Overview: Completed in 1910, the Portal Bridge carries the NEC over the Hackensack River between Kearny and Secaucus, NJ. The bridge earns the name “Portal,”Â because it leads the NEC to the “portal” of the Hudson River Tunnels, located just three miles away. Portal is a movable swing bridge that is required by law to open for maritime traffic. Like most of the Newark to New York segment, the bridge carries only two tracks, creating a significant capacity bottleneck. The bridge is beyond the end of its design life, imposes high maintenance costs, and has become a major source of delays. Due to the advanced age of its components, the bridge will occasionally fail to lock into a closed position after it has swiveled open 90 degrees to allow boats to pass. As a result, all trains are delayed on this critical NEC segment while Amtrak maintenance forces make repairs. Since a serious malfunction in 1996, Amtrak has restricted speeds on the bridge to 60 mph (compared to 90 mph on the surrounding tracks).
Two new bridges are planned or proposed to replace the existing Portal Bridge. The first new bridge, Portal North, is already in the final phase of design. In 2009, NJ TRANSIT completed environmental review, and in 2010, the agency was awarded a $38-million HSIPR grant to complete final design and engineering of the new bridge. Portal North will be a fixed two-track span constructed high enough to allow boats to pass freely below. Trains will face no bridge-imposed speed restrictions and will not have to wait for bridge openings. Final design is expected to be complete in the first quarter of 2013, after which the start of construction would await the availability of funding.
A second new bridge, Portal South, is proposed by Amtrak to complement Portal North and to enable Amtrak and NJ TRANSIT to decommission the existing unreliable Portal Bridge. Plans for the bridge would include the construction of a third and fourth NEC track, helping complete a four-track railroad between Newark and New York. Portal South would expand capacity and improve reliability by building flexibility into the system for crossing the Hackensack River.