FAQ

Ryder truck 2/13/09

Why is the bridge so low?

This train trestle is about 100 years old. At the time when it was built, there were no standards for minimum clearance..

How often do trucks crash into the bridge?

On average, about once a month a truck gets visibly damaged at the bridge. However, every day I see trucks that trip the overheight warning lights, stop and turn into the side street.

Why don’t they fix it?

Depends on who “they” are and on what “fix” means.

  • The North Carolina Railroad Company owns the train trestle, and their concern is primarily with keeping the trains running and keeping them running safely. So their concern is mainly with reducing the impact of the truck crashes on the actual structure of the train trestle. As far as they are concerned, they solved that problem by installing the crash beam.
  • The city of Durham has installed “low clearance” signs on each of the 3 blocks leading up to the trestle (Gregson is a one-way road). There is an “overheight when flashing” sign with flashing lights that are triggered by vehicles that are too tall. Several blocks ahead of the trestle the speed limit is 25 MPH. The folks from the city planning department said that they made an effort to prevent accidents.
  • The North Carolina Dept. of Transportation maintains the road, but not the signage. I suspect they have much bigger problems to deal with statewide than this bridge.

MUTCD W12 low clearance sign

Is the clearance signage accurate?

The clearance signage displays  a maximum safe clearance – and yes, in that sense it is accurate. The actual clearance of the crash beam right in front of the trestle is 11 feet 10.8 inches, which gives it a 2.8 inch safety margin. The MUTCD allows for a maximum of 3 inches difference between the signage and the actual clearance.

Metric, please!

Would this situation be better if the signage were metric? Well … take a look at his website: 2m40.com (Warning: French. Metric)

For the convenience of our metric-only audience, here are the measurements we’re talking about in Meters:

  • 11foot8 (11 feet 8 inches) = 3.556 meters
  • 11 feet 10.8 inches = 3.627 meters
  • Safety margin: 7.1 cm (at the crest of the road)

Can’t the road be lowered?

That would be prohibitively expensive because a sewer main runs just a few feet below the road bed. That sewer main also dates back about a hundred years and, again, at the time there were no real standards for minimum clearance for railroad underpasses.

Can’t the bridge be raised?

Here, too, the question is who would want to pay the millions of dollars to raise the tracks a couple of feet? To accomplish this, the grade of the tracks would have to changed on both sides of the trestle, probably for several miles. That would require rebuilding all trestles in Durham. And NS would have to shut down this busy track for months. I don’t think they are interested in that idea.

Is the signeage inadequate?

The signeage is pretty good. Large signs alert driver to the low clearance several blocks before the bridge. Overheight vehicles trip a light switch that turns on flashing warning lights.right at the bridge.

Should there be more signeage?

It’s hard to see how more “low-clearance” signs will significantly improve the situation. But maybe a different kind of signeage would get the driver’s attention.

Could they install a low-clearance bar?

A low clearance bar is a bar suspended by chains ahead of the bridge. Overheight vehicles hit that bar first and the noise alerts the driver to to the problem. I understand that this approach has been successful in other places, but it’s not practical here. There are many overheight trucks that have to be able to drive right up to the bridge and turn onto Peabody St. in order to deliver supplies to several restaurants. Making Peabody St inaccessible from Gregson St would make the restaurant owners and the delivery drivers very unhappy.

Why are they using yellow flashing lights?

Warning lights have to be yellow according to the NC traffic laws.

Are the drivers stupid?

No idea. They certainly seem distracted and the rental truck drivers are also probably inexperienced.

Will insurance cover the damages?

Most truck rental insurance policies specifically exclude overhead damage from coverage. However, a good auto insurance or liability insurance might pick up the tab. Check with your agent. Or even better – don’t hit the bridge!

What is the location of the 11foot8 bridge?

201 Gregson St in Durham, NC (intersection with Peabody St) Link to Google maps

Any other questions?

If you have any truck-crash-related questions that are not covered here, post them below.

 

49 Comments

  1. rrffxx says:

    I see some of the crashes were captured from many angles. How many cameras are trained on this bridge? Are they all yours?

  2. Red04 says:

    I have a few questions:

    1. What happens to most of the trucks after they get damaged?

    2. Has anyone every been seriously injured after once of these collisions?

    3. Is it wrong that I laugh a little when I watch your vids? (I mean from what I can tell the signeage is kind of hard to miss.)

  3. deverill says:

    Has anything ever hit it before whilst a train was going over the top??

  4. Picklejar says:

    There should be a speed camera there in addition to the height meter, and if a tall truck doesnt seem to be about to turn into Peabody St. according to its speed, the bridge should emit a LOUD, directed sound saying YOU ARE ABOUT TO HIT THAT BRIDGE.

