Archive for the The Underground Category

Why civil engineering is not respected

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Irregular Features, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Tenuous Link of the Day, The Railways, The Underground, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2011 by awickerman

It is a common complaint among engineers that the profession is under-valued, the conversation then normally ranges over the usual topics;  Why are photocopier repair men called engineers? Why don’t we have something like the German Engineer’s Law to protect the name engineer? Why is it that providing the power, gas and water people need is ignored while shagging ex-Big Brother contestants a matter of national concern? In truth these are not good or even original questions, but it does get the conversation going in the pub which is often the main thing.

What never get mentions is the habit of the engineering profession of doing it’s level best to repeatedly bugger up it’s own chances. Consider the ICE London Civil Engineering Awards. Look at some of these past winners;

  • 2010 – Infrastructure Award: King’s Cross St Pancras Underground Station Redevelopment – Phase 2
  • 2009 – Greatest Contribution to London Award: Heathrow Terminal 5A
  • 2008 – Special Award: Wembley Stadium

King’s Cross Phase 2 was a nightmare, this brief history barely covers half the problems but suffice to say horrifically late and well over budget cover it quite well. T5A construction (as opposed to the fit out and staff training) was in fact on time and on budget, but frankly that was irrelevant to the general public perception of the whole project wasn’t it? Nothing really needs saying on Wembley Stadium,  but for those who’ve forgotten it was several years late, over twice the original budget and that the at least one of the multiple court cases over the construction was still going earlier this year.

The pattern you should note is that for most of the population the ICE London branch goes around giving it’s best awards to late, over-priced or otherwise flawed projects. Sure from a purely technical viewpoint they were a triumph for the engineers involved (commercially not so much, particularly not Wembley which the FA got on a fixed price. Genius I tell you), but they are not calculated to make the profession look good, particularly at the showcase event of the year.

Still for those who insist the profession has a higher status I bring good news. This year’s infrastructure award went to the Boris Bikes, a scheme with all the civil engineering content of the average banana, but one that will doubtless garner many fluffy headlines and approving nods from the Guardian….. It’s enough to make a man turn to drink really.


Another London Transport Mystery Explained

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, The Underground, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2011 by awickerman

Do you have a burning desire to check people’s tickets on public transport? Do you want to spend all day standing on a bus or train and argue with commuters and passengers about whether or not they have a valid ticket? If so become a Revenue Protection Officer! And for god’s sake work for those idiots at Transport for London who’ll pay you more than anyone else would dream of.

If you ask those nice chaps at the Department of Eduction, through the yoff orientated Job4U site, they will tell you a Revenue Protection chap could earn £14,500 as a new entrant, up to maybe £22,500 for a senior role.  The Transport Skills Council agrees and give the helpful advice that about £17,000 is what a trained, post-probation officer should expect, though I suspect they may have added an extra ‘0’ on the starting salary. That or they think the starting salary really is £145,000 which looks a bit steep even by TfL standards.

With that in mind how much do you think TfL pay a new starter? No, it’s more than that, it is in fact £30,150, rising to £34,141 after 1 years probation, plus of course 30 days holiday and a final salary pension. For this you will have to do a 36 hour week, earliest start of 6:30, latest 22:40 and no night shifts (fair enough, who’d want to revenue protect a night bus?) and ping around London on various bus routes. In the unlikely event you can’t imagine what the job involves there is a hand youtube video explaining it.

Neither the work nor the conditions are worse than a revenue inspector anywhere else in the UK would experience, yet they pay more than double what everyone else does. This is just one of the reasons why the ‘Bus’ part of TfL requires a subsidy of £600 million a year,  but don’t expect anything to be done about it. After all if people asked questions about salaries rather than just brutally cutting the network someone might ask questions about why Paul Hendy is on £430,000 despite being an idiot, why so many of his minions have to be paid over £100,000 despite a track record of incompetent failure or why we need a £75,000 Head of Behaviour Change Programme.

I’m sure it doesn’t need saying that Revenue Protection Officers are, of course, covered by that friend of the traveller Bob Crow and his loveable funsters at the RMT. However it’s only in London that he’s managed to gain such hansom remuneration for his members. Explanations vary. You could believe that only in London were management stupid enough to grant such pay rises, you could say that only in London is public transport important enough to allow a union to blackmail people or you instead note that all the payrises occurred under that union favourite Ken Livingstone who probably just hurled money at them as payment for that support. And frankly if you don’t think it was option 3 you should take a long hard look in the mirror, and then look at this marvellous Kabul time-share opportunity I have for you…..

A Gift I Think Will Keep On Giving

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, The Idiocy and Ignorance of Gilligan, The Underground, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , on December 20, 2010 by awickerman

While it’s too early to be sure I think pointing and laughing at Andrew Gilligan is going to be a gold mine of lazy posts. Here is a gem from a couple of days ago;

Another interesting thing, though, is that several of the delays weren’t snow-related, but due to signal failures, train breakdowns and the like.

