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Letters: Raising the Costa Concordia - courageous engineering


It is clear from the media description of the preparations for the recent righting of the Costa Concordia and its subsequent removal for scrapping that the procedure proposed has taken a massive amount of planning.

This work has included much engineering analysis and design necessary to enable the refloating, not to mention the actual works themselves, and is the result of great imagination and courage, of the sort exhibited by the early engineers when doing something which had never been done before.

Bold move: Raising the Costa Concordia exemplifies how complex challenges should be tackled by engineers

Bold move: Raising the Costa Concordia exemplifies how complex challenges should be tackled by engineers

Contrast this with the invitations to tender normally issued by public bodies, where one of the questions is almost inevitably: “Can you demonstrate that you have carried out work of this type within the last three years.”

Had this method of procurement been applied to the Costa Concordia problem then the answer would have been a resounding “No”, and the project would have failed there and then.

In my opinion, the essence of being a professional civil engineer is that, when presented with a new challenge, he or she should have sufficient experience and understanding of engineering to be able to apply it to problems they have never met before.

If every project is to be a repeat of what has already been done then there can be no development, or any of the innovation, which is constantly craved by procuring bodies.

I can only wish the team responsible for the refloating of the Costa Concordia every success, and, if successful, I would say that they could be ranked amongst the engineering pioneers.

  • Alan Mordey, Leamington Spa,



The ICE’s zero tolerance of
zero income

During 40 years as a member/associate/student of the ICE, I was a frequent correspondent to NCE. In 2010 I was made redundant by a leading UK consultancy. Overnight my household income reduced by 70%. After six months, my meagre state benefit was reduced to zero and I was persuaded to “sign off”. I remained unemployed, but not part of the statistics. I continued to lose everyday things, including my bank account and internet connection.

After the first year, my partner paid my ICE subscription, which was reduced but then tripled by my specialist ICE accreditation, for which there was no discount.

Last year I wrote to the ICE advising that I still had zero income. They replied with a formal letter ejecting me from the ICE. A volunteer advised that the Benevolent Fund was means tested and would not pay my fees.

My point is not to tell a sad story, but to ask NCE how many other members have been ejected by the ICE for zero income since the start of the recession.

The wider issue is that the unemployment statistics for professionals are a sham. The social perception, which I am frequently hounded with, is that unemployment equals benefit drawer.

However, I know of three other professionals, one an engineer, who are also unemployed but can’t “sign on” as they receive no benefit, and are thus not part of the government statistics.

  • Stuart Nisbet (former M), 15 Victoria Crescent, Glasgow G76 8BP



HS2 must link UK cities to European ones

I have seen no reference to what could be High Speed 2’s (HS2’s) most significant function - providing a direct connection into the European rail network, via HS1.

When the present Channel Tunnel project was first proposed in the 1970s, a lot of publicity was devoted to the advantages of having a direct rail link from cities such as Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham through to Paris, Brussels and beyond.

What has happened to that vision? Why has this vital feature not been mentioned in arguments in favour of HS2?

Are there any firm proposals yet for linking HS1 and HS2 to facilitate through running?

If this link is not shown to be part of the scheme, it is not surprising that critics maintain that the money could be better spent on other projects.

At present, High Speed 2 is seen by some Europeans as a mere branch line appended to the European network.

Unless there is a direct connection between HS2 and HS1, passengers from Europe to our northern cities will have to change from the London terminus of HS1 to another branch line, possibly from a different station.

Surely we need something better than this 19th century arrangement for our 21st century railways system?

  • Ken Head (F), 12 Stoke Road, Cobham, Surrey KT11 3AS



Vote on HS2 would be quicker

Let’s have a High Speed 2 referendum to save time.

  • Colin Davies (F), 59 Heath Road, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire EN6 1LR



High standards should apply to all our work

The article on the Flamanville Nuclear Power Station (NCE 12 September) refers to problems with poorly compacted concrete and reinforcement bars not being arranged as indicated on the drawings. This is not rocket science, nor even conventional good practice!

My first mentor, Sir Christopher Hinton FICE, a pioneer of British nuclear energy, used to say that there were enough novel features to deal with on the nuclear side of the business and so the conventional engineering aspects of his projects were to be to the highest standards of design, construction and inspection.

It is to be hoped that, when the next nuclear power station is built in the UK, these principles are not forgotten.

  • Peter Tinsley (F ret), Monk’s Way, Calderbridge, Seascale, Cumbria CA20 1DN



Tunnelled transport is the future

Hyperloop: Inspiration

Hyperloop: Inspiration

I read your recent article on the US Hyperloop’s bid to challenge air and rail travel with interest (NCE 28 August), even if Elon Musk’s proposal may be short on aerodynamic reality.

My interest is that in some respects it parallels my own long standing thoughts on a future transport system, now pertinent to High Speed 2.
The key is the tunnel idea.

Tunnelling is getting cheaper, while land in the UK is getting expensive both in financial and environmental terms.
We have developed a motorway system with carefully configured curves both in the horizontal and the vertical plane. What better place to put a new transport system than beneath this. Cut and cover excavation on one carriageway would be expensive and disruptive, but land acquisition cost and environmental impact would be minimal.

Assuming that the new railway line ended up at a new international airport, perhaps in the Thames estuary as proposed, then the spoil would provide the fill that was needed for such a project.

As for the track, it could retain the trusted 250 year old double rail system, or it could be cleverer than that. This is the 21st century, we have new materials, we have a greater knowledge of both structure and aerodynamics.

There is a new tunnelled transport system waiting to be developed, perhaps the sketches by Elon Musk are at least a starting point.

  • JK Edgley (G), director, AeroElvira, Furzelease Farm, Tisbury Row, Tisbury, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP3 6RZ



Soulless management speak

We have over the years become accustomed to the change in title from “site agent” to “project manager” with the subsequent confusion of the client, supervision consultant and the contractor all having PMs.

However, I was shocked to hear on BBC4 the other day that on completion of the new Queensferry Crossing across the Forth, the traditional title of the “bridge manager” of the Forth Road Bridge will be lost and become “asset manager”.

Is civil engineering being subsumed by management speak?

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



The times have changed

On reading the article about visitor facilities on the Forth Bridge, I was reminded of when I used to conduct visitors over the bridge back in the 1950s.

I was a member of the bridge department of British Railways in Scotland and I was asked occasionally to conduct visitors over the bridge on a Saturday morning.

We would meet at Dalmeny station at the south end of the bridge and walk alongside the track, out to the masonry entry arch at the end of the south cantilever. Visitors had the choice of climbing to the top of the cantilever or continuing alongside the track to the north end of the bridge. The bridge foreman escorted those who remained at track level and I took the remainder up the slope to the top of the cantilever tower via a narrow timber gangway inside the top member.

From the top we continued back down the slope to the track level and walked along to the middle of the central cantilever tower where there was a hatch in the bridge deck, which led to a timber staircase down to Inchgarvie Island on which the tower rests. Then, it was back up the staircase to track level and on the to north end of the bridge at North Queensferry.

Visitors were charged one shilling (5p) and were given a brochure. There was no financial outlay by British Railways in providing this facility. Changed times.

  • John Christie (F rtd), 4 Vine Walk, Staplehurst, Kent TN12 0BQ



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