Archive for Things I Probably Shouldn’t Discuss in Detail

A question of language

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Engineering, Irregular Features with tags , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by awickerman

Last week we were working on a large tunnelling job which required some street works. It was (and still is) a bugger of a job and we’ve gone through countless iterations; we’re on Option 19 of the alignment, each of which had several sub-options. As a result it is hardly surprising that when a particularly difficult problem, on a tricky street, was resolved one of the team felt moved to say;

“At last, they’ve come up with the final solution for Jews Row.”

Now admittedly it could be worse, a