  5. puzzled says:

    You can’t raise the bridge, you can’t lower the street, can’t you close the street??? To me the city is been VERY irresponsible.

    • Goldmarble says:

      How is it irresponsible? There are warning signs, flashing lights, everything is there to tell people if they are going to hit. If/when they hit, it is their fault. Not the city’s. Not the railroad company’s. It is the driver’s fault. Why should the road be closed? Because a few times a year, some ignorant person damages their vehicle?

      People should be responsible for their own actions. The government should not be responsible for us.

      • AndyDandy75 says:

        Goldmarble said: “The government should not be responsible for us.”
        Lincoln said: “A government of the people, by the people, for the people”

        By definition, the government is responsible for us.

        Most truck boxes are about 9’2″ tall empty. USDOT Reg.
        A ‘normal’ load will reduce this further.
        Clearly this bridge is wrongly advertised at 11’8″

        • jurgen says:

          Groucho Marx said: “He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don’t let that fool you. He really is an idiot.”
          Richard Simmons said: “It’s not nice to make fun of people with issues.”

          By definition, government trucks may, or may not, fit under this bridge. Don’t listen to advertising – it’s all a lie. Believe in yourself.

        • kvanconant says:

          Actually most box trucks you rent are 12′.
          A lot of U-Haul trucks are 10′, Penske and others are normally 12′

        • HFBeere says:

          most truck boxes are 9’2 from frame maybe semi trucks are 13’4 with a 13’6 height warning so bridge is not marked wrong

    • HFBeere says:

      I don’t think so the truck drives are the irresponsible ones. As a Truck driver myself it is my place to know my Vech Clearance not the Gov. this is marked with a flashing light at the least they should stop

  6. sbblakey777 says:

    Can you tell me what the numbers on the ground in front of the trestle mean?

  7. nascarusa1 says:

    I was thinking of some giant rollers, like they use in a bakery for flattening dough. :-/

  8. HFBeere says:

    Cool Sight just seen it on our local news today in Harveys Lake Pa. on WNEP Channel 16 out of Scranton, PA

  9. djmovit says:

    Amazing Footage, Thanks for posting it. According to one of the news story you are filming from your office? How do you get the second view? Just wondering. DOT should mount a camera on the bridge and share the footage with you to give that head-on view :-)

  10. mannyr says:

    Instead of a low clearance bar, I’ve seen low clearance ‘combs’ used. These are a series of dangling chains or cables. Some of them have tennis balls on the end not to damage the vehicles.
    A truck can still drive under these ‘combs’ but the noise of the chains or balls bouncing on the roof certainly serves to alert the driver.

  11. TimSpencer says:

    I read about this website on CNN.

    As soon as the videos started playing, I immediately remembered the
    Megabus crash in New Jersey a couple of years ago. The bus was 13 feet
    in height. Four passengers died. :(
    http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/05/nj_driver_in_fatal_megabus_ny.html

    Does Megabus(or any tour bus company) come through this can opener bridge
    in North Carolina?

    Many years ago, I saw a low bridge in Japan. The local government installed
    two or three warning poles with hundreds of cow bells. They were place 1,
    2, and 3 blocks ahead of the low bridge. Any truck or bus heading towards
    the low bridge would hear the top of the vehicles hitting the bells. The
    noise was incredible loud and it was nearly impossible for the driver to miss
    it.

    Why can’t the state of North Carolina or the railroad company install something
    like that?

    • jurgen says:

      Please read the FAQ. Sorry to hear about the fatal accident. So far no one has been seriously hurt (AFAIK) at the 11foot8 bridge. Megabus stays away from it.

  12. jibblin x says:

    Just came here after seeing site on “Caught on Camera”. Good job!
    The drivers clearly are stupid.
    Jurgen’s diplomatic enough to not come right out and say it. I’m not.
    Given the clarity of the signage and the fact that most drivers turn on Peabody St. backs this up.
    You can only go so far to protect people from themselves.

    Are your cameras rolling 24/7? Or is something triggering them?

  13. Tanzer26 says:

    A couple of times when renting trucks, I’ve noted that overhead damage mot covered by insurance, even the additional no deductible option. There was nothing on or in the vehicle to indicate the height and when I asked, they couldn’t tell me how high it was. Asked them how I was to avoid overhead obstructions, which usually have clearance required signs, when they couldn’t tell me the height. Once place pondered it a bit. The other told me I should know the height of their truck. At another place, their truck had big label on the dash with and bright red hatched border and the minimum clearance required printed on it.

  14. stefanTX says:

    I think the reason there are so many accidents is so many truck drivers think they can fit under the bridge, and they’re almost right about it. I grew up near a 9 ft 9 in rail bridge, and a truck would get stuck there maybe once every few years. Raise the elevation of the road by 12-18 inches and fewer trucks will try to make it through.

