When the bridge opened, it was connected to an extensive, nationwide railway network. The bridge provided a direct route for transporting raw materials, such as coal from Pennsylvania and grain from the Midwest, across the Hudson to the Northeast, where most of the nation's manufacturing was concentrated. Trains also carried lumber, beef, produce, and passengers.
During World War II, hundreds of troop and supply trains crossed the bridge, sometimes at a rate of one per hour, headed east to New England Ports. Troops and supplies were then deployed overseas. Train volumes exceeded 3500 cars a day during this time.
Throughout the 20th century increased trucking, reduced manufacturing, and the development of the interstate highway system hurt American railroads. When a fire broke out on the Poughkeepsie side of the bridge on May 8, 1974, train traffic had already declined dramatically. The fire damaged the bridge, and by the 1980s it was abandoned and sold to a private owner.