The Toughest Bridge in the World

Nom nom nom

They are not raising it because the Norfolk Southern Railroad doesn't care: it's their bridge and the only thing they want is to guarantee the safety of their trains. "As far as they are concerned, they solved that problem by installing the crash beam," 11foot8 says. Any potential solution -- like raising the bridge or lowering the road -- is too expensive to be worth it.

The city of Durham installed warning sings along the three blocks that precede the bridge, but the imbeciles still keep ramming into it once every month on average.

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29 Responses:

  1. Sam Kington says:

    There's a French tunnel along the same lines, at (because of the metric system).

    • jwz says:

      They call it a "Royale with Crash Bar".

      • Jens Kilian says:

        Apparently they call it a "horse cabaret".

        ("Hors gabarit" seems to mean something like "except for overall dimensions of...". The French don't care if you don't understand their road signs.)

        • Barry Kelly says:

          Road signs across Europe are generally pictographic, much more so than the US; the ones that are in French are generally the same kind as the ones which are German in Germany, English in UK, etc; typically "road closed", diversion, etc.

          What I don't understand WRT to this video is why there isn't a set of hanging chains from a frame a little further back. That's typically what's used in UK and Ireland for low bridges that people crash into; a bunch of chains that will smash your windshield if you're not paying attention.

          • Nick Lamb says:

            I'm in the UK and I've never seen hanging chains used. I've seen fixed barriers that are intended to eat a truck impact before it reaches the railway bridge, as used in this example, but never hanging chains on the public road. Anyway, their FAQ indicates that (like several low bridges near me) over-height vehicles need to access places very near to the bridge, the difference between "I am going near the bridge" and "I am intending to drive under the bridge" is quite small, leaving little space for anything but the warnings already in place.

            • Brian B says:

              I don't see why they couldn't still put in a noisy but not damaging warning system farther from the bridge; delivery trucks would know when they set it off that it wasn't intended for them, and turn off before the bridge as per usual.

            • Teclo says:

              I've seen chains used here in the UK, I've also seen IR beams and flashing signs to alert drivers that they are too tall to go through. Why they don't have something like that is beyond me.. Two poles, a couple of ir transmitters/receivers and a flashing sign.. It's not that expensive/complex is it??

              • Nick Lamb says:

                There is a height deteector, there is a flashing sign. You can see the flashing bright yellow warning lamps on the bridge. They are flashing in the whole video because the video doesn't show its normal state when nobody is driving an over-height truck toward the bridge. The trucks are ignoring the lamps, as well as the sign they're attached to, and still driving under the low bridge.

                Humans are wilfully negligent more or less as a species. They get fixated on a plan and then they try to stick to the plan long after it should be apparent that they ought to abort. That's why the flashing signs don't work, the humans driving these trucks had already committed to the idea of driving under the bridge. Signs saying this is illegal, dangerous or even impossible are now irrelevant, because they have committed to the plan.

                Even people who've undergone specialist training to try to break them of this unfortunate human habit will still tend to fall back on it. Many railway accident investigations conclude that a safety-trained human made a decision which makes no sense whatsoever, usually because they wanted to stick to a plan they had previously made. For example, planners decided to send a rescue train to pick up the passengers from a failed train in the middle of nowhere. The rescue train broke down before it could set off to pick them up. Do you think the planners went "OK, we'll send one of these dozens of other trains" or maybe "We can't send a train, we will evacuate all the passengers on foot to the nearest road" ? Nope. They had decided on that train, so they just waited for it to be fixed, leaving the stranded passengers to wait several hours with no news. During that time nobody re-assessed the situation, nobody even really understood that there was a problem. They had a plan, they were following the plan.

  2. Thomas says:

    They've missed the other thing that bridges like to eat: double-decker buses. About once every five or so years a bus driver will forget he's driving a double-decker and take most of it under a low bridge, turning it into an open-top bus in the process.

  3. Eric says:

    I saw this happen several times on Springfield Ave in Champaign. I checked on street view, and sure enough you can still see the battle scars on the bridge:

  4. djm says:

    Something like this happened to a friend of mine. He was driving a truck and knew he was close to the height limit, so he drove very carefully under the bridge and made it. Later, after dropping of his load (you can see where I'm going), he confidently tore under the bridge at full speed not realising the unladen truck was sitting quite a few inches higher than his earlier success. The results were just like the video - clipped the top off the truck.

