This 2006 photo shows the Arthur Kill Railroad Lift Bridge from Staten Island. (Photo by GK Tramrunner,

EARLY FREIGHT SERVICE TO STATEN ISLAND: Conceived as part of a competitive New York-to-Washington link for the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad against the more powerful Pennsylvania Railroad, the original Arthur Kill Railroad Bridge was completed in 1888. The original bridge, a 500-foot-long, steam-powered swing span, was the first fixed link between Staten Island and the mainland United States. It did not carry any freight traffic until 1890 when the North Shore branch of the Staten Island Railroad, which operated as a subsidiary of the B&O Railroad, opened along a former horse-drawn rail line. The new single-track rail service connected the B&O's Cranford Junction in New Jersey to the St. George's Terminal at the northeast tip of Staten Island.

When the bridge opened to rail traffic, the Pennsylvania and Lehigh Valley railroads appealed to the U.S. War Department to have the bridge removed. They declared the bridge a hazard to navigation because its center swing pivot effectively narrowed the Arthur Kill navigation channel. However, these railroads operated their own coal barges along Arthur Kill to Staten Island's Howland Hook, and the B&O Railroad Bridge provided a direct connection to the terminal that the barges did not offer. The B&O Railroad won approval from Congress because the bridge spanned a navigable waterway between two states.

The B&O Railroad's efforts to reach Manhattan - it also built a car float bridge and small port at West 26th Street - ultimately cost it its independence, and in 1900 the B&O was placed under the control of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Although a few passenger rail runs were made over the Arthur Kill Bridge to relieve congestion on the existing Pennsylvania Railroad line to New York City, the 1910 opening of the Hudson River rail tunnel to midtown Manhattan made the car float service from Manhattan to St. George's Terminal obsolete.

The Arthur Kill Bridge served as a vital link during both world wars because of the role of St. George's Terminal as a transfer point for war materiel and troops. The bridge also carried wounded servicemen aboard hospital trains, as the piers at St. George's Terminal served as the only East Coast port of call for hospital ships from Europe.

REPLACING THE OLD SWING SPAN WITH A NEW LIFT SPAN: In 1957, a freighter bound for the nearby Esso Bayway refinery (now owned by Tosco) struck the center pivot pier of the swing span, rendering the twin-track bridge obsolete. The B&O moved quickly to build a new span over the Arthur Kill and decided upon a lift span to eliminate the navigation hazard caused by the center pier.

The new Arthur Kill Railroad Lift Bridge, which was built about 500 feet north of the Goethals Bridge (I-278), opened to rail traffic on August 25, 1959. Like the swing bridge it replaced, the new lift bridge accommodated a single track. Its 559-foot-long main lift span remains the longest of its type in the world. In its lowered position, the bridge has 31 feet of vertical clearance, but when the lift span is raised along the bridge's two 215-foot-tall towers, it provides 135 feet of clearance. At the time the bridge opened, the B&O Railroad upgraded the North Shore branch to double-track freight service and built a three-mile-long rail spur to the new Con Edison Arthur Kill power plant.

However, traffic on the North Shore branch began to decline almost as soon as the bridge opened. The closing of major manufacturing facilities on Staten Island - Bethlehem Steel in 1960, U.S. Gypsum in 1972, U.S. Lines-Howland Hook Marine Terminal in 1986, and Proctor and Gamble in 1991 - along with a shift to truck traffic led to a precipitous decline in rail traffic over Arthur Kill. In addition, the North Shore branch went through a series of owners (from B&O Railroad to CSX to the Delaware-Otsego Corporation) during the 1970's and 1980's, which eventually saw the rail line as an excess property. The last freight train rolled over the Arthur Kill Railroad Lift Bridge in 1990, at which time the North Shore branch was abandoned.

In 1994, the New York City Economic Development Corporation purchased the Arthur Kill Railroad Lift Bridge and the North Shore branch from CSX (which acquired the rail line from the bankrupt Delaware-Otsego Corporation). This purchase was followed by nearly a decade of false starts.

In 1994, the New York City Economic Development Corporation purchased the Arthur Kill Railroad Lift Bridge and the North Shore branch from CSX (which acquired the rail line from the bankrupt Delaware-Otsego Corporation). This purchase was followed by nearly a decade of false starts.

REACTIVATING THE BRIDGE AND ITS RAIL LINKS: On December 15, 2004, the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced a joint $72 million project to rehabilitate the Arthur Kill Railroad Lift Bridge and reactivate freight rail service on Staten Island. Specific projects on the Arthur Kill Railroad Lift Bridge included repainting the steel superstructure and rehabilitating the lift mechanism.

The Arthur Kill reactivation project was completed in June 2006. Although nearby rail improvements were made at Arlington Yard, Howland Hook (now called the New York Container Terminal), and the Travis spur along the West Shore Expressway (NY 440), there are no current plans to reactivate the dual-track North Shore branch. In conjunction with the Arthur Kill reactivation project, a new $40 million waste transfer station was built to cart the borough's garbage by rail off the island.

These 2006 photos show the Arthur Kill Railroad Lift Bridge looking west toward Elizabeth, New Jersey. The bridge accommodates a single track for freight traffic. (Photo by Dave Frieder,

Type of bridge:
Construction started:
Opened to traffic:
Length of main lift-truss span:
Height of towers:
Number of tracks:
Clearance at lift span above mean high water:
Clearance at lift span in raised position:

Vertical lift-span
August 25, 1959
558 feet
215 feet
1 track
31 feet
135 feet

SOURCES: "Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg Announce Reactivation of Staten Island Railroad," State of New York-Office of the Governor (12/15/2004); "The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in New Jersey" by Edward F. Bommer, National Railway Historical Society-Jersey Central Chapter (2004); "Waste Transfer Station To Begin Operating in Fall, City Says" by Glenn Nyback, The Staten Island Advance (6/14/2006); New York City Economic Development Corporation; Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Peggy Darlington; Hank Eisenstein; Dave Frieder.


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