LIRR Trestles, Bridges, and Viaducts 


Hell Gate Bridge Under Construction Archive: Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress
Completed construction September 30th, 1916

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Hell Gate Bridge view SE 1968 (Boucher-Library of Congress)


Ward's Island - Hell Gate c.1880s

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NYCRR Hell Gate Bridge - Dutch Farmhouse and Yard Astoria, NY 
View NW 3/23/1933 (Sperr-Keller
)

Hell Gate Bridge Construction

The bridge is known as the Hell Gate Bridge because it spans the section of the East River known as the Hell Gate. This particular section of river has no demonic connection, nor does it lead to any section of hell; it just separates Randall-Ward Islands from Queens. The water was named in 1614 by Adriaen Block, captain of the Onrust sailing south from Albany; Hellegat, in Old Dutch, translates apparently to 'beautiful strait'**. (Please remember that the Dutch named many of the peculiar features of this town: their word for "river" came into English as "Kill". Thus: Bronx Kill, Arthur Kill (Staten Island, etc.)

Plans for a rail bridge connecting Long Island to the American mainland were long in coming. The previous methods of getting trains through the area either involved ferrying the trains down the Hudson from the Bronx to Jersey City, or a long and costly detour through Westchester into New Jersey. Oliver W. Barnes, an engineer and friend of Pennsylvania Railroad president Alexander J. Cassatt, first drew up plans for the East River Arch Bridge in 1892. This bridge was to be part of a whole series of connections joining the Pennsylvania Railroad New Jersey and Connecticut through New York City. Bridge designer Gustav Lindenthal saw in these plans the possible realization of his dream to build a huge suspension bridge over the Hudson River. The New York Connecting Railroad company was formed that year to bring these ideas to reality.

The Pennsylvania Railroad acquired the New York Connecting Railroad sometime around 1904, and that year appointed Lindenthal as consulting engineer for the entire project. He had made a name for himself in New York with his work (some still ongoing) on three other East River bridges; this new project would ask him to join the tracks of three separate rail companies on three separate land masses. Unfortunately for Lindenthal, the plans favored rail tunnels under the Hudson rather than the bridge he dearly wanted; he was, however, given a bridge to design over the Hell Gate.

The bridge project would actually be constructed of three smaller bridges joining north Queens to the south Bronx. The first, crossing the Bronx Kills
1, was originally planned as a bascule bridge in case the Kills ever became navigable, ended up as a 350' long truss bridge. The second, crossing the now-filled Little Hell Gate 2 between Randall's and Ward's Islands, would be four reverse-arch bridges of 300'. And finally, there would be the main span, crossing the Hell Gate itself to land in Queens. All of these bridges would be connected by several thousand feet of viaducts; the full project would be more than three miles long. The bridge would also carry an unprecedented four lines of rail traffic.

Designing the bridge was difficult. The final steel-arch design was chosen because of the limiting factors inherent in the project's design. It would have to be strong enough to bear the weight of several locomotives crossing at once, with the ability to bear the locomotives of the future; it would have to rise high enough over the East River to allow ships to pass underneath; and its approach would have to handle the sharp curve required to avoid the mental hospitals on Ward's Island. And, of course, it would have to be cheap.

Lindenthal hired 95 engineers to work on the technical details of the bridge's construction, freeing himself to work on the aesthetics. Not only, he reasoned, should the bridge look impressive in order to accentuate the importance of this rail link, but it would be seen by all the passengers on these trains and also visible from all over the city. Otharr Ammann, his assistant chief engineer, felt that [a] great bridge in a great city, although primarily utilitarian in its purpose, should nevertheless be a work of art to which science lends its aid. An elaborate stress sheet, worked out on a purely economic and scientific basis, does not make a great bridge. It is only with a broad sense for beauty and harmony, coupled with wide experience in the scientific and technical field, that a monumental bridge can be created.

Two designs for the arch were brought forward in 1905. The first design, inspired by a bridge built by Gustave Eiffel in France, was rejected due to its apparent weakness. The second, approved, design, was similar to that of bridges that spanned the Rhine in Germany, and appeared more sturdy than the former. The bridge was to consist of a great steel arch, flanked on either side by two tremendous stone towers.

Construction was started on the project in 1912. Lindenthal was forced to changed some plans in 1914. The original design called for the viaduct to be supported by steel piers and girders, but the local government felt that the inmates of the island's mental hospitals could climb the steel girders and escape. This, along with the knowledge it would quiet the sounds of the rails, changed the makeup of the piers from steel to concrete.

The arch had to be constructed simultaneously from both sides with no falsework in between. The Hell Gate itself was still being used for shipping, and its waters were far too treacherous to build any support in the middle. The arches would be supported from behind, anchored in boxes filled with 850 tons of pig iron, until the two halves were joined; this happened in 1915, making it the longest steel arch bridge in the world.

