A New Jersey Transit train crosses over the Hackensack River on the Portal Bridge between Kearny and Secaucus, New Jersey, U.S. (Photographer: Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg)  

Portal Bridge's Reign of Misery Ending for NYC-Area Train Riders

(Bloomberg) -- Thousands of riders sometimes stranded by the mechanical fits of a 108-year-old New York City-area rail bridge are about to get some relief. Sledgehammer-wielding crews still will have to smack its wayward components to keep it from sticking open. But the bridge will stay closed during peak commuting times.

The Portal Bridge, spanning the Hackensack River in New Jersey’s meadowlands between Kearny and Secaucus, swings open for marine traffic and then closes for 454 daily Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains. For years, the bridge has acted up in extreme weather as temperature variations temporarily alter the fit of moving parts.

Portal Bridge's Reign of Misery Ending for NYC-Area Train Riders

Starting on March 14, the U.S. Coast Guard halted the bridge’s opening from 5 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 8 p.m., according to U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey who announced the rules change at the Secaucus train station today. Menendez had requested the change after the bridge’s failure to close for 90 minutes in October delayed 80,000 passengers on 164 trains. In a letter to the Coast Guard, the bridge’s owner, Amtrak, pointed out that 206,500 train riders use the bridge daily.

Though crews with heavy hammers can remedy most malfunctions, even a 30-minute train delay can cause hours of tie-ups along the Northeast Corridor, the busiest U.S. passenger rail route and a key line for Manhattan commuters.

Designs and environmental approvals are in place for a replacement bridge -- expected to cost at least $1.5 billion -- but that lacks full funding. President Donald Trump’s administration has refused to provide federal financing for it, even as New York, New Jersey, NJ Transit and Amtrak have worked together on cost shares.

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