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Profile: Dick Tappin

High Point Rendel's key player in the ongoing Jamuna bridge saga.

In 1983 High-Point Rendel's Dick Tappin was given a brief to design a structure to carry a 1m diameter gas pipeline across the mighty Jamuna River in Bangladesh. He soon saw that to spend more than £100M on a structure that carried only gas was far from good value for money, when calculations showed that a multi-purpose bridge carrying road, rail, electricity and gas could be built for not much more than £250M. Now, 15 years and some fast talking later, the Bhangabandhu Jamuna multi-purpose bridge is open - but the gas pipeline has suffered an embarrassing setback.

Tappin, now High-Point Rendel's Middle East and South West Asia regional director, is just back from an unplanned trip to Bangladesh, investigating why the pipeline suspended under the Jamuna Bridge's concrete girder suddenly ripped free and plunged into the flooded river below (News last week). He is tightlipped on the accident, saying only: 'I am still awaiting a report from the main contractor', but on the subject of the bridge in general and its significance for Bangladesh he waxes lyrical.

'The opening party is still going on,' he says. 'I went back to the bridge a week after the official opening and there were still thousands of people there from all over Bangladesh.

'More importantly, produce from the fertile areas of the north west, which has been cut off from its natural markets in Calcutta for decades, is now flowing across the bridge to Dhaka.'

The Jamuna Bridge - the last great river crossing - is the latest in a series of engineering challenges that Tappin has confronted in his 30 years with what is now High-Point Rendel. Joining Rendel Palmer & Tritton in 1967, he progressed so rapidly that by 1970 he was a team leader on the design of the Thames Barrier.

A paper he co-authored on this project was awarded the Oscar Faber medal by the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Then in 1973, came the first move abroad - as senior engineer on the Hay Point coal terminal in Queensland, Australia. Another port job followed in Brazil before Tappin returned to England as senior engineer in RPT's design department. His next major design challenges were the Jindo and Dolsan bridges in South Korea.

'Cable stayed bridges were new to Korea then,' Tappin says. 'Korean contractors had proved they could work to high standards outside the country. I had to encourage them to work to the same standards at home.'

By the time construction started in 1980 Tappin was an associate partner, in charge of the practice's bridges group. As such he not only supervised the construction of the two Korean bridges, he oversaw all of RPT's bridge projects, including of course the Jamuna Bridge.

Made a director responsible for bridges and highway structures in 1985, Tappin switched to ports, marine and water resources projects in 1989. He took over his current position eight years later.

The Jamuna project, he says, was opened on time and to budget and should improve Bangladesh's image in the outside world. He adds that it also conformed to a belief he first developed while working on the Thames Barrier: 'Good engineering may be complex in detail, but it must be simple in principle.'

Dave Parker

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