







You don't, or can't notice it, but you go under this huge intersection along Tremont Avenue.....





Along this stretch of track, we can see where Amtrak has installed new catenary supports where the original New Haven supports are too far spaced for the Amtrak overhead support system.



We don't see many stretches of straight track through here....



A SB freight getting ready to go over Eastchester Rd.



Prior to the NEC crosses the Hutchinson River, there is a pair of crossovers, and an interlocking with the third (freight) track.











And then we have a set of NB signals for the bridge before we cross it.  Wonder why they didn't put both sets on the signal bridge?







The bridge is across the shore from one of the Bronx's more "famous" housing areas called Co-op City.









A set of derails just before the bridge, and an aerial view below that.





And a set of signals before we get to the bridge.





A nice straight stretch of track, and an interesting detail on the bridge off to the right.
I wonder how much longer the old New Haven catenary supports will last?





























Just out of sight of the New Rochelle station, is where the NEC and the Metro North join up.







Here we have a set of slow speed dwarf signals for the interchange with the NEC heading off to the left.  Under normal circumstances, the only trains using these signals would be the SB Amtrak trains.  Slow speed signals can be used because the trains have not had a chance to build up much speed since they just left the New Rochelle station.  Most Metro North trains would be coming in the other direction (NB) and won't even see these signals.





The New Rochelle station has changed significantly since I went to Junior High School here in the mid 60's (Middle School for those of you not familiar with that term :-)







Signals



Because there are so many pictures of signals included on this page, they have been put in the above "Run Thru" picture section.


Under the Viaduct on the Queens Side


I always loved taking a ride up to Ditmars Blvd, and wasting time hoping to catch a New Haven freight or a speeding Pennsy passenger train going over.  New York City was a great place for a railfan to grow up!


R-160B cars at Astoria-Ditmars Blvd.  Photo taken by Brian Weinberg, 8/27/2007.


Date: 10/23/1976, Car: R-10 (American Car & Foundry, 1948) 3298, Photo by: Doug Grotjahn, Collection of: Joe Testagrose


Date: 10/23/1976, Car: R-10 (American Car & Foundry, 1948) 3298, Photo by: Doug Grotjahn, Collection of: Joe Testagrose
If you notice above, by 1976, the wires had been removed from the two New Haven freight tracks.....


Models


Lionel's Version 1

Lionel produced the original model 300 from 1928 to 1933, and it carried the part number 6-32999.  If you can find an original one, it's in the $500-$3000 price range depending on condition.  Two versions were made, one was cream and green, the other was cream and silver.






An ad from: http://moira.meccahosting.com/~a000072b/300hg.htm


  

  

  

  
Pictures from: http://www.dakotapaul.com/items/showitem.asp?iid=2017















Lionel's Version 2

Lionel made a second run and called it a model 305 in 1999-2000.  Lionel also made "matching" boxcars in 1999, offering them in the same two color schemes.

















MTH's Version

MTH also offered the bridge in the same two color versions as Lionel made.





Although not Lionel or MTH made, are these custom made steel bridge piers to accompany the bridge:






Disclaimers:

I love trains, and I love signals.  I am not an expert.  My webpages reflect what I find on the topic of the page.  This is something I have fun with while trying to help others.

Please Note:  Since the main focus of my two websites is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.  For those of you into the modeling aspect of our hobby, my indexa page has a list of almost everything railroad oriented I can think of to provide you with at least a few pictures to help you detail your pike.

If this is a railfan page, every effort has been made to make sure that the information contained on this map and in this railfan guide is correct.  Once in a while, an error may creep in :-)

My philosophy: Pictures and maps are worth a thousand words, especially for railfanning.  Text descriptions only get you so far, especially if you get lost or disoriented.  Take along good maps.... a GPS is OK to get somewhere, but maps are still better if you get lost!  I belong to AAA, which allows you to get local maps for free when you visit the local branches.  ADC puts out a nice series of county maps for the Washington DC area, but their state maps do not have the railroads on them.  If you can find em, I like the National Geographic map book of the U.S..... good, clear, and concise graphics, and they do a really good job of showing you where tourist type attractions are, although they too lack the railroads.  Other notes about specific areas will show up on that page if known.

Aerial shots were taken from either Google or Bing Maps as noted.  Screen captures are made with Snagit, a Techsmith product... a great tool if you have never used it! 

By the way, floobydust is a term I picked up 30-40 years ago from a National Semiconductor data book, and means miscellaneous and/or other stuff.

Pictures and additional information is always needed if anyone feels inclined to take 'em, send 'em, and share 'em, or if you have something to add or correct.... credit is always given!  Please be NICE!!!  Contact info is here

Beware: If used as a source, ANYTHING from Wikipedia must be treated as being possibly being inaccurate, wrong, or not true.

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NEW JUL06/2016, JUL13/2016, MAR01/2018
Last Modified 22-Mar-2020