Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass

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Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass
Durham--Gregson Street Guillotine 01.jpg
View of overpass from its northern approach. Photograph is before signalization was added. (2015)
Coordinates35°59′56.66″N 78°54′36.83″W / 35.9990722°N 78.9102306°W / 35.9990722; -78.9102306Coordinates: 35°59′56.66″N 78°54′36.83″W / 35.9990722°N 78.9102306°W / 35.9990722; -78.9102306
CarriesAmtrak
Norfolk Southern Railway
CrossesSouth Gregson Street
LocaleDurham, North Carolina, U.S.
Official nameNorfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass
Other name(s)
  • 11-foot-8 Bridge
  • 11-foot-8+8 Bridge
  • Can Opener Bridge
  • The Can Opener
  • Gregson Street Guillotine
OwnerNorth Carolina Railroad
Structure Number000000000630068
Characteristics
DesignStringer/Multi-beam or Girder
MaterialSteel
Total length92 feet (28 m)
No. of spans2
Clearance below12 ft 4 in (3.76 m) (as of October 2019)
History
Construction end1940; 83 years ago (1940)
RebuiltOctober 2019; 3 years ago (2019-10)
Statistics
Daily traffic11,000 (2003) with 6% of truck traffic
Location

The Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass (commonly known as the 11-foot-8 Bridge or 11-foot-8+8 Bridge post-raising and nicknamed The Can Opener or The Gregson Street Guillotine) is a railroad bridge in Durham, North Carolina, United States. Built in 1940, the bridge allows passenger and freight trains to cross over South Gregson Street in downtown Durham.

The bridge was designed in the 1920s, with a clearance for vehicles of 11 feet 8 inches (3.56 m), the standard height at the time it opened. Since 1973, the standard clearance for bridges was increased to a minimum height of 14 feet (4.27 m), which is 2 feet 4 inches (0.71 m) higher than the bridge as built.[1] 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".[2][3][4]

The bridge gained fame as a nearby office worker, Jürgen Henn, set up cameras in 2008 to track the collisions with the bridge. Henn has recorded over 150 collisions with the bridge, including those after the bridge raising, and as of 2022 the YouTube channel he set up[5] to showcase his recordings has 261,000 subscribers and more than 81 million views.

Despite the number of crashes, a March 2014 report stated that only three injuries had been recorded, making rebuilding of the bridge a low-priority concern.[6] Later, in October 2019, the North Carolina Railroad Company, which owns the bridge and tracks, raised the bridge by 8 inches (20 cm) to 12 feet 4 inches (3.76 m) to reduce collisions (although that is still well below the standard height of 14ft).[7]

Official actions[edit]

A view from under the bridge, facing traffic. Just below the bridge is a wide-flange steel H-beam to protect it from over-height trucks. The beam's web is horizontal to better absorb the shear force of truck collisions. The vertical flanges spread the impact.

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.[8] 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 signal[edit]

In May 2016, the city attempted to solve the problem by installing a traffic signal at the intersection, and removing the yellow warning beacons.[9] When an over-height vehicle approaches, the signal cycles to red and a blank-out sign affixed to the signal's mast arm illuminates and flashes the message "OVERHEIGHT MUST TURN" in white. The signal will eventually turn green even if the over-height vehicle chooses not to turn. The signal's long delay was intended to notify drivers that their vehicles would not fit under the bridge. On May 12, 2016, the signal was implemented. No additional crashes occurred until July 7, 2016.[9][10] Trucks have continued to hit the bridge, possibly because the local buses fit underneath, despite the sensors displaying the overheight message. Drivers of other vehicles may think that the "OVERHEIGHT MUST TURN" warning is triggered by a nearby vehicle, instead of their own vehicle. In some cases, the over-height object is merely an air conditioning unit or vent on a RV, which may be too small for the sensor to detect.[11]

Traffic separation study[edit]

In 2014, the North Carolina Department of Transportation 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."[6] Local news have also reported crashes at this site.[12][13]

Raising[edit]

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. It was further stated that the grade had to be improved for safety reasons to allow the trains to go faster. The entire project was expected to take two weeks to complete, although the actual raising on October 30, 2019, only took eight hours.[14][7]

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.[15]

Media and internet coverage[edit]

A section of one of Henn's videos showing a truck hitting the bridge

Jürgen Henn, who works in a nearby office, mounted several video cameras to record the crashes from different angles.[16] Since April 2008, he has recorded over 100 crashes, and posted them on YouTube.[17] The videos gradually attracted the attention of a local TV station,[18] and eventually progressed to international media attention.[19]

The bridge is only one of several under-height bridges in the area that trucks frequently crash into;[12] however, the videos became popular, and brought this particular bridge to international media attention, including front-page coverage in The Wall Street Journal,[19][17] on an episode[which?] of the Comedy Central television show Tosh.0,[citation needed] on an episode of the CBC Radio radio program As It Happens in Canada,[20] on the Portuguese language Brazilian TerraTV,[21] on Stuff in New Zealand,[22] in the Hebrew language Israeli newspaper Maariv,[23] in the Spanish language Peruvian newspaper El Comercio,[24] on the Irish iRadio,[25] in the Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet,[26] on news.com.au in Australia,[27] on the Italian language radio station Rai Radio 2,[28] on the French television news channel La Chaîne Info,[29] and on a video by popular YouTuber videogamedunkey.[30]

