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Letters: Oh! Really? You’re an ­engineer? Well, good for you


Firstly, let me thank you for the issue of 19 June. The subject of engineering equality was long overdue. Secondly, I wish to thank Ruby Kitching for highlighting the issue of everyday sexism.

I have been working on site as an engineer for the last six years and the issues highlighted are very familiar to me, simply because this happens on an astonishingly regular basis.

On the fifth day, on my first job on site, when being introduced, a male section engineer told me: “Are you an engineer? How can it be? I thought you were a receptionist.”

In my experience, getting flexible working on site after being a mother is not always available and stereotyping and discrimination are still significant issues.

For instance, a senior chartered engineer at my work preferred me to do paperwork instead of engineering work - regardless of my significant engineering experience and professional qualification.

I believe the ICE should lead more initiatives to raise awareness and encourage women in civil engineering to come forward to share
their views.

  • Anonymous

Editor’s note: As a rule we do not print anonymous letters in NCE. But I am making an exception in this case because I feel this letter highlights how far we still have to travel to stamp out casual sexism in our industry.

NCE will be continuing to raise awareness of this most important issue.

I have been following NCE’s debate on gender equality in engineering with interest.

For a start, I have been on the receiving end of too many patronising “Oh! Really? You’re an engineer? Well… good for you” responses to questions around my profession.

Yet I volunteer with a fantastic organisation that just happens to go against the norm. Engineers Without Borders UK (EWB-UK) has an almost perfect gender balance.

I chose to study engineering because of its ability to impact the world around us.  At university, I got involved with EWB-UK because it offered a respite from engineering applications lectures that focused on technologies with little purpose other than to demonstrate their inventors’ ability to build bigger, faster or stronger.

According to the ICE, everything we do as civil engineers involves working “for the wealth and well-being of the whole of society”. When promoting engineering this aspect is so often lost.

Instead of telling women, stereotyped as too caring, that they won’t have a rewarding career in engineering, why don’t we tell them that engineers, by providing clean water and sanitation, save millions of lives each year?

Many people have pointed out that gender inequality is not the sole responsibility of our industry. While I wholeheartedly agree that the media, toy manufacturers and parents are also a factor, I don’t believe that we should allow the scale of the problem to prevent us instigating change.

Ultimately the end users of everything we design and build are the public, and when over 50% of them are female, what better incentive do you need to have a representative workforce?

  • Chloe Underdown,


What British Rail could teach ORR

I read with interest the Alan Price’s Opinion regarding the Office of Rail Regulation’s (ORR) decision to press Network Rail harder on asset condition reporting (NCE 10 July). Given that monitoring and reporting on asset condition have always been core conditions of Network Rail’s operating licence (Part A, clauses 1.1 and 1.20 of the licence refer), is this tacit acceptance that the ORR has failed to fully carry
out its statutory duty for at least 10 years?
As a former Network Rail employee I also recall being told, many times, that the company was moving from a “find and fix” to a “predict and prevent” asset maintenance regime. However, this was also at least 10 years ago. What is really lacking across the entire rail industry is a robust “corporate memory”. British Rail had this in abundance.

  • Neil Raw (M),


HS2 not answer to UK’s needs

In common with other correspondents, I cannot support Sir David Higgins’ Opinion (NCE 26 June) in favour of High Speed 2 (HS2). What are the benefits of reducing journey time by 30 minutes or longer? As more commuters work during train journeys, surely train speed is a time management factor, not a costly imperative for those who will afford the tickets?

As for Parliamentary complicity in this project, it has been said that constituents vote for the party, implying representatives at Westminster do not have the right to free thought, or a vote of conscience; that economic analysis and cost-benefit comparisons are subverted by big ideas; and that vested interests make more impact than common sense and sound business principles.

In the wake of HS2 (and HS3), a wide ranging rethink has been proposed for transport throughout the UK including improvement to conventional rail and the addition of strategic motorways. I believe these would add greater value to regional and national economies than the current trophy proposals, while minimising the impact on our growing debt burden, currently 90% of GDP.

  • Robert Bridges, 36 Naylors Terrace, Belmont, Bolton BL7 8AP


An insider’sview of HS2

It has been good to see an increasing number of letters advocating a rethink on the plans for High Speed 2 (HS2) (NCE 3 July and earlier), especially the first section from London to Birmingham. I was one of a team considering this first stage, who felt that it did not meet what should have been the main objectives:

  • Additional capacity on key routes
  • Full integration with existing railways
  • Following existing transport corridors where possible, as with the Eurostar services alongside the motorway through France
  • Higher speeds throughout the enhanced mainline rail network, taking account of the relatively short distances in the UK compared with, say, Spain and China.

The first stage of HS2 is planned to operate at even higher speeds than in much larger countries; it has very limited connection with the existing rail network and it follows a route mostly through unspoiled and protected countryside, where local residents will have to suffer extensive environmental intrusion, but will gain no benefit because the new line is not integrated into the existing rail network. Not surprisingly, the local objections have been extremely vocal.

It is still not too late to see the development and introduction of a higher speed rail system throughout the country, fully integrated with all the other rail proposals, such as Crossrail (plus Crossrail 2), Great Western electrification, Northern Hub, East West Rail, George Osborne’s HS3, etcetera. We really do not have any nationwide transport plan, just random and very expensive proposals.

  • Nigel King (M),


Garden Bridge vs Ponte sul Lago

Davood Liaghat asks if the proposed Garden Bridge across the River Thames and the Ponte sul Lago Pertusillo are similar (NCE 10 July); well no. Pertusillo seems to have had an engineering input rationalising its concept; consideration seems to have been given to the not insignificant weight of soil needed for trees.

The greenery is kept close to the supports where the weight can be taken fairly directly to ground, allowing a slender girder to connect the islands of greenery. On the Garden Bridge it looks like the landscape architect drew a thick green line and asked the engineer simply to put some concrete in underneath to keep it up.

The cost of supporting the greenery (in both financial and carbon footprint) is enormous if not correctly engineered; this is where the difference is and where the debate started some weeks ago.

  • David Collings (F),

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