Bridge over the River Kwai engineer dies, aged 79
Former UK chief highway engineer Kanagaretnam “Sri” Sriskandan died peacefully at home on 21 April aged 79.
Sri graduated in Sri Lanka with an honours degree and served his early years working for consultant Husband and Co, under the watchful eye of Keith Best. He worked on the design of the bridge over the River Kwai for the film of that name.
He suffered the same pangs of regret as the colonel in the film when the time came for it to be blown up.
With his wife Dorothy, Sri came to the UK in 1956 to work as a bridge engineer for West Riding County Council on the improvement of the A1. He and Dorothy settled in Wakefield, where they were blessed with two sons and a daughter.
Later he worked as senior engineer (Bridges) on the Sheffield to Leeds motorway. The shallowness of the coal seams led to significant subsidence at the ground surface and a great deal of ingenuity was needed to design bridges which did not suffer as the mining wave passed. Sri made a major contribution to the designs used and was a joint assessor in the selection of the winning entry in the national design competition for the bridge over the River Calder where the principles of design in such circumstances were judged by a notable panel and accepted.
Later he worked on the M62 and in particular on the design and analysis of the Scammondan Arch the largest span Arch in Europe at the time. However, his favourite project was the elegant Pennine Way footbridge.
This was also a period during which computers were being used increasingly to aid design and analysis. West Riding made a significant contribution to the development and Sri was at the forefront of developing and adapting programming to supplant long-hand calculation.
Soon after completion of the M1, the then Ministry of Transport, in the person of Sir William Harris, seeking to make efficiencies in the use of resources, brought about a new administration, the Road Construction Units (RCUs). Sri applied for, and obtained, the post of superintending engineer (bridges) at the headquarters of Midland RCU, supervising all bridge design and construction within the Midlands region.
Subsequently, he was promoted to assistant chief engineer (Bridges), at the Ministry of Transport, with responsibility for bridge standards. This was a time of considerable turbulence following the collapse of steel box girder bridges, which required the co-ordination of a major design check of all in-service box girder bridges and close liaison with BSI.
That was not the end of problems of collapse; the Lodden Bridge failed, adding its own loss of life to that from the collapse of the box girders. This problem was traced to temporary works and a committee was convened to make recommendations to the secretaries of state of environment and Ministry of Works. The situation required a calm state of mind and rational assessment. The Bridges Division played a considerable part in devising solutions and maintaining a steady grip on developments. Sri took a lead in the events in guiding his standards section and brought to fruition the solutions devised.
Sri also directed the task of adopting the change in design philosophy from a permissible stress approach to one embodying limit state principles. This was in readiness for further changes that were in the pipeline aimed at rationalizing design practices throughout EC countries.
Following the retirement of the chief highway engineer, the deputy chief highway engineer (bridges) was promoted, and Sri took his place. When the chief highway engineer was moved, Sri was promoted again to chief highway engineer, shouldering all the burdens that that implies.
The role of the chief highway engineer’s department was to regulate both design and construction practice through the issue of design standards and construction specifications. This meant liaising with the British Standards Institution for the standards to be published, ultimately, as National Standards, keeping apace with the results of research and aiding BSI in negotiations leading to the adoption of European Standards. All the technical problems arising in the design and construction Industry, including professional practice, fell to the CHE’s department to find an acceptable solution by negotiation with the industry at large, the professional Institutions and the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors. In addition the CHE advised colleagues in the highways department, the permanent secretary and secretary of state on all technical matters as problems arose.
During his time as CHE, Sri dealt with all the challenges of the expanding Motorway and Trunk Road network, including the impact of the introduction of heavy transcontinental lorries on the highway infrastructure, the oversight of standards for the design and construction of major bridges and tunnels, and the development of the motorway communication and signalling systems.
Sri could draw on an extensive experience in both construction, the formulation of standards and contractual procedures. He guided the CHE’s Department with wisdom and clearly recognised negotiating skills, earning the respect of the profession at large.
After retirement from the Department in 1988, Sri joined consultant Mott MacDonald as a director in its bridge office. There he was responsible for a variety of projects and initiatives, particularly relating to the firm’s work on highway bridges in the UK. He subsequently became head of Mott’s bridge division, which he led for two years until he finally retired in 1993.
Those who knew Sri will remember his genial nature and his keen sense of humour.
His enduring legacy will be the contributions he made to learned journals, conferences and professional discussions. He was universally admired and respected; he will be sorely missed.
He is survived by his wife, Dorothy, their two sons, Kumar and Ranjan, and their daughter, Shiranee.
This obituary was prepared by three of Mr Sriskandan’s colleagues: Ron Bridle, with contributions from Terry Rochester, Mike Gladstone and Tony Holland.