Without any information either way the options are either the signalling system and trains failed due to the extreme cold and snow OR all suffered unrelated failures at exactly the same time. Honestly which is more likely, not that I’m saying TfL have an excuse for being surprised by snow, but I think we can safely say pretty much all the problems were snow and cold related. But then what can you expect from an idiot who says things like this;

substantial proportion of its network is protected from snow by being underground (including about 95% of the Circle Line, which nonetheless still manages to suffer “severe delays.”)

What could possibly cause that problem? Let’s have a quick quiz, could it be;

  1. That the Circle Line, like all London Underground Lines is run at pretty much peak capacity so delays on the 5% above ground would quickly ripple through the entire system?
  2. That the Circle Line shares track with the Hammersmith & City Line, District Line and Metropolitan Line and so suffers knock on delays whenever they fail?
  3. That the Circle Line uses 1960s vintage ‘C’ stock trains that, barring the Metropolitan and Victoria Line stock that is being replaced at present, is the oldest and least reliable on the network?
  4. That it’s well established LUL procedure that the Circle Line gets knocked out first and suffers the biggest problem as it’s least-critical (i.e. doesn’t go anywhere other lines don’t also service).
  5. All of the above, hence why the Circle Line is historically the least reliable of all
  6. Something else

If you said anything from 1-4, you scored 5 points, well done. If you said 5,  you score 10 point, well done. If you said 7, you were doing a different quiz, well done.

However if you said 6 then I’m afraid you score no points. You’ve managed to stoop down to Gilligan’s level and can probably fake brain activity low enough to write his blog for him. Commiserations.

Construction Inflation

Posted in Irregular Features, The Underground, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , on August 26, 2010 by awickerman

Today I found myself going through the big book of costs at work and was interested to come across the pricing for the previous Bond Street station upgrade, this was from the 1995 attempt at CrossRail not the current one. It was a similar scheme (bigger ticket halls, better access, CrossRail connection, etc) but the price was a surprise.

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Excellent News!

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, The Underground, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , , on May 9, 2010 by awickerman

The Tube has now fully returned to national ownership, Boris and Transport For London (TFL) have brought out Bechtel and Amey and nationalised TubeLines. While this is bad news for me as a tube user and taxpayer it is outstanding news for me as a tunneller.

On the bad side there is a £310 million hit this year to buy them out (this is pure extra money and so will have to either come from the LUL budget or somewhere else in London) and there is the problem that TFL can’t manage a contract to save their life. All in all I expect to see less improvements costing even more money, hardly a good sign.

However on the plus side we wont have to deal with Bechtel, they are hard arsed contractual bastards and really squeezed their sub-contractors and stuck to deadlines. Tube work on their lines will become a great deal easier and a great deal more profitable for us tunnellers, which is always nice. Sure it wont be as easy as the good old days under Metronet (they were not only inept but also very, very dodgy) but it’ll be close.

I suppose it is technically possible it could work out, there are a few million quid that could be saved on Bechtel’s secondment rate (basically the outrageous rates they charged for using their staff at TubeLines, a fairly cunning tax dodge and PR ploy to artificially lower TubeLines profit while still making money). But that does assume that TFL will raise their game massively and start doing the job to the same high standards, the evidence from their work since Metronet’s nationalisation suggests they’re at best average.

Still those of you who use the tube or  have to pay for it should hope that happens, personally I’m just looking forward to a less demanding client who’s easier to bluff and confuse with long words.

Northern Line Ho!

Posted in The Underground, Tunnels with tags , , , on March 4, 2010 by awickerman

One of the problem with being in an relatively small industry which doesn’t move that quickly is the difference between rumour and news is vanishingly small. If you hear job ‘x’ is going to happen then chances are it will, at worst you will have heard that of a friend of a man working on the job and the chain is just to short for Chinese whispers to distort things.  As such I’ve been aware for ages about the Northern Line extension and just sort of anyone who cared was as well, however my most recent trip to the pub has disabused me of that impression. So what is this plan? I will reveal it through the medium of fairytale;

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Another Day in the Life of a Tunneller

Posted in The Underground, Tunnels with tags , , , on March 1, 2010 by awickerman

Today I returned to the finite element mines, for many tunnellers a grim and confusing fate that leaves them bewitched and angry.  Personally though I quite like it down there, as no-one really trusts computer modelling (and rightly so given you can prove almost anything with modelling) it operates on a ‘I know the answer lets produce that’ basis. This leads to the perfect combination of low pressure (unless you make the mistake of producing an unexpected answer) that management have no idea about how long it takes or what is involved.There is an xkcd comic that describes this situation perfectly.

So much of today was spent ideally reading books, browsing the net and answering any question with ‘Model cycling’ when question what I’m doing. All in all not a bad day, I’ve certainly had worse.

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