This railroad bridge in Durham, North Carolina, is known as “the can opener” bridge — and for a good reason. This notorious bridge has been the crash site of well over 100 accidents since 2008 involving trucks and other large vehicles that slammed into the bottom of the low-arching structure.
Throughout history, trucks have gotten stuck under bridges and railroad trestles. And as you will see in the videos below, truck drivers still fail to notice clearance signs to this day.
While the Federal Highway Administration recommends that underpasses should have at least 14 feet of clearance, the “can opener,” located at South Gregson Street near Peabody Street, has an unusual clearance of only 11 feet and 8 inches.
One man by the name of Jürgen Henn works across the street from the unforgiving bridge and decided to do something about it. Henn set up several web cameras and has been documenting crashes at the bridge since 2008. Henn even dedicated an entire website to the old bridge and has quite a following. Time after time, Henn’s cameras have captured the bone-chilling moment an unassuming driver crashes into the bridge at speeds of well over 50 MPH.
Seven years after setting up the cameras, Henn still can’t believe that truck drivers don’t see the warning signs. Henn told reporters: “It’s pretty crazy sometimes. I mean, some of these truck crashes they block the road for hours. I think a lot of the drivers are distracted — there’s a lot going on on this stretch. You’ve got several traffic lights, it’s a fairly narrow part of the road, so if you have dense traffic, you’re looking at the traffic and not so much at the sign. There’s all kinds of excuses, but the bottom line is really they’re not paying attention.”
According to the Atlas Obscura, the bridge is so dangerous because approximately 100 years ago, at the time the bridge was built, there were no building standards about vertical clearance: “The bridge stands a mere 11 feet 8 inches above the road, more than 2 feet below current minimum clearance standards, making it dangerously low for modern trucks to pass safely beneath without a cacophonous and melodramatic shave off the top.”
Raising the bridge would mean the railroad would have to be shut down, and lowering it isn’t possible due to a 100-year-old sewer main beneath the pavement.
The city of Durham has made many admirable efforts to warn truckers. Several caution and warning signs have been installed near the bridge owned by the railroad company, and there are height warning signs on either side of the road for blocks in each direction approaching the bridge. There’s even an overhead height warning sign surrounded by flashing lights. As if that weren’t enough, the city recently put up a new digital sign that can sense when a truck isn’t going to clear it and warns drivers of such vehicles to turn around.
But when it comes down to it, people just don’t read signs. Truck after truck is immortalized in footage that captures the shocking moment the bridge shaves its top off. Since launching the bridge’s website, over 4 million Americans have watched Henn’s videos.
“The drivers are often inexperienced — just a guy who rented a truck to move some stuff,” Henn says. “But many also drive for a living and are likely to lose their jobs after such an incident. I estimate it’s roughly a 50/50 split between rentals and company trucks.”
The bone-chilling video footage shows the top of trucks, buses and RVs as their metal roofs are violently sheared off. Henn says the unusually low bridge fortunately hasn’t caused any serious injuries, though one unbuckled driver hit his head on his windshield once. “But he seemed OK afterwards,” Henn said.
“Today, a white boxtruck conducted a test to verify that the laws of physics do still apply to the 11foot8 bridge,” Henn wrote on the site about one of the latest incidents. “If your truck is too tall it will get stuck. Guaranteed. After they spent a half hour deflating the truck’s tires they finally managed to back the truck out from under the bridge.”
There’s something strangely amusing and bone-chilling about watching a truck’s top get peeled off like a tuna can lid. Visit 11foot8.com for more shocking video footage of the “can opener” bridge.