Truck that was 'can-openered' under this low rail bridge just one of many, residents say

An incident on Tuesday evening, in which a privately-owned garbage truck’s top and side was taken right off while driving under a rail bridge on Howland Avenue, was “the worst” Annex resident Morag Karlsson has seen.

'Dozens' of trucks have been stuck or damaged under Howland Avenue bridge, area resident says

A privately-owned garbage truck was damaged while driving under a railway bridge on Howland Avenue near Bathurst and Dupont streets. (Shana Cohen/CBC)

In the last 18 years, local resident Morag Karlsson has seen "dozens and dozens" of trucks get stuck or damaged under a low rail bridge on Howland Avenue, just south of Bridgman Avenue where she lives.

But an incident on Tuesday evening, in which a privately-owned garbage truck's top and side were ripped right off, was "the worst" Karlsson has seen from her home in the Dupont Street and Bathurst Street area.

Morag Karlsson has lived in the neighbourhood for 18 years, and says she has seen 'dozens and dozens' of accidents involving trucks hitting the Howland Avenue bridge over the years. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

"It was a nightmare last night," she told CBC Toronto Wednesday, describing the accident from her front step. "Trucks were backing into other trucks, and someone would yell, 'No, no, no!"

Karlsson says she is going to start keeping a record of accidents under the bridge.

"I just don't know what can be done other than banning trucks from going up and down this road," she said. "This is ridiculous."

CP will 'halt rail traffic'

Flashing yellow lights mounted on either side of the bridge greet vehicles as they drive through, accompanied by three signs alerting drivers to the height of the bridge — 3.5 metres.

Signs and lights mark the low height of the Howland Avenue bridge. On Tuesday a garbage truck had its top and side taken off while driving underneath. (Shana Cohen/CBC)

City of Toronto staff say the municipality is required to place signs to notify drivers when a bridge is lower than 4.5 metres, but they say the city is not responsible for damages to the bridge, which is operated by Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway. 

In a written statement to CBC Toronto, CP says when a vehicle hits one of their bridges, "we halt rail traffic and dispatch a railroad bridge inspector to conduct a thorough inspection.

"Only when the bridge is verified safe do we resume rail traffic," the statement reads. The company did not say whether they were alerted to the incident on Tuesday.

Damage to the Howland Avenue bridge can been seen in this close-up photo. CP says when a vehicle hits one of their bridges they 'halt rail traffic.' ( Ed Middleton/CBC)

'It's driver error'

Police are aware of three incidents of trucks getting stuck or damaged under the bridge since January 2017, but Tuesday's was not one of them, Const. Clint Stibbe, spokesperson for Toronto Police Traffic Services told CBC Toronto.

Since police are not always called when this happens, it's unclear exactly how many times incidents like this have occurred at this location.

Stibbe added that this is not the only bridge where they see this type of situation.

"It's driver error and driver responsibility," he said.

Police say they've been alerted to three incidents of trucks running into the Howland Avenue bridge since January 2017. (Cam Johnston/submitted)
The top and side of a truck was taken off after a vehicle drove under the railway bridge at Howland Avenue in April 2016. (Stephane Guindon/Twitter)

'It always surprises us'

Cam Johnston, the manager of patron services at Tarragon Theatre, says he has seen around 12 to 15 trucks damaged under the bridge in the last four years. He says he often hears the accident before seeing it, because the theatre is so close by on Bridgman Avenue.

Cam Johnston, a staff member at the Tarragon Theatre, has a front row seat for trucks getting stuck or damaged under the Howland Avenue railway bridge. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

"We hear the loud crash, dragging, scraping metal sound, and then we'll come out and find the disaster after the fact," he told CBC Toronto. "It's as if a truck has just been 'can-openered' right off the top."

"It's pretty regular, and it always surprises us because there's signage, but they just drive right in."

Underpass is too shallow 

Engineers have said there is not enough room to the north or south of the bridge to provide "an appropriate slope going underneath," said Coun. Joe Mihevc, who represents the area. "The underpass is too shallow for the overhead rail bridge."

And any reconstruction is out of the question since the sidewalk and road around the bridge has just been redone.

"It really is something for transport drivers to figure out," Mihevc said. 

"We've put enough signage there. Do not use this bridge if you're driving a transport, go to Bathurst or Spadina."

Coun. Joe Mihevc, who represents the area, says transport drivers should not go under the Howland Avenue bridge. (Barry Smith/CBC)

With files from Lisa Xing