Story Sunday: Can Opener Bridge

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Can Opener Bridge Image One
Photo Credit: Amusing Planet
Photo Author: Mark Clifton
Click for a larger view.

At 11 foot 8 inches [sic], the Norfolk Southern-Gregson Street Overpass, located in Durham, [NC] […], is a bit too short. The federal government recommends that bridges on public roads should have a clearance of at least 14 feet [but], when this railroad trestle was built in the 1940s, there were no standards for minimum clearance. As a result, trucks would frequently hit the bridge and get its roof scrapped [sic] off.

Durhan resident Jürgen Henn has been witnessing these crashes for years from across the street where he worked. Wishing to share these hilarious mishaps with the rest of the world, Henn set up a video camera in April 2008 and began recording them for his ever popular website By the end of 2015, more than one hundred trucks had their tops violently ripped off. These scalping videos, which are also available on his YouTube Channel, have racked up millions of views bringing this particular bridge, nicknamed “the can opener”, a fair amount of international fame.

As Jürgen Henn explains in his website [sic], the bridge cannot be raised because doing so would require the tracks to be raised for several miles to adjust the incline. North Carolina Railroad doesn’t want to pay for the enormous expense it would entail. The bridge cannot be lowered either because there is a major sewer line running only four feet under the street.

Can Opener Bridge Image Two
Photo Credit: Amusing Planet
Photo Author: Mark Clifton
Click for a larger view.

Instead, the city authorities installed an alert system that detects when an over-height truck tries to pass under and flashes yellow warning lights several feet ahead of the bridge. [However], many drivers either do not pay attention or fail to heed the warning and crash into the bridge. The railroad department, who owns the bridge, installed a heavy steel crash beam in front of the bridge that takes most of the impact, protecting the actual structure of the train trestle. This crash beam is hit so often that it had to be replaced at least once.

As far as both parties are concerned, the city of Durham and North Carolina Railroad, adequate steps have been taken to solve the problem. The railroad authorities’ concern is with the bridge and the rails above, not the trucks, [hence], the beam. The city, on the other hand, has posted prominent “low clearance” signs from [three] blocks away, leading up to the trestle, over and above the automatic warning system that is triggered by vehicles that are too tall. Apparently, these measures are not enough to prevent accidents. On average there is one crash every month.

When Henn interviewed a few drivers as they deflated their tires to lower their vehicles enough to free them, some told him that they didn’t know their trucks’ heights, while others insisted they didn’t see the signs. Durham officials are now trying out a new tactic. A few months ago, they installed a traffic signal at the intersection before the bridge and hooked up the height sensor to it. When an over-height truck approaches the intersection, the light turns red and stays red for a long time. The light eventually turns green but, the city hopes that the long delay will give the drivers enough time to realize their truck will not fit under the bridge. Unfortunately for the drivers, and to the delight of the rest, the bridge continues to shave the tops of over-height vehicles.

The Infamous Can Opener Bridge
Amusing Planet
Kaushik Patowary
December 17, 2016

I can attest to this bridge, personally. I lived in Durham for two years in the middle 90s. Why those folks don’t turn off onto Peabody Street or Pettigrew Street, coming from the other side, I don’t know. They just plow right under it. It is right behind Brightleaf Square. ~Vic

Jürgen Henn’s Website
Henn’s YouTube Channel

11 Feet, 8 Inches… (99% Invisible/Kurt Kohlstedt/08-29-2016)
Durham’s Bridge of Death Will Decapitate Any Tall Truck (Bloomberg/John Metcalfe/10-25-2012)
Trucks Have Hit This Low Bridge More Than 100 Times… (Vox/Timothy B. Lee/01-06-2016)
A Little Off The Top… (Indy Week/Danny Hooley/01-06-2016)
Norfolk Southern–Gregson Street Overpass (Wikipedia)

Compilation of Crashes

15 thoughts on “Story Sunday: Can Opener Bridge

    Dayphoto said:
    June 13, 2022 at 10:32 AM

    That wreck was terrible. I would hate to have been the driver or riding in it when it happened. Then of course there are the damages and the cost…sigh.
    I did enjoy reading about it, though.

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      June 13, 2022 at 2:56 PM

      That bridge has been destroying big trucks & RVs since before I was born. To my knowledge, there haven’t been any fatalities…just messed up trucks, RVs and other stacked material. Nothing can be done except warning lights. Tracks can’t move, can’t be raised or lowered.

        Dayphoto said:
        June 13, 2022 at 5:40 PM

        And people will go on Not Reading or being careful…

        Dayphoto said:
        June 14, 2022 at 11:20 AM

        Maybe they need to go OVER the tracks. Just a thought

          The Hinoeuma responded:
          June 14, 2022 at 2:52 PM

          I’m not sure how that would work.

            Dayphoto said:
            June 14, 2022 at 5:58 PM

            In today’s world I’ll bet some engineer could figure it out

              The Hinoeuma responded:
              June 14, 2022 at 6:53 PM

              Possibly but, no one will put up the money.

    theearthspins said:
    June 13, 2022 at 10:35 AM

    Could they not just make it a Drawbridge? They do it for boats.

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      June 13, 2022 at 3:04 PM

      I am guessing that NC Railroad already thought of that. Don’t know…really… That would require some adjustments to the bridge and additional taxpayer money. Perhaps there was a hearing with input from residents and it was a “no.”

      Just spitballing there…

      I’m astounded at the people driving those rigs, obviously not knowing the heights of their vehicles. As often as the accidents happen, I would imagine insurance companies would have jacked up rates in the Durham area because of that bridge. Live within a 100 miles of that thing? Cough it up…

    theearthspins said:
    June 13, 2022 at 4:09 PM

    I am with you on that. If it is 2/3 the normal height, the height difference would be visibly obvious. It scares me to think these people are driving on our interstates.

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      June 13, 2022 at 4:44 PM

      Yeah. Me, too…😳

    doerfpub said:
    June 14, 2022 at 12:50 PM

    I must admit, I was completely mesmerized and watched the entire video – there is a similar situation in Davenport IA that all the trucks get stuck under (has a bend up right as you get past it). Thanks for sharing.

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      June 14, 2022 at 2:59 PM

      I watched the whole thing, too. We all seem to be fascinated with disasters. I’ve seen videos of cows watching car accidents. They watch as much as we do.

      In some cases, digging out underneath is an option. This bridge has a large sewer pipe/system underneath. Permanent situation. 🤔🤨😑

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