In April 2019, the camera captured the sound of a nearby gas explosion which killed two and injured 25 people.[31]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Gutierrez, Gabe (January 7, 2016). "This Bridge Continues Wreaking Havoc on Unsuspecting Truck Drivers". NBC Nightly News. NBC News. Archived from the original on January 10, 2016. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  3. ^ Gibbs, Tamara (June 22, 2015). "Trucks hit same Durham bridge hours apart". Eyewitness News. Durham, NC: WTVD-TV. Archived from the original on January 11, 2016. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  4. ^ Mitchell, David (April 12, 2013). "Video: Trucks smash into bridge time after time after time". Denver: KDVR-TV. Archived from the original on January 25, 2016. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  5. ^ "yovo68 – About". YouTube. Archived from the original on October 8, 2020. Retrieved October 18, 2020.
  6. ^ a b West, Matthew (March 27, 2014). Traffic Separation Study (TSS) (Report). City of Durham, North Carolina. Archived from the original on January 26, 2016. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  7. ^ a b 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b Williams, Chris (July 8, 2016). "Truck Slams Into Durham's 'Can Opener' Bridge Despite New Warning System". Spectrum News. Time Warner Cable. Archived from the original on February 13, 2017. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
  10. ^ "Very hungry canopener bridge defeats fancy, new warning system". 11foot8. July 7, 2016. Archived from the original on November 11, 2021. Retrieved November 11, 2021.
  11. ^ "Camper A/C units chewed off by hungry 11foot8+8 bridge". 11foot8. March 31, 2021. Archived from the original on November 11, 2021. Retrieved November 11, 2021.
  12. ^ a b "Another Truck Slams Into Durham Bridge, Gets Stuck". Eyewitness News. Durham, NC: WTVD-TV. August 6, 2015. Archived from the original on January 14, 2016. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  13. ^ "Tractor-trailer hits Roxboro Street bridge in Durham". Raleigh, NC: WRAL-TV. December 9, 2014. Archived from the original on January 26, 2016. Retrieved January 18, 2016.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Frauenfelder, Mark (November 30, 2019). "Can-opener bridge, recently raised 8 inches, claims another victim". Boing Boing. Archived from the original on December 30, 2019. Retrieved December 30, 2019.
  16. ^ Black, Jonathan (October 30, 2019). "The Duke Employee Behind the 'Can Opener Bridge' Cam". Duke Today. Archived from the original on November 10, 2021. Retrieved November 10, 2021.
  17. ^ a b Cohen, Ben (January 6, 2016). "The Joys of Watching a Bridge Shave the Tops off Trucks". The Wall Street Journal. ProQuest 1755090313. Archived from the original on January 6, 2016. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  18. ^ Hartness, Erin (March 18, 2009). "Man's videos span year of trucks hitting Durham bridge". WRAL-TV. Raleigh, NC. Archived from the original on January 26, 2016. Retrieved January 13, 2016.
  19. ^ a b 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. Archived from the original on January 9, 2016. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  20. ^ "North Carolina 'can opener' bridge to be raised after years of shearing tops off trucks". As It Happens. October 25, 2019. CBC Radio. Archived from the original on November 7, 2021. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  21. ^ "Vídeo traz coletânea de caminhões batendo em ponte" [Video brings a collection of trucks hitting a bridge]. TerraTV (in Brazilian Portuguese). October 20, 2013. Archived from the original on November 7, 2021. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  22. ^ O'Carroll, Damien (November 5, 2021). "The 11 foot 8 bridge strikes again (and again)". Stuff. Archived from the original on November 7, 2021. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  23. ^ "גשר צר מאוד: הסוף לגשר הויראלי שריסק את גגות המשאיות" [Very narrow bridge: the end of the viral bridge that smashed the roofs of trucks]. Maariv (in Hebrew). October 24, 2019. Archived from the original on November 7, 2021. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  24. ^ "Conoce al Puente abrelatas, el terror de los camiones [VIDEO]" [Meet the Can Opener Bridge, the terror of trucks [VIDEO]]. El Comercio (in Spanish). February 11, 2017. Archived from the original on November 7, 2021. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  25. ^ "There's a bridge in the US that people won't stop crashing into". iRadio. November 5, 2021. Archived from the original on November 7, 2021. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  26. ^ Sørensen, Anders Borup (October 31, 2012). "TV: Verdens farligste bro" [TV: The world's most dangerous bridge]. Ekstra Bladet (in Danish). Archived from the original on November 7, 2021. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  27. ^ Lambert, Olivia (May 4, 2016). "The overpass rivalling Melbourne's notorious Montague Street Bridge". news.com.au. Archived from the original on November 7, 2021. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  28. ^ "Gli Sbandati di Radio 2" [The Strangers of Radio 2]. Rai Radio 2 (in Italian). Archived from the original on June 2, 2022. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  29. ^ Fauroux, Virginie (September 20, 2016). "Vidéo - Etats-Unis : la malédiction du pont "scalpeur" de camions" [Video - United States: the curse of the "scalping" truck bridge]. La Chaîne Info (in French). Archived from the original on November 10, 2021. Retrieved November 10, 2021.
  30. ^ The Truck Killing Bridge, archived from the original on January 24, 2022, retrieved January 24, 2022
  31. ^ "Durham explosion: Camera on bridge caught sound of blast". WTVD. April 10, 2019. Archived from the original on July 24, 2021. Retrieved March 9, 2021.

External links[edit]