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Vote Brunel!


Opportunities to congratulate Jeremy Clarkson on a job well done are rare. But his enthusiastic, irreverent and exciting presentation of the life of IK Brunel in the BBC's Great Britons series last week was something that the whole civil engineering profession should have been delighted with.

So thanks to Jeremy. Thanks because it is rare that the personalities and achievements of the profession are celebrated in such a way. Thanks because he managed to capture and explain in everyday language the excitement that every civil engineer takes for granted.

Thanks because he underlined the magnitude and importance of Brunel's work.

On Tuesday morning when I wrote this, Brunel was still number one, ahead of Churchill and Darwin. But we now need to capitalise on this flying start and make sure that Brunel is voted to the top of the Great Britons list for the final count on 24 November by flooding the BBC website and switchboard.

As far as I am aware there are no limits on the number of times that you are able to vote so get on line and vote away.

Many of you, I know, agree Brunel was a great man. But in case you need further persuasion as to why Brunel should command your vote let me underline a few points from Clarkson's hustings performance.

There is no doubt that Brunel left the nation with a staggering amount of pioneering infrastructure during his short life. The Great Western Railway - including Paddington and Templemeads stations, Box Tunnel and dozens of spectacular viaducts, the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and the Royal Albert Bridge across the Tamar are just a few highlights of his legacy.

But he was also a bold innovator and forward planner.

Brunel had the belief and courage to use his own broad gauge railway lines between London and Bristol because he wanted to run bigger trains carrying more freight. He came up with the motor-rail concept for carriages. He built huge ships to extend the railway to the States. This guy was integrating transport almost before transport properly existed.

Above all though, while Brunel controlled the concepts and designs, arranged the financing and supervised the construction, he always made sure engineering was the most important part of the project.

By modern standards, he could no doubt be rightly accused of being a bad project manager, with schemes regularly running over budget and late. He would also have been branded something of a 'subbybasher' for the draconian ways he used to ensure delivery.

And his safety record on site - well let's not go there.

Yet what remains is a massive legacy of vital infrastructure for the nation. Infrastructure that enabled the UK to lever itself ahead of the whole world as the industrial revolution blossomed.

Brunel helped shape the way our modern nation developed.

As a profession we have learnt much since then and in many ways have moved forward massively - think design standards, think cost control, think safety. But in the hearts of the nation we have fallen behind.

We are not often given the chance to make a noise on national television. We need Brunel as an icon much more than we need Bob the Builder. So let's help vote him into the heart of the nation. Vote Brunel for Greatest Briton - and convince your friends to do the same.

Antony Oliver is editor of NCE

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