The bridge project was completed in 1916, and supposedly opened to rail traffic on September 30th of that year. Most other sources point to the Opening Day ceremonies being held on April 1, 1917, with the first train (part of the Federal Express service, running from Boston to Washington) crossing the bridge two days later, and completing the link started in 1904 with the building of the Pennsylvania tunnels under the Hudson River and furthered with the 1910 opening of the East River rail tunnels.

The bridge underwent very few changes in the rest of its history. Lindenthal suggested that a second deck be added to carry cars and pedestrians and join the bridge to Manhattan, but this was overruled in favor of the Triborough Bridge. The bridge went unmaintained for most of its life, unpainted (except for graffiti) and raining rust and the occasional bolt down onto Astoria. Amtrak president W. Graham Claytor, Jr. felt that since the bridge was still structurally sound, they didn't feel the need to spend money to make it look better. A campaign, started in the late 1980s by Astoria native and state Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, got $55 million from Congress to refurbish the bridge. The project was finished in 1996 and the bridge was repainted the unique color "Hell Gate Red".

BRIDGE FACTS

The entire bridgeway is 16,900' long. The Hell Gate Bridge itself has a 977' span, 1,017' with the two Gothic towers on either side of the arch included. The bridge was the longest of its kind in the world until the Sydney Harbor bridge opened in 1931 (itself quickly beaten out by the Bayonne Bridge that same year), and remains the 17th longest in the world as of at least 1997. The bridge was also the heaviest in the world when constructed, containing 20,000 tons of steel; this is more steel than used in the Manhattan and Queensboro bridges combined, and four times as much as used in building the Woolworth Building. The roadway clears the East River by 135 feet. The four towers rise 250' above the two islands, and the arch itself reaches a peak of 305' above mean high water.

The girders that connect the top of the arch to the towers were installed purely as a cosmetic decision, changed from the plans of architect Henry Hornbostel by Lindenthal. Lindenthal feared that the original design, with the arch terminating before it reached the towers, would cause the public to feel that the towers were the sole support of the bridge and modified the design to allay those fears.

The bridge is still in use today. The two south tracks are electrified (using overhead catenary) and run Amtrak's Northeast Corridor lines up into Boston. The more southerly of the northern tracks carries freight trains. The final track is used solely for maintenance vehicles; sources differ as to whether the tracks have been removed entirely or are used by service cars and road railers. The bridge was the first four-track railroad bridge ever, and as of this writing, remains so. The bridge was designed to hold up to 90 locomotives (at their weight in 1917) at once, making it still adequate for the electric and diesel trains of today.

The plaque on the bridge still gives its name as the East River Arch Bridge. Some sources claim the official name of the bridge is the New York Connecting (Railroad) Bridge; none specify when the "real" name of the bridge became generally accepted.  Compiled Research with Steve Anderson contributor


Dedication Plaque South Tower 

NEW  YORK  CONNECTING  RAILROAD
EAST  RIVER  ARCH  BRIDGE
SPAN 1017 FEET BETWEEN TOWERS


THIS RAILROAD WITH ITS EAST RIVER BRIDGE AND VIADUCT APPROACHES 
COMPLETED THE DIRECT CONNECTION, VIA THE NEW YORK CITY, BETWEEN
 THE PENNSYLVANIA AND NEW HAVEN RAILROAD SYSTEMS AND 
BETWEEN THE NEW ENGLAND STATES AND THE STATES LYING WEST 
AND SOUTH OF THE HUDSON RIVER
FINISHED AND DEDICATED TO THE TRANSPORTATION SERVICE OF THE COUNTRY IN 1917


SAMUEL REA                               HOWARD ELLIOTT

PRESIDENT THE PENNSYLVANIA                          PRESIDENT THE NEW YORK NEW HAVEN
      RAILROAD COMPANY                                      AND HARTFORD RAILROAD COMPANY


GUSTAV LINDENTHAL

BUILDER AND DESIGNER EAST RIVER BRIDGE AND APPROACHES

AMERICAN BRIDGE COMPANY INC
FABRICATOR AND ERECTOR OF EAST RIVER ARCH BRIDGE

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Construction of viaduct towers approach to bridge view SE Astoria, Queens, NY
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All views NE Randalls-Wards Island to the left, Astoria Park, Queens to the right

The arch had to be constructed simultaneously from both sides with no falsework in between. The Hell Gate itself was still being used for shipping, and its waters were far too treacherous to build any support in the middle. The arches would be supported from behind, anchored in boxes filled with 850 tons of pig iron, until the two halves were joined; this happened in 1915, making it the longest steel arch bridge in the world.
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Nearing arch completion
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Viaduct towers with 4 track approach to bridge view NW
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350' long truss bridge crossing the Bronx Kills
1, was originally planned as a bascule bridge in case the Kills ever became navigable
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Construction of the overhead catenary NYCRR 4 track ROW
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Four reverse-arch bridges of 300' crossing the now-filled Little Hell Gate between Randall's and Ward's Islands

