Archive for May, 2011

Car Park of Death!

Posted in Engineering, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2011 by awickerman

Via Tim I discovered the Observer’s architect critic has joined the chorus demanding the horror of Preston Bus Station be saved. The main argument appears to be that it ” it embodies the spirit of its 1960s age”, you can argue if that is a good or bad thing visually but in the world of civil engineering, particularly those parts related to large concrete car park type structures, that is reason enough to flatten it. Indeed the man himself admits the reason before attempting to dismiss it;

“The bus station is not alone. It is part of a company of buildings from the 1960s and 70s that fall victim to a vicious compound of circumstances. They are tough, not obviously charming and carry a label no PR expert would have chosen, of “brutalism”. Some have serious technical problems, albeit often exaggerated. Some have serious technical problems, albeit often exaggerated

I will now demonstrate why those serious technical problems have not been exaggerated. We begin in the 1960s when reinforced concrete was a new idea and building huge civic structures in the brutalist style was all the rage. After the architect had produced his swooping lines and grand gestures for the new Preston depot he handed it over to the designers to do the actual hard part of making it work and not fall down, and here is were things went a bit wrong. To be blunt the concrete specifications of the time allowed fairly weak, porous concrete and didn’t require much cover to the reinforcing steel, for those interested in water/cement ratios and porosity of concrete I commend you to this handy government guidance. To add to the fun the design codes of the time were also a bit ‘optimistic’ on concrete strength in shear so most designs weren’t really strong enough and didn’t have the safety margins the designers assumed.

So fast forward a few decades to the 1990s and these chickens begin to roost, car parks start rotting far faster than planned and a few demolition contractors get nasty surprises when the buildings fall apart faster than expected. The big change is probably Pipers Row car park, the top floors of which quite dramatically collapse overnight;

Pipers Row Car Park, pride of Wolverhampton. It got it's own HSE report you know, where do you think I nicked the photo from?

After the HSE investigation a whole generation of material engineers relax knowing their careers will be safe for life, looking after corroding 1960s/70s car parks will be a job for life for anyone who cares to do so. While the collapses generally get avoided these days that doesn’t mean the buildings are OK, it just means they get demolished earlier than expected leaving the owners to try and explain the problem to confused punters looking to park. A good one was Heathrow Terminal 3 car park;

Once a car park stood here, not anymore obviously.

You may be forgiven for thinking this was just part of the ongoing 'permanent rebuild' strategy for Heathrow Airport. However this is the old T3 car park, the one that was conveniently opposite the terminal till it was condemned by a mate of mine due to massive corrosion. So this car park was demolished and a new one built further away. If you've ever been at T3 and wondered why the car park is so far away and why the pick-up/drop off area is so huge, that's why.

This is still a live problem, a quick google throws up a car park in Nottingham that got the old ’emergency closure’ treatment a couple of years back and only last month a Southend car park collapsed during demolition, the top five stories letting go as they had corroded far worse than previously thought. It should now be obvious why Preston Bus Depot has to go, it’s not going to last long in any event so better to take it out while it’s safe before it decides to do the job itself.

I will leave the final word for today to another article in the Guardian, quoting a former Secretary of State for culture when the first listing of the depot was rejected;

“It therefore appears to the secretary of state that the main attractive feature of the design was the result of a miscalculation which led to a poor quality of construction.”

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A shocking story

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Tenuous Link of the Day, The Railways with tags , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2011 by awickerman

When I first read this story about sexual harassment in Network Rail I just couldn’t believe it was true. I didn’t know Network Rail even employed any women for management to harass, certainly you don’t see women on track or in the engineering departments.

Then it turned out the harassed woman in question was a “a former senior employee in the human resources department” and once again the world made sense.

If this story seems vaguely familiar that’s because it is, it was over two years ago it first came out. This is merely the ‘independent inquiry’ to confirm what everyone already knew. It also confirmed that it’s not just the RMT who have a loose attachment to the truth; the TSSA also make entirely unfounded claims for their own nefarious purposes. But then I suppose ‘Rail unions make up fictional accusations’ probably falls under things everyone already knew.

The north/south divide

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Tunnels, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , on May 15, 2011 by awickerman

A new take on this old chestnut from a tunnelling perspective. Some of the high voltage cable circuits installed back in the 1960s are becoming ‘life expired’ and need replacing with new ones.

In Liverpool the plan is to dig up the roads, excavate a giant trench and put them in there, three years (or more) of disrupting the entire region that is apparently perfectly acceptable.

In contrast in London a vast sum of money is spent on building a tunnel instead of digging up local roads, disrupting traffic and winding up the locals.

Though of course you will always offend locals whatever you do, apparently the solution of ‘We’ll stop the construction works if you stop using electricity’ is not an acceptable form of community relations…

Someone is lying, but who?

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Engineering with tags , , , , , on May 13, 2011 by awickerman

The railways have got pretty paranoid about electrification recently, back when I did my first batch of training on track access the whole group was taken out to go and play around Waterloo station while being taught the correct way to cross live tracks, now Network Rail are pushing the line that nobody can cross live third rail tracks outside of an emergency. Which brings us neatly to this story;

Station manager sacked for averting death and disaster

The man’s story is that he rang the signal box, told them to turn the power off, got it confirmed it was off and then went onto the track to remove a shopping trolley. Then someone in management noticed he’d been ambling around the track and sacked him for a gross misconduct.

Now either he’s lying (and frankly the details of the story change depending on which version you read, the BBC account is far less clear cut and makes him look a lot worse) or someone at the signal box should be sacked not him. Simply if he did declare an emergency to the signal box and was then told the power was off then the signaller should be sacked (or, as the signaller doesn’t normally control the power, then the local electrical engineer who ballsed up). However if he didn’t actually declare an emergency properly or get it confirmed the power was off then this is just a pile of twisted facts and selective reporting serving as after-the-event justification and he’s a lying bugger who deserves it.

However this does bring us to why I stopped posting. Frankly I just don’t know enough about what the hell happened to make any useful comment beyond “What’s being reported is rubbish”. The truth is known, I suspect it came out at the appeal to the disciplinary that sacked him, but I doubt that it will come out. So all that’s left is a vague story on which all you can do is make an arbitrary decision and rant about it, and what’s the point in that?

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