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Letters: Money is there to help Masters students

I read with interest the article “Searching for Youth” in last week’s NCE describing the push to recruit more graduates into geotechnical engineering. As the article acknowledged, there is a strong demand for UK geotechnical engineers right now and this is not going to diminish any time soon.

Generally, graduates join firms with a Masters in general civil engineering and then learn on the job. However we now have a mechanism for engineers qualified in geotechnics specifically to enter the profession.

The student loan scheme is to be extended so that all students studying a MSc course will be eligible to borrow £10,000 to cover the cost of their tuition fees, irrespective of the duration of study, or whether they are studying full or part-time. Extending the student loans scheme in this way will mean that an undergraduate can study civil engineering at a Bachelor (BEng) level and then continue on to study an MSc in geotechnical engineering without a break in funding.

geotechnical work

Geotechnical engineering: Masters degrees are needed and student loans are available

This means the industry can recruit properly qualified engineers with the specific skills that it so urgently needs. I urge employersto recognise those universities that are offering this route. They include Birmingham, Surrey, Newcastle, Portsmouth, Dundee and Imperial.

Our time is now: the opportunities for our geotechnical professionals are manifest, not just in the UK but all over the world. We have some great universities that can deliver world class geotechnical courses. The funding and duration to complete an MSc in geotechnical engineering is now the same as other engineering subjects, and we have the institutions that can deliver our message to promote this route to schools and students. If we can’t make it happen now, then we never will.

  • Jim De Waele, managing director (Europe), Keller,

Getting rail work right

In your Comment about Network Rail’s failures in the first year of the current five year spending plan you suggested that the transport secretary “was cancelling work” (NCE 2-9 July). I wasn’t aware that transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin had cancelled anything. Didn’t he say that the two outstanding major electrification schemes - Midland Main Line and the TransPenine line - had been just “paused”?

Network Rail’s recent awful performance, particularly on the Great Western line electrification, is very regrettable. But surely it’s right to put a hold on the remaining electrification work to take stock of what has gone wrong so far, so as not to perpetuate any failures and shortcomings when it restarts?

  • Roger Hand (M) Woodhill, Stoke St Gregory, Taunton TA3 6EW

Improving rail reliability

Your Comment about the potential to enhance railway capacity by moving away from “lights on sticks” fails to touch on the question of reliability (NCE 2-9 July).
Problems with those lights on sticks currently constitute a major source of disruption to travellers which should help justify an alternative control system.
However, would this alternative digital technology be more reliable? It’s much easier to beam radio waves to aeroplanes than to provide a robust communication system between trains and a control room.

  • John Ratsey (M)

Editor’s note: I don’t know about the relative ease, but we do know that the aviation industry has a safety record the envy of all transport modes and is, we’d suggest, one that is well worth learning from.

Covering all of the bases

So, we “need a new generation of technologist engineers” (NCE 2-9 July). What a pity, then, that the cover photograph is of men in orange uniforms with hard hats digging a hole with a shovel. Does this make the profession attractive?

Just to let you know, that “new generation” has existed for at least 40 years, unless I have been living in some sort of parallel universe. But we tend to work in small businesses, have computers, are gender balanced and avoid uniforms, holes and hard hats. Perhaps we are not “real” civil engineers, though.

  • David Johnson (F )

Editor’s note: I think what we are suggesting is that we need to recognise the huge diversity of challenge and opportunity in our profession. We love the opportunities that technology is bringing; but we also love seeing traditional engineering techniques done well. There is room for both, we hope.

Calculating climate change

Your feature on the important new online climate modelling tool, the Global Calculator, gives an excellent overview of what engineers can gain from using it (NCE 2-9 July). However, one important fact needs correcting: Mott MacDonald did not play a part in creating the tool itself. The Global Calculator was developed by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) and the European Union’s climate innovation initiative Climate-KIC, with input from 150 leading academic, government, NGO and business organisations, from all over the world.

Mott MacDonald got involved in the run-up to the launch of the Calculator, which took place in January this year. We were asked to use the tool to develop one of 20 “pathways”, showing how the world could reconcile the demands of population growth and expectations of improved living standards with the need to keep global warming within 2°C of pre-industrial temperatures.

Our pathway was developed by our transportation, buildings, power, international development and climate resilience experts. It drives efficiency gains in power generation, transportation, supply chains, buildings and appliances as well as using less carbon intensive technologies. It also recognises the potentially major contributions that can be made by making land management and food distribution more efficient. As you’d expect from engineers, our pathway is pragmatic and deliverable, achieving the 2°C target but also offering an economic bonus - it would cost 5.64% less than continuing business as usual (which will result in 6°C of global warming by 2100), as estimated by the International Energy Agency.

Our work with the Global Calculator has highlighted the potential value of deploying low carbon technologies across the sectors covered by the tool. We continue to work with the Global Calculator team to extend the climate change debate and identify new ways to use the tool.

  • Simon Harrison, group strategic development manager, Mott MacDonald

Performance is what matters

Hooray for Sally Cantello (NCE 25 June). When I ran a civil engineering contracting company in the 1970s and civil engineers of any background were as difficult to find as hens’ teeth, we were entirely satisfied by the performance of engineers from several ethnic groups and our three young female engineers - all out on site and competently covering everything from heavy steel construction to motorway construction. One of them even featured on the cover of World Construction magazine and attracted fanmail.

Surely 40 years is long enough for people to have learned to assess people of any gender, ethnic group, engineering qualification or background by their performance and not by some outworn stereotype.

  • Jack Edwards (F),

Editor’s note: If only it were true Jack. The reality is that, as with your firm in the 1970s, women in this industry are still a minority, and still rare enough to be seen as notable deviations from the norm. That absolutely cannot be right, although many seem to see nothing wrong here.