 

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Hell gate 4 train main under construction
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The approach to the Bronx River bridge just north of 132nd Street view SW
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Port Morris, Bronx view SW approaching the Bronx Kills bridge. Hell Gate  bridge left background
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Ward's Island approach to Bronx River View NE

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Randall Island view NE to Little Hell Gate - Bronx Kills bridge in background
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Ward Island view SW  approach to Little Hell Gate Randall Island
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Beginning approach to Bronx River bridge and on to Hell Gate view NE
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Beginning approach to Bronx River bridge and onto Hell Gate view SE
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Harlem River Terminal
Archive: Dave Keller

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NYNH&H yard

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NYNH&H yard View NW

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Harlem River Terminal 
view W ***
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NYW&B Gen'l Offices East 133rd Street Station Harlem River Terminal 1937 view W
Archive: Dave Keller

*** The building at the far right shared NYW&B and NH office building (the NH was the parent company of the NYW&B)

The tracks are the storage tracks of the Harlem River terminal and the NYW&B, until Jan 1. 1938, had its Harlem River station covered platforms on the far side of this building with stairs to the street below. 

The building stood as late as 2004 with NYW&B RR Co lettering still visible on the structure on the far side (street side) according to Robert A. Bang's / Otto Vondrak's 2004 hard cover book on the NYW&B.  Research: Dave Keller

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Hell Gate view NE Photo: Wayne Koch 5/25/09
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Base north tower Photo: Steve Lynch 6/17/2000
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Base north tower Photo: Steve Lynch 6/17/2000
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South tower view N 

Note: southbound freight on 2 track main with PRR position light signals. Photo: Steve Lynch 6/17/2000

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Hell Gate in winter view NE from Astoria Park 
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 Reverse-arch bridges
2 Little Hell Gate view NW Photo: Steve Lynch 6/17/2000
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 Reverse-arch bridge over Little Hell Gate
2 view W
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Concrete viaduct towers approach from Randall's Island view SE
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Mill Creek, south end of Hashamomuck Pond, Southold 2006 
Photo: Nick Kudreyko
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Butter Ln, Bridgehampton 4-22-07 Photo: Nick Kudreyko
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Carman's River, Brookhaven 5-18-06
 Photo: Nick Kudreyko

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Stony Brook Road, Port Jefferson Photo: McEnery

 

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Twin Cocks Lane looking north through the bridge towards Buckram Rd. single track east of Locust Tower 10/17/08 
Photo: Al Castelli
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Town Cocks Lane View N 10/17/08 Bridge Underside Detail Photo: Al Castelli
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Buckram Road looking southwesterly from the other side of the bridge, east of Locust Tower 10/17/08 
Photo: Al Castelli
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Mill Race view S 3/02/13 Photo: Andrew Ciavarella

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Mill Race Oyster Bay
Photo: Steven Lynch c. 2000

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Tanners Pond Rd., Stewart Manor view S 2016  Photo: Dave Morrison
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Tanners Pond Rd.,  Stewart Manor  1871  cornerstone 2016  Photo: Dave Morrison
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Cherry Valley Ave., Garden City  view N
Photo: Dave Morrison
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Cherry Valley Ave., Garden City  1871 
 cornerstone 2016  Photo: Dave Morrison
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Forge River Mastic 5-07-06 
Photo: Nick Kudreyko
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"Going Your Way" 
Van Wyck Exp. c.1990
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Jamaica  view S Montauk Division and Mainline 2012
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Newton Rd Hampton Bays 2-20-07 Photo: Nick Kudreyko
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Connetquot River, Oakdale view south of  Sunrise Hwy
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Rt 112 Medford 1969
Photo: Dave Keller
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River Road Shirley 06-01-06 Photo: Nick Kudreyko
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S. Jamesport Ave Jamesport 10-14-06 Photo: Nick Kudreyko
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South Country Rd, view north c. 1900  
Post-Morrow Foundation Historical Collection

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St. Albans Coal Ttrestle
c. 2007

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Station Penny Bridge 1954 Archive: Dave Keller

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Tunnel Rd Holtsville 1940
Collection: Dave Keller
Same Location

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Holtsville C420 #206 train #204 east N. Ocean Ave 1969 Photo: Dave Keller

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Greenpoint Ave Blissville 12-70
Photo: Dave Keller

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Pitkin Ave East NY 1925
Photo: James V. Osborne
Archive: Dave Keller

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Murray Hill 1925 Photo: James V. Osborne
Archive: Dave Keller  

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English Kills Bobtail Swing Bridge view S 
Photo: Mitch Waxman