    • Chas. Owens says:

      That explains why so many of the trucks looked empty. They are also probably on a return trip.

      • jscott says:

        Interesting, but Gregson is a one-way street.

        • bq Mackintosh says:

          I've heard that in some countries, it's actually possible to take a one-way street while making a return trip with a truck. Maybe you should write the local Chamber Of Commerce and see if that's the case with this bridge.

    • Thomas says:

      I head of a similar scenario at the university I went to. The university has the loading bay for what was then Physics 1 between two large bridges linking parts of the campus (one had a cafe on it, the other had the chemistry labs). A lorry turned up, cleared the first bridge with not much space to spare, and unloaded a bunch of stuff. He then verrry carefully drove under the second bridge, just clearing it... until he hit a bump or crack in the road, and the lorry bounced up slightly and wedged itself. Getting that out was interesting. I think they ended up doing something to the suspension to lower the lorry.

  5. Diffeomorph says:

    Reminds me of a time in my childhood when I saw a camper get stuck against the roof a Sinclair station's gas island. Pull forward: rip; backward: rip. The station owner came out yelling that he was ruining the roof of the island and had to stop.

  6. Joe Crawford says:

    I feel conflicted because I think I could watch videos of trucks crashing into that thing all day. Cringing each time.

    I vote for a big video billboard a quarter mile from the bridge - it's triggered by a vehicle potentially being over-height - image recognition scans for vehicle type - RV, rental truck, cargo truck, and flashes some choice photos of what happens if you're really over-height.

    Of course given how awesome those photos would be maybe some accidents would result, but I'm sure the good people of Durham would appreciate the entertainment.

    • Rick C says:

      The fact that this happens is kind of ridiculous at this point. I bet the city or state would make this impractical, but in low-roof parking garages you frequently see a pipe hanging from chains a foot or so back from the entrance. If they put something like that on the other side of the intersection, so you had 3 seconds of warning, I bet it would drastically reduce the number of accidents.

      Of course one fine day the railroad may find the bridge blown up, too, which would be entertaining in its own way.

      • plums says:

        From the FAQ on 11foot8:

        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.

        • gryazi says:

          New Canaan, CT uses an optical height warning that sets off a horn and some sort of flashing 'Over Height - Turn' sign.

          It even works the majority of the time when tree limbs aren't blocking it. The 'once a month' rate still sounds about right.

        • Rick C says:

          The particular approach may not be tenable but I doubt the concept is. Ever go in a parking garage in a car with a long CB antenna? I bet you could put something flexible up there on chains that would both give way and still make noise. Heck, tin pie dishes on chains with flashing LEDs would probably work.

          • pavel_lishin says:

            My dad has a pretty tall Ford that I used to drive from time to time. It has a short antenna attached via magnet to the roof. One day, I drove into a garage that was just low enough to drag the antenna down the roof a bit and knock it off into the bed; that was probably the third scariest experience I've ever had in that truck. (First being losing a belt, and therefore all power steering on the freeway at 70mph, the second being losing a whole tire on a freeway at about 60mph.)

        • Max says:

          It seems like the delivery drivers could learn to live with wacking the buzzer.

  7. Jay says:

    There's a bridge like that in Westfield, MA (and probably a lot of other places in MA, honestly). The road actually is lowered but the clearance is still only 11'5". Thanks to Google Street View you can actually see a huge dent in the crash beam:

  8. Brian B says:

    The town I grew up in had a busy street with a 10-foot underpass. There weren't supposed to be trucks on that street at all, but they still hit the bridge with some regularity; usually it was U-Hauls driven by people unaccustomed to driving anything taller than themselves.

    They finally got around to raising it sometime in the past few years, as I noticed when I was back for a class reunion. It literally took decades of negotiating with and persuading the succession of owners of the tracks, complicated by the fact that it involved also eliminating grade crossings elsewhere along the line.

  9. Where's the Yakety Sax soundtrack?