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Voice of experience

Referring to your editorial 'Status symbols' last week, what's new?

Well, at the risk of being obvious, New Civil Engineer wasn't around to issue National Graduate Awards when I graduated 40 years ago.

There was at least as much vision, idealism and altruism about as now, maybe differently directed: Voluntary Service Overseas came in the early 1960s, and RedR in the 1970s, for example. No doubt there was also as much cynicism, apathy, etc - your sample of graduates is seven out of several thousand. Similarly with 'senior engineers', which your editorial berates - some were leaders of one sort or another, others were content to be competent in their sphere of engineering, or academically proficient.

Graduates in civil engineering could be reasonably sure of a job in the profession, because the numbers roughly matched. The horrible word redundancy had not yet been applied to people, only structures. The Institution has grown in membership as job opportunities have diminished. A poor recipe.

Many of us have retained some of the original idealism with which we graduated, added to a wealth of experience. This is frequently disregarded. Not everyone can have a voice, even in NCE. Too many 'shouts', quoting your editorial, and you have Babel.

It would be interesting for those still around to witness how the present cohort of graduates will deal with the imminent and future problems of engineering and society over their 40 years or more in the profession - if there's room for them!

JE Gray, 29 Gallagher Road, Bedworth, Warwicks CV12 8SB.

Right for the job

I note the difficulty experienced by universities in attracting applicants to courses leading to IEng as opposed to CEng and have no doubt this is due to widespread belief that an IEng will always be regarded as inferior. What starry eyed aspiring engineer would settle for a permanently second class position at the very outset of their career?

I must admit, I myself have never been clear as to the essential difference between the two as I have never been able to obtain satisfactory answers to the following questions :

What will a CEng be able to do that an IEng will not be able to do (or vice versa!)?

What will a CEng be able to do that an IEng will not be allowed to do?

Are there any jobs for which an IEng might be preferred to a CEng? (more practical? less mathematical?)

Would such jobs be expected to carry a lower salary?

Are IEngs expected to be less imaginative than CEngs or is it simply a different kind of imagination that is required?

Although I am a Fellow of the Institution, I have always regarded myself as a 'bits of string' engineer though I have held senior positions in water supply and water resources management. Am I perhaps more of an IEng type than a CEng type?

It seems to me that the different types of career open to IEngs and CEngs need to be clearly understood by all potential recruits to the profession and (especially) by their school and university advisers so that intelligent choices can be made.

It seems also that the relative inherent strengths and weaknesses of IEngs and CEngs need to be understood by employers so that they may advertise correctly for the kind of engineer they need.

Looking back on my career, if IEng would have been clearly the right qualification for it, then that's what I would have chosen!

Keith Tattersall (F), 8 Shaftesbury Avenue, Leeds LS8 1DT.

Water wastage

I read Mike Walters' report 'Water shortages' (NCE 12 November) with the mixed emotions of laughter and anger. I laughed because I thought 'serves them right', I was angry because my qualifications and experience have been wasted.

I was 50 years old in the mid- 1980s when making staff over 50 redundant was all the vogue and staff numbers were being drastically reduced. The idea, I believe, was to shift the cost of older (and more expensive) staff from payroll to pension fund.

At that time, I had wide experience in concrete technology, land drainage and tidal defence work, and the clean water industry.

I spent over a year searching full time for new employment without success. So, the expense of my academic training and experience has been wasted for the past 13 years and technically I have a further two years of service left.

Stuart Sutcliffe (M), 16 Springfield Gardens, Upminster, Essex RM14 3EJ.

WCML value

Was the electrification of the West Coast Main Line done on the cheap in the early 1960s? It has to be accepted that the engineering standards adopted, particularly for the track itself, were totally inadequate by today's criteria. For example, it was a struggle to achieve a ballast depth under the sleepers of as little as 150mm, and it was only half way through the project that the decision was made to standardise on continuous welded rail and concrete sleepers.

But even to modernise the route to limited standards was a huge task, particularly when the programme for the London - Birmingham - Manchester- Liverpool section was reduced from 12 years to five. London to Birmingham passenger trains were diverted to the Western Region and those to Manchester to the Midland line out of St Pancras; but even so there was great disruption to services.

At that time I was assistant district engineer on the Walsall District which covered the whole of the Birmingham area and 80km of the direct line from Rugby to Stafford. There was a tremendous amount of work, much of it at weekends. For example, it was not unusual to have three ballast cleaning machines in action on a Sunday, and 100 or more works trains out. If higher engineering standards had been set, the project would have taken years longer. This was at the time when the M1 had just opened and some politicians were beginning to call into question whether it was worth spending large sums of public money on modernising the railways at all.

In the end the job was done to time and budget, and who can deny that it was not a success.

John Cook (M) The Gardener's Arms, 21 Castle Street, Berkhamsted, Herts HP4 2DW.

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