The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (Lower Hack) Bridge carries New Jersey Transit over the Hackensack River near Kearny, New Jersey.
The Morris & Essex Railroad (M&E) was incorporated in 1835 to build a line from Newark and Morristown, with a westward extension opening to Phillipsburg in 1866. In March 1857, a supplement to the M&E’s charter was passed, authorizing it to construct an eastward extension to Jersey City via a bridge over the Hackensack River and a tunnel under Bergen Hill. The Hoboken Land & Improvement Company (HL&I) operated a ferry across the Hudson River between Hoboken and Manhattan. The company decided to help the M&E by building their new alignment and the first train over the new alignment and river bridge in 1862.
In 1865, the Atlantic & Great Western Railway leased the M&E as part of its planned route to the west, although the company went bankrupt in 1867. The M&E was instead leased to the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (DL&W) in 1868, connecting to their Warren Railroad at Washington. It became known as the Morris & Essex Division of the DL&W.
In 1877, the DL&W built a new bridge across the Hackensack River to directly access its new Bergen Tunnel for its mainline and Boonton Branch. 2 It was replaced in 1902 with a double-track swing bridge that rested 12-feet above the mean high water. The c. 1862 crossing was abandoned by 1910 and removed the following year.
Swing span crossings were typically built where wide navigational channels needed to be crossed, but they had significant drawbacks as they were slow to open and close, and pilots with wide barges had difficulty navigating between the mid-channel pivot and river piers. 2 Additionally, swing bridges were often built just a few feet above mean high water which required that the crossing be opened for all but the smallest of vessels.
The passenger bridge became increasingly outmoded with each succeeding year as maritime traffic along the Hackensack River grew, with the bridge opening as much as 35 times per day, delaying river traffic and passenger trains alike. 2 As early as 1920, the swing bridge was noted as being a navigation hazard.
The crashing of the Glendaruel vessel into the Lincoln Highway swing span in June 1922 resulted in insurance underwriters no longer insuring large self-propelled vessels for damages caused to bridges because of the risk of navigating the Hackensack River near the swing bridges. 2 During the summer of 1924, Col. H.C. Newcomer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers held hearings on the fate of the swing bridges as the Corps called the crossings as obstructions to navigation because of their low clearance above the water and narrow draw openings. 1 At public hearings, the representatives of various industries and commercial interests pleaded for larger, higher bridges that would provide a minimum vertical clearance of 35 to 40 feet to allow nearly all tugs to pass unimpeded.
On October 30, 1924, Secretary of War John W. Weeks signed an order notifying the DL&W to replace the bridge within four years with a structure that could provide a navigational channel of 150 feet and a vertical clearance of at least 35 feet. 2 The railroad selected J.A.L. Waddell, then practicing independently, to design a new vertical lift bridge that could be situated immediately south of the existing swing-span. 2
Construction of the new three-track bridge began in March 1927. 2 As the new structure was only 65 feet downstream of the existing bridge, the old swing span when fully opened, could potentially hit the new lift structure. To avoid any issues, the railroad erected about two-thirds of the lift span from the east tower on falsework. The remaining one-third was erected on a barge and floated to the site and raised into position. The lift was completed in an open position at a point high enough to allow the end of the swing span to open below it.
The new DL&W bridge over the Hackensack River opened to traffic on October 21, 1928. 2 Erected by the American Bridge Company at the cost of $3 million, it consisted of:
- A Parker through truss lift span 200 feet in length that provided a navigational channel of 166 feet, flanked by two Pratt truss tower spans each 153 feet tall;
- Three fixed steel deck girder spans supported on three-column bents;
- An 11-span reinforced concrete slab viaduct.
The DL&W merged with the Erie Railroad in 1960 to form the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad, which went bankrupt in 1972. 2 New Jersey Transit took over commuter operations in 1983 and continues to operate the Hackensack River bridge as part of its Morristown Line.
- State: New Jersey
- Route: New Jersey Transit Morristown Line
- Type: Vertical Lift, Parker Through Truss, Pratt Through Truss
- Status: Active - Railroad
- Total Length: 1,309 feet
- Main Span Length: 200 feet
- Deck Width: 45 feet
- Height: 153 feet
- “History.” Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 2020.
- Modica, Glenn R. “The Hackensack River Vertical Lift Bridges Historic District.” New Jersey Department of Transportation.