  15. DFW333 says:

    I see that warning lights are required to be yellow, but why not make them red and reclassify them as flashing red signal as if it were a four way stop? This way if a vehicle trips the over height warning they, and all other traffic with them, are required to come to a complete stop before proceeding through the intersection. After all, it looks as if some of these trucks go through there so fast that they don’t even realize there’s a street to turn on to!

  16. treblemaker says:

    It seems that if this does create a safety hazard for pedestrians and other drivers there _are_ two things the city can do to mitigate the risk:

    1) Make the intersection of Gregory and Peabody a 3-way stop.
    2) Hang a low-clearance bar on the _far_ side of the intersection (the side closest to the overpass).

    By making it the intersection a full stop you ensure that trucks will still be moving slowly when they hit the low clearance warning bar on the far side of the intersection.

    There is about 20 feet between the intersection and the crash bar. This may be enough time to stop. Or, if not enough time to stop, at least enough time to slow down to _almost_ a stop, providing an enormous reduction in the damage — and thereby reduce the risk to other drivers and pedestrians.

    Understood that the stop sign would be an inconvenience to the thousands of drivers who pass through there without hitting the bridge. But isn’t municipal government all about risk reduction?

    • Eddie Shagnasty says:

      Insurance company’s can help you with this concept. They work with actuarial risks. At some point, there is a concept of diminishing returns when spending the taxpayer money to make things less “risky” – for trucks or pedestrians. What about the intersection 4 miles away in which 6 drives have been killed in the last 10 years? What can be done about *that* – first?

      As far as providing any “enormous reduction in the damage” – damage to what? It would appear that the rail bridge is making out just fine, thank you very much. Any damage done to the trucks is eventually repaired or replaced with a new truck – thus helping the North Carolina economy at some level.

      > But isn’t municipal government all about risk reduction?
      Emphatically NO. Government’s primary responsibility is to GOVERN and provide order. Let’s all find some more productive battle in which to don our armor and tilt against windmills. Plus, it’s just damned entertaining.

  17. ChickenUnderwear says:

    Every now and then I have to rent a big truck. Last summer I had a job at Yankee Stadium which is surrounded by elevated subways with low bridges.

    I wish I could have found something for my GPS that would have told me a route around them. I did not hit any bridges but I had to make a few u-turns.

  18. robert@timetraveller.org says:

    Here’s a more elaborate solution used in Sydney, Australia:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFFJk1-XCkk

  19. archangel says:

    The solution would be a stop light that turns red for all overheight trucks and a train style bell and arm that comes dow saying “LOOK AGAIN STUPID, YOU ARE TOO TALL TO MAKE IT AND YOU WILL GET A $5000 FINE FOR HITTING THIS BRIDGE PAYABLE ON SIGHT, AS IN RIGHT NOW!”

    Something like that might work.

  20. ngelo9657 says:

    Wonder if they can just make the road itself lower, as in.. make a long slope for that bridge, you don’t have to do anything fancy with stop signs (that won’t work, unless of course the ridiculous water thing happens), the ultimate solution would be to actually make it so that tall vehicles can actually go underneath that silly bridge, who’s idea was it to make a bridge that’s less than 12 feet, jeez that’s ridiculous.

  21. UK Trucker King says:

    The solution is for people to know how big their vehicle is, and then not just rely solely on Sat Nav but to use commonsense and read the road signs and plane their journy accordingly

  22. jlust says:

    Durham local here that works at Brightleaf Square and loves the site.

    I’m curious if your cameras are HD. I’ve noticed the video is decidedly low resolution, even today. Are your cameras SD (thought SD is > the 360px the videos are uploaded at), or is the HD only for folks that license your footage?

    Thanks. More sacrifices to the Gregson St bridge!

  23. bryanoftexas says:

    Used to have this contraption in Columbus, Texas, that I imagine would create quite a racket and make them stop before hitting the bridge:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/stall/226249884/

    Seeing the damage on the bells, I’d say it got used well.

  24. Phule says:

    Considering all the different kinds of signage available now… including the more interesting things being done around the country (and the world)… could something more interactive be employed?

    For example. A two message “digital” sign… it either says in green LED that “Your Height Will Pass” to the appropriate height vehicle that is approaching, or it says in red LED that “Warning! You WILL hit the bridge!” when an over-height vehicle is about to go under.

    Why this two state indicator? People ignore flashing yellow. They assume it isn’t for them. Even the flashing yellow that is tripped by an over-height vehicle still won’t register with some people. They won’t notice that it turned on for them, or they will assume it turned on for someone else… even *if* they acknowledge they noticed it go from an off state to a tripped state.

    So… a sign they can see that is interactive… approving those that can pass, and changing for them. One that is harder to just blow off.

    Then again… some people are just idiots no matter what.

