Archive for A day in the life

Railway Costs, Yet another misguided review thereof

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Even Stevie Wonder Saw That Coming, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , , on June 16, 2010 by awickerman

Amongst the scintillating reads I receive was this gem, the review into railway costs has, despite reporting early, discovered the well known fact that British railway works costs far more than anywhere else. They’re also expected to report that the Pope has Catholic tendencies, though that has not yet been confirmed.

Sadly after this promising start it appears to go down hill as it starts talking about ‘innovative working’ and other such border line management waffle. While some new thinking would of course be welcome, starting with banishing the Luddite fear of new technology, that is not the real problem. The real problem is summed up by my work on the railways last night.

I arrived on site at 11:45 or so, as is always the case with these things I drove there. (No-one who works on the railways actually uses them, they’re just too inconvenient.) I meet the cast of thousands that is required these days and had a chat with the sparkies (HV electricians) about the books/papers they’d brought to read that night, sparkies only being employed to turn the power off at the start of the night and then on at the end, in between nothing.

Eventually by 12:15 I started wondering when we were going to start, at which point the supervisor turned up and announced the driver hadn’t turned up and as such our nights work was off. Of course the other job was going ahead and had the space for us to tag along, however that wasn’t in the paperwork and so would have been illegal. After checking this was definitely the case I gathered my merry band, gave them the bad/good news and we went home to enjoy a moderately late night and then a day off. Last nights work will be rescheduled as soon as possible as an urgent job, which means in at least 8 weeks time thanks to minimum notice periods.

In those two paragraphs you see all the problems afflicting railway work; the huge number of people needed for even a simple job, the bureaucratic delays, the problem of abortive work where jobs get cancelled on the night but the client still gets charged, the fact ‘urgent’ means ‘in a couple of months’, the paper work which means last minute changes are impossible and most importantly the fact all of this happens alarmingly regularly.

Unless this review deals with those problems, and the real elephant in the room of  the Railway’s horrific approach to health and safety (which is more about paperwork and arse covering for management than safety) it will be just another waste of paper. My hopes are not high.

A Night in the Life of a Tunnel Engineer

Posted in Irregular Features, Rantings, Tunnels, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , on May 19, 2010 by awickerman

Last nights work or, as it could also be called; Why everything on the railways costs an utter fortune. The one fact you need to know before reading is this, whenever you work on the railway you need to be accompanied by a COSS, the man responsible for making sure you don’t die.

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A Day In The Life of a Tunnel Engineer #4

Posted in Irregular Features, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , , on May 7, 2010 by awickerman

Today was an unusual one as it involved grappling with the question ‘Does that tunnel need closing?’

Technically I’ve done this many times before, every tunnel inspection ends with someone ticking the box marked ‘Tunnel is safe’ on their big compliance sheet, however as you may have guessed from that description of the it’s normally as much for form’s sake as anything else. Certainly it’s very rare to actually find anything of note, all the old Victorian tunnels that were built badly have long since fallen down (leaving only the good ones) and the newer stuff just doesn’t go wrong as there is so little to go wrong.

This time however we received a nice report saying a tunnel had moved a worrying large amount, hasn’t actually stopped moving and is right on the edge of the trigger level marked “COLLAPSE”. The question therefore was should the client close the tunnel or should they throw a load of realtime monitoring at it to try and work out exactly what is going on. We did in the end recommend the latter, if the client had in fact closed this tunnel I suspect it would have made the national news. In fact given the site and it’s history it may even have made it further afield, though who can fathom the world of the news editor’s priority list?

As always with these bits of news I feel I probably can’t go into detail as the company involved would not be impressed, which is something of a shame as it’s the kind of story I just know would make a nice splash in the tabloids and thus get me my few minutes of blogging fame. Ah well.

Another Day In The Life of a Tunnel Engineer

Posted in Irregular Features, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , , on April 27, 2010 by awickerman

Today was varied and, as someone recently mentioned they liked the earlier Day in the life post I thought I’d do another.

The morning began with the vexed question ‘How do you stop a 20 tonne mobile crane smashing into a different fixed gantry crane?’ The simple answer to this conundrum is ‘Build a bigger fixed crane so you don’t need the mobile one’, those of you who thought that are henceforth banned from ever working with a certain large water company for being too logical. The correct answer is, of course, crash barriers, or more technically anti-terrorist rated crash bollards, which gives me another excuse for this outstanding link. (And if anyone knows what the name of that song playing at the start is, please put it in the comments as it is really bugging me.)

So after a morning of crash bollards and anti-terrorism standards I spent the afternoon sorting out the Network Rail tunnel inspections for the rail link to a well known London airport. This would have been a fairly standard job were it not for the recent change that now requires a ‘surface walkover’ of the route. While I’m sure this is OK for most rail tunnels in the UK (most rail tunnels being very old and so built in the days when the firm would just buy the entire hill in case something went wrong and they had to resort to an open cut) this is something of a bugger for tunnels in urban areas. In my case this meant working out who one had to talk to in order to wander around a gravel pit, several private farms, the A4 Bath Road, a major hotel complex, the M4, several Terminals and the runways.

This is in fact even harder than you would think as the first questions asked are normally “Why now after all these years? Is something wrong?”, a conversation that never goes well as people refuse to accept things are in fact OK. Given the history of the site you can hardly blame them, but still.

So there you are, a day in the life of a tunnel engineer that only peripherally involved tunnels, a sadly not uncommon occurrence.

And to the visitor who came here searching for “eurythmics sex crime” I have to ask; How many pages of results did you go through to get here? And why? I’m not expecting an answer, I just feel the question should be asked.

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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