Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass
Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass
Norfolk Southern Railway
|Crosses||South Gregson Street|
|Locale||Durham, North Carolina, U.S.|
|Official name||Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass|
|Owner||North Carolina Railroad|
|Design||Stringer/Multi-beam or Girder|
|Total length||92 feet (28 m)|
|No. of spans||2|
|Clearance below||12 ft 4 in (3.76 m) (as of October 2019[update])|
|Daily traffic||11,000 (2003) with 6% of truck traffic|
The Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass (commonly known as the 11-foot-8 Bridge and nicknamed The Can Opener or The Gregson Street Guillotine) is a railroad bridge in Durham, North Carolina, United States, which was designed in the 1920s and built in 1940. The 81-year-old bridge allows passenger and freight trains to cross over South Gregson Street in downtown Durham. The bridge was built with a clearance for vehicles of 11 feet 8 inches (3.56 m). This was a standard height at the time it opened. The standard clearance, since 1973, has a minimum height of 14 feet (4.27 m), which is 2 feet 4 inches (0.71 m) higher than the bridge as built.
Despite numerous warning signs about the low clearance, a large number of trucks, buses, and RVs have collided with the overpass at high speed, tearing off roof fixtures, and at times shearing off the trucks' roofs, earning the bridge the nicknames the "Can Opener" and the "Gregson Street Guillotine". In October 2019, the North Carolina Railroad Company, which owns the bridge and tracks, raised the bridge by 8 inches (0.2 m) to 12 feet 4 inches (3.76 m) to reduce collisions (although that is still well below standard height).
The bridge gained fame as a nearby office worker, Jürgen Henn, set up cameras in 2008 to track the collisions with the bridge. As of October 2020, Henn has recorded over 150 collisions with the bridge, and the YouTube channel he set up to showcase his recordings has 150,000 subscribers and more than 50 million views. Despite the number of crashes, there have been only three injuries reported, making rebuilding of the bridge a low-priority concern.
The state of North Carolina owns the North Carolina Railroad Company, which owns the land and the bridge. North Carolina Railroad owns no rolling stock, but leases tracks to Amtrak and Norfolk Southern Railway. A heavy steel crash beam protects the bridge from over-height trucks but does not prevent crashes or protect the trucks, instead acting to create a "can opener effect" equivalent to the opening of a sardine can where the top of the over-height truck is peeled back from its frame. The crash beam has been hit so often that it had to be replaced at least once.
The problem is complicated by the location of Peabody Street, which runs parallel to the tracks, and intersects Gregson, just before the bridge. Not all trucks traveling on Gregson will continue under the bridge. Some large trucks must turn right onto Peabody to make their deliveries. Over-height trucks are allowed on Gregson, as long as they turn just before the bridge.
New traffic light
In May 2016, the city attempted to solve the problem by installing a traffic signal at the intersection, removing the yellow warning lights in return. When an over-height truck approaches, the light turns yellow, then red, and a screen displays the message "OVERHEIGHT MUST TURN". The light will eventually turn green even if the over height vehicle chooses not to turn. The city hoped the long delay would give drivers time to realize their trucks will not fit under the bridge. However, trucks have continued to hit the bridge despite this, possible reasons being that local buses usually fit underneath but the sensors display the overheight message anyway and that drivers of such vehicles may think that the "OVERHEIGHT MUST TURN" warning is triggered by another nearby vehicle, and not theirs. There are also cases where if the over-height object is smaller, like a RV's air conditioning unit or vent, that object may be too small for the sensor which triggers the sign to light up.
Traffic separation study
In 2014, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Rail Division and the City of Durham began a "Traffic Separation Study" of 18 rail crossings over a 12-mile (19 km) section of the railroad. Gregson Street is in the middle of that section of track but was not mentioned in the study. The study focused on eliminating at-grade crossings, not on fixing grade-separated crossings such as the one at Gregson. There have been four deaths and two other injuries in the study area since 1991, compared to only three minor injuries at Gregson.
The study did recommend replacing the bridge at Roxboro Street because it only has a vertical clearance of 11 feet 4 inches (3.45 m), and "many trucks have gotten stuck under the Roxboro Street railroad bridge." Local news have also reported crashes at this site.