  25. Kapt_Kirk says:

    Great Website. Question for you, I looked at Google street view and I did not see the Warning low-clearance bar ahead of bridge. I think someone should talk to the city and get one set up ahead of the bridge before someone gets killed. I have seen them at fast food drive thru’s before.

  26. Viv T says:

    What great spot for a coffee shop. You can’t buy entertainment like that. Is there space where bridge is visible?

  27. scirocco06 says:

    Jurgen, do you plan to get more t-shirts in?

    k.

  28. dotty says:

    Hi Jurgen just to say what an excellent Idea there is little that can be done about stupidity and the protection beam on the bridge is as pragmatic a solution as possible, but all I would say is as psychologically drivers are programmed to stop at traffic lights so what I would do is a take the over height signal and use it to trigger a say 30 second delay red traffic stop lamp on the bridge entrance so they would not only have to drive past the warning but also a stop sign which itself is a serious offence if they did stop they would notice the bridge and if turning it would not be a major delay compared with a stuck truck

    the theory is as they are used to stopping at stop lights to the point that experienced drivers do not even notice they are there they just stop anyway it would have to be a traffic light not a warning lamp which is really the point you re trying to influence the “zombie” which is actually driving the truck not the high level person we see inhabited by the “zombie”, this is why we take time to learn to drive we need to teach the zombie who allows us to walk without tripping and climb stairs all of which is automatic, ever considered how you do things without thinking like catch a ball its an odd concept but that’s how we work

    lowering the warning would also help as it would detect more of the close ones crane derricks RV ACU’s

    there is a bridge at cairnryan regularly hit pointlessly
    cheers dotty winterburn on facebook

  29. mmclean1792 says:

    What was the most expensive damage caused from hitting the bridge?
    Boats, RVs, Car carriers etc…

  30. mmclean1792 says:

    What is the fastest speed that somebody has hit the bridge?

  31. hoghunter says:

    As a former truck driver, I have little sympathy for the foolish drivers who slam into the bridge. I recall several times when we approached a bridge the was marked incorrectly and we had to stop to check. All truckers should know their vehicle height and check the route to make sure there are no low overpasses. We had a map that told us the height of any bridges that were lower than standard. My rig was 13′ 6″ and one nasty night in November during a rainstorm we were on a mountain road north of Pittsburgh when we came up on a iron girder bridge that was marked as 14’3″. We stopped and checked and sure enough it wasn’t 14’3″ it was actually 13’3″! We couldn’t back up because the road was dark, narrow and very crooked. I drove as a two man team so we got out and lowered the air in our tires and in our air suspension. We managed to get barely enough clearance. I rode standing on the passenger side window sill with a super bright flash light and watched to make sure nothing was hanging low on the bridge as we crossed. We rode right down the middle of the road after first walking cross the bridge an putting out flares. Fortunately it was a lonely road and no traffic came the whole time. We did clear the span without any damage. On the other side we inflated the tires and suspension.

  32. High_Iron says:

    If the bridge were to be raised, it should not require raising several miles of railroad. Railroads generally try to keep grades to less than about 1.5 percent, and steeper grades can be handled for short distances. Until recently, the steepest mainline railroad grade in the United States was a little over 4 percent. Assuming the grade is kept to 1 percent, it would require only 100 feet in each direction to raise the bridge 1 foot. Raising the bridge 5 feet to meet minimum highway standards, which would also allow an extra 8 inches for additional layers of pavement, would require only 500 feet of roadbed in each direction to be raised. If there are other bridges within that 500 feet, they might have to be altered, but only those within the 500 feet. I’m not saying the bridge should be raised, but it should not require changes to miles of track if it is done.

    • B-Dubz says:

      The Way i see it, with all the warnings, these drivers are at fault, any who have lost their jobs due to a lack of respect for common sense, didn’t need to be driving in the first place, hahaha. on a side not those in the r.v.’s, well i guess, unless they drive them everywhere, they probably just were not thinking that they were in a taller vehicle, does not excuse their stupidity, but it can be more understandable, the truck drivers how ever should defiantly know better, seeing as how they have to have a license that explicitly means they have to know a separate set of road rules, one of which is “Hey buddy if you are driving in a truck so high and a bridge is so low…Do Not Attempt!” to paraphrase

  33. biketate says:

    Thank you so very much! I really enjoy your postings. I want to share another bridge making the news after their sixteenth decapitation this year. You really have to look closely to see the itty bitty sign they use to warn that THIS BIRDGE HAS ONLE TEN FOOT EIGHT INCH CLEARANCE,
    http://boston.cbslocal.com/2015/06/08/too-tall-box-truck-hits-westwood-train-bridge/

  34. derkofan says:

    The footages are interesting, and sometimes funny. 😛

    You can broadcast a livestream from the camera`s?
    I think there are quite a few people want to follow the crashes live. 😉

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