Squaring the equality circle

I was interested to read the articles on Women in Engineering Day in the 25 June edition of NCE and was pleased that I was able to contribute to the day myself.

However I was disappointed to see in the same edition that apart from the two NCE representatives, no women attended the water roundtable event. Could this be regarded as a comment on the water industry?

It gives the - hopefully inaccurate - impression that NCE only plays lip service to actively supporting women in the industry.

As a consultant to the industry myself and a former director of a water company I cannot believe that it was because there were no female senior executives who would have been prepared to give up an evening to discuss issues facing their industry.

  • Jo Parker, Little Cuppers, Rushmere, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire LU7 0DZ

Editor’s note: We do strive to get a balanced mix at our round table events – whether that be gender, race, experience or expertise. But it does remain a challenge to achieve that every time. But that doesn’t mean we should let our efforts drop, so thanks for drawing attention to this one.

We need marketing advice

It is important to impress near retiring engineers to assist in the future of engineering as a profession by them linking with schools or academies to encourage children to get interested in engineering.

engineers in schools

Engineers in schools: Marketing skills are needed

I became involved in the local grammar school when my son was there over 40 years ago and have continued to support it. I help arrange, and chair, a one day conference and workshop - this year on wind energy - where they have to design and build an electricity generating windmill and present their project to a panel of three engineers. Over 150 boys in year 7 (11/12 year olds) in 30 teams will do this in a day on 15 July and each will get a written report afterwards. There are various sponsored prizes. At 83 I still enjoy it and look upon it as payback for a long career in civil engineering from which I retired 23 years ago.

  • Trevor Greening (F)

Popping: the question

Rather than comment on the possible causes of the deterioration of the wires in the Forth Road Bridge cables and the subsequent tweaking of the constituent “mix”, method of drawing and coating of the steel wire for Severn, Bosporus and Humber Bridges, I would like to open further discussion on hydrogen enbrittlement in Roberts bolts (NCE 21-28 May).

The Leadenhall Building

Source: Andy Bolton

Leadenhall Building: Bolts have ‘popped’

I first experienced the problem on Tay Road Bridge where, after a few months following installation, a number of bolts were found to have “popped” (three in the first instance). We, like those in the recent report in NCE about some bolts “popping”, on the Leadenhall building in London, initially felt the same panic and concern. Reference was made to the metallurgists of the then British Steel who, after investigation, opined that the problem was due to hydrogen enbrittlement with the hydrogen becoming entrapped in the Grade V steel during the cadmium coating process and was not a problem associated with the material per se. The broken bolts were replaced without any further problem appearing in the affected locations.

Some three years after the completion of the bridge, but still during the defects liability period, a few locations were identified where the occasional bolt had “popped” and at these locations they were replaced. It was later understood from the Tay Road Bridge Board that only a few broken bolts have been found in subsequent years.

Subsequently, on the the Grosvenor Railway Bridge and the Westgate Bridge, we employed the same solution of the simple substitution of any popped Roberts bolt - this solution was again accepted by the respective Engineers and clients.

I wonder if other ICE members could contribute to the discussion with their experience of Roberts bolts?

  • Richard Tomkins (F) 27 Denmark Road, London SW19 4PG

Bridge relief needed

I read of the progress of the £175M project to build a Garden Bridge across the Thames in London.

I am not sure what the economics of the project are, nor of the outcome of any cost-benefit analysis, but it cannot be more different than the current situation in my county town of Northallerton.

Here we have a situation where the popularity of a railway line closes three level crossings, effectively gridlocking the place at certain times of the day. We now have plans passed for additional housing, on the “wrong side” of this line for many amenities in the town. Included in this plan is a new bridge to alleviate only the extra traffic from this additional housing and not cure the current situation, which causes untold delay and wasted time for people and businesses. And to rub salt into the wound, this bridge isn’t going to be in use until almost 500 houses have been completed.

This would seem a perfect example of a north-south divide, or am I missing something?

  • John Elliott (M) 1 Manor Way, Great Smeaton, Northallerton, North Yorkshire DL6 2EN

Capacity question remains

Stephen Hague is right about the limited use of proposed High Speed 2 stations away from the existing system (NCE 25 June). Coventry and Leicester are completely avoided, as are Derby and Nottingham. Changing stations in Birmingham will take 10 to 15 minutes.

Yet there is a good case for a high speed line between London and the Midlands on capacity grounds alone. South of Rugby there are only four tracks – north and westwards there are six, apart from a 10km length between Rugby and Nuneaton where there are two up lines but only one down. As there are no stations on this stretch, the conflict between passenger trains and the slower freights is minimal. Removing the dozen or so fastest trains each way per hour onto a new line would free lots of capacity for freight on the existing lines.

If the project were to be cancelled, this capacity problem would become increasingly severe.

  • David Smith, 25 Grange Road, Shrewsbury SY3 9DG

Recipe for failure?

In a riposte to the observations of ICE head of qualifications Susan Clements (NCE 18 June), I respectfully ask her if she were to enter the Great British Bake Off, would she offer her recipe book to Mary Berry but not participate in the baking of her cake?

In my time, graduates who came to site parachuted in as senior or section engineers, without any previous work experience, often soon found themselves out of their depth and were tagged paper engineers. At its best, civil engineering is a vocational occupation, like medicine and veterinary surgery, and during and post graduation it is important to gain experience, in several of the multi-disciplines available, to help with the decision of one’s final chosen path.

It is time that the Institution took a serious look at the value of member qualifications, and returned to the practices prevalent in the heyday of heavy civil engineering construction.

  • Vincent Hill (TM)

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