As of January 2016[update], recommendations made in the study have not been implemented.
In October 2019, the North Carolina Railroad Company began work to raise the bridge by 8 inches (0.20 m) as part of a $500,000 project to improve safety and reduce damage to the span. The bridge was raised to a new height of 12 feet 4 inches (3.76 m), the maximum clearance that would not affect the grades of nearby crossings. The entire project was expected to take two weeks to complete, although the actual raising on October 30, 2019, only took 8 hours.
The new height is still far lower than the typical bridge clearance, so the system of warning signals and the guard barrier remained in place. Twenty-two days after it was raised, another collision occurred on November 26, 2019. The bridge continues to snag some vehicles as captured by the 11'8" website.
Media and internet coverage
Jürgen Henn, who works in a nearby office, mounted a video camera to record the crashes. Since April 2008, he has recorded over 150 crashes, and posted them on YouTube. The videos gradually attracted the attention of a local TV station, and eventually progressed to international media attention. The bridge is only one of several under-height bridges in the area that trucks frequently crash into; however, the videos became popular, and brought this particular bridge to international media attention, including front-page coverage in The Wall Street Journal, and on an episode of the Comedy Central television show Tosh.0.
- The American Association of State Highway Officials (1973). "1". STANDARD SPECIFICATIONS for HIGHWAY BRIDGES (Eleventh ed.). Washington, D.C.: the Association General Offices. p. 12. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
By the Authority Vested By Part 5 of the United States Code § 552(a) and Part 1 of the Code of Regulations § 51 the attached document has been duly INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE and shall be considered legally binding upon all citizens and residents of the United States of America. HEED THIS NOTICE: Criminal penalties may apply for noncompliance.
- Gutierrez, Gabe (January 7, 2016). "This Bridge Continues Wreaking Havoc on Unsuspecting Truck Drivers". NBC Nightly News. NBC News. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
- Gibbs, Tamara (June 22, 2015). "Trucks Hit Same Durham Bridge Hours Apart". Eyewitness News. Durham, NC: WTVD-TV. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
- Mitchell, David (April 12, 2013). "Video: Trucks Smash into Bridge Time After Time After Time". Denver: KDVR-TV. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
- Krueger, Sarah (October 21, 2019). "Durham's 'can opener bridge' being raised". WRAL.com. Capitol Broadcasting Company. Archived from the original on October 23, 2019. Retrieved October 23, 2019.
- "yovo68 – About". Retrieved October 18, 2020.
- West, Matthew (March 27, 2014). Traffic Separation Study (TSS) (Report). City of Durham, North Carolina. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
- Robertson, Gary D. (November 26, 2012). "NC lawmakers seeking more from railroad company". The Daily Herald. Roanoke Rapids, NC. Associated Press. Archived from the original on December 1, 2012. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
- Williams, Chris (July 8, 2016). "Truck Slams Into Durham's 'Can Opener' Bridge Despite New Warning System". Spectrum News. Time Warner Cable. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
- "Another Truck Slams Into Durham Bridge, Gets Stuck". Eyewitness News. Durham, NC: WTVD-TV. August 6, 2015. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
- "Tractor-trailer hits Roxboro Street bridge in Durham". Raleigh, NC: WRAL-TV. December 9, 2014. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
- Hyland, Michael (October 21, 2019). "Durham's infamous 'can opener' bridge to be raised". CBS17. Archived from the original on November 1, 2019. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
- Frauenfelder, Mark (November 30, 2019). "Can-opener bridge, recently raised 8 inches, claims another victim". Boing Boing. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
- Cohen, Ben (January 6, 2016). "The Joys of Watching a Bridge Shave the Tops off Trucks". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
- Hartness, Erin (March 18, 2009). "Man's videos span year of trucks hitting Durham bridge". Raleigh, NC: WRAL-TV. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
- Hooley, Danny (January 6, 2016). "A Little off the Top: Durham's 'Canopener Bridge' Makes the Front Page of the Wall Street Journal". Indy Week. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
- "Durham explosion: Camera on bridge caught sound of blast". WTVD. April 10, 2019. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
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