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As London's CrossRail project gathers steam a new man has been brought in to help negotiate the planning perils that threaten such a major scheme. Alan Sparks meets Bernard Gambrill.

Today Bernard Gambrill's new post calls on his vast experience in management and public consultations. But do not make the mistake of referring to his engineering career in the past tense. 'First and foremost, ' he insists, 'I am an engineer.'

As the October date for the announcement of CrossRail's preferred route nears, the potential hurdles that threaten its future call for a man who can help avoid the many pitfalls. Gambrill has the experience of steering the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) project through the planning and public consultation stages. This provides him with first hand experience of the Hybrid Bill: that aims to put an end to the epic dramas that delayed Heathrow's Terminal Five project.

The move to CrossRail was the first time Gambrill had ever seen a P45 in his 43 year career. He began his working life as an electrical engineer but quickly found that this was not for him. Then in 1959, still only 16, he enrolled on a four-year student civil engineering scheme with British Rail.

His family's fortunes have always been intertwined with that of the rail industry. The idea of public transport is close to Gambrill's heart. He survives quite happily without a car, travelling to his favourite place - Belgium - around six times a year by Eurostar.

From that day in 1959 when he joined as an engineering student, his career was spent with BR, but not in the same job, far from it.

'You have to remember that within BR there was the opportunity to work on every aspect of the rail industry. But I was always driven towards new works, ' says Gambrill.

These were in short supply following the Beeching reforms. To earn the right to work on the more stimulating jobs, Gambrill first had to serve his time on a succession of maintenance contracts.

Unusually, he earned his ICE membership by 11 years of night school at Westminster College.

This route provided him with far more experience at an early age than the usual university path. He was able to work as a resident engineer on the Bournemouth electrification, followed by the Kings Cross to Royston line. At Hatfield he worked on raising all the bridges and the station. Then on the busy Stratford-Shenfield line he worked as a track engineer.

And from 1989 onwards he was involved with CTRL. 'Unfortunately, due to the fragmented state of the industry, for a young engineer to gain such variety on the railways today would mean jumping companies at regular intervals, ' Gambrill laments.

Privatisation found him part of the Great Western team where, he says, the management style remained in keeping with the autocratic tradition of Brunel. But Gambrill's hero has long been Joseph Lock. 'He was ahead of his time in his management style. He was the first to embrace the idea of partnering, ensuring that his contractors did not suffer from the peaks and troughs that were commonplace at that time.'

During his time on the CTRL, as a representative of project promoter Union Railways, Gambrill found himself in charge of environmental management - although he claims no previous experience of the position. 'This only came about after I was spotted walking down the corridor with a book on wild flowers under my arm, ' he explains. A keen botanist, Gambrill loves gardens - but hates gardening - and has interests in heraldry, religious history and has more than 300 Baedeker travel guides. He is also a bell ringer and was once the captain of the Bath Abbey team, a position which brought an unlooked-for benefit.

'Climbing the 125 steps and pulling on those ropes certainly kept me fit and kept my stomach muscles taut, ' he reminisces.

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