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Merillon Ave 07-13-47
Photo: George E. Votava Archive: Dave Keller
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Denton Ave 01-07
Photo: Robert Andersen
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Montauk Hwy, Sayville
Photo: Fred Miller 2007
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LIRR 22 westbound 1969
Photo by Jules P. Krzenski, Archive: Dave Keller
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Hunter's Point - Borden Ave at  Newtown Creek
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Shinecock Canal Bridge guard rails approach 
12/31/07 view west Photo: Mike McDermet
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Dutch Kills Drawbridge  06/21/07 Photo: Joe Gregory
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Dutch Kills Lift Bridge "M" Cabin  View South 07/19/08  Photo: Mike Kubiak
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Carlton Ave ex-Rte 111 view N 10-12-01 
Photo: Steve Lynch
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Myrtle Ave.  07/19/08  
Photo: Mike Kubiak
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Nostrand Ave.  07/19/08  
Photo: Mike Kubiak
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Metropolitan Ave.  07/19/08  
Photo: Mike Kubiak
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MP54s Manhasset Viaduct c.1950's Archive: Art Huneke
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Rockaway Beach Branch over Union Turnpike Forest Hills 12/25/09 Photo: Mike Kubiak
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 Lower Montauk Branch over Union Turnpike Forest Hills 12/25/09 Mike Kubiak
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Woodbury Whitney Lane  View N 4/03/12 Photo: Al Castelli
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Douglaston Drawbridge 1965

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Douglaston Drawbridge 09/29/2007

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Kings Park, Town Line Rd  LIRR 2-8-0 Class H10s #113
1955 Photo: Norman E. Kohl

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Kings Park, Town Line Rd 3/1960 Archive: R. McEnery
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Kings Park, Town Line Rd LIRR C420 #214 1966 
Photo: J. Guthure

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Dark Hollow Road, Port Jefferson View N 1/04/1988 Photo: Edward Hand

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Beach Channel Draw Bridge Rockaway line view N 1939 Photo: Harold Fagerberg Archive: Art Huneke 

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Deer Park Ave. (Rte. 231),  Deer Park View S 
1/11/1988 Photo:  Edward Hand

 

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Smithtown Trestle
LIRR FA2 #-615 11/1980
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LIRR #468 Smithtown Trestle view SE c.1970 Photo: R. Glueck
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LIRR #468 Smithtown Trestle c.1970 Photo: R. Glueck
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Broad Channel 1917 Photo: William J. Madden

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Forge River Mastic view E 05/1988

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Reynold's Channel

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A lead is an old nautical expression for a navigable channel or passage that also found its way into railroading. That portion of Reynold's channel where the bridge is was more complex prior to the dredging operation, with several sand bars and islands in the midst of the channel and the shore of Barnum Island (southern portion of Island Park) farther north than it is today. The wider passage hugged the shore of Barnum Island and that was the original Wreck Lead. Whatever event (shipwreck of some sort) that gave it it's name occurred before then. Approx. where the bridge cabins are now was several smaller bars, the biggest was called Inner Island and the smaller channel was called Inner Lead. Around the turn of the century, they dredged Reynold's Channel to what you see now and just retained the name Wreck Lead for that portion.

Wreck Lead Bridge 9/05/2014 Photo: Jordan Torregrosa

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Shinnecock Canal Bridge 1887 LIRR Railroader magazine 1953 cover Archive: Dave Morrison
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Shinnecock Canal 1915
Thomas R. Bayles photo, Dave Keller archive
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Shinnecock Canal bridges old and  new-K4 5/26/1931 view W Archive: Art Huneke
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K4 Trestle replacing old trestle Shinnecock Canal 05/26/1931 View E - LIRR valuation photos, Dave Keller archive
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K4 Trestle replacing old trestle Shinnecock Canal 06/21/1931 LIRR valuation photos, Dave Keller archive

K4s locomotives were first used on the Montauk branch after  installation of the heavier bridge over the Shinnecock Canal.  June/1931 Prior to that, Montauk trains of 12 or more cars were required to be double-headed by 2 - G5s locomotives. Research:  Dave Keller

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Shinnecock Canal Steve Hoskins c. 1960s

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Shinnecock Canal 2/20/2007 Photo: Nick Kudreyko

Post Cards of LIRR Bridges
Courtesy of Dave Morrision Collection
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Flushing
Bridges Greenlawn.jpg (89106 bytes)
Greenlawn
Bridges Huntington 110.jpg (99971 bytes)
Huntington Route 110
Bridges Manhasset.jpg (69283 bytes)
Manhasset
Bridges Roslyn tunnel with train.jpg (96679 bytes)
Roslyn with train
Bridges Roslyn tunnel.jpg (114254 bytes)
Roslyn
Bridges Shoreham stone.jpg (84993 bytes)
Shoreham
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Smithtown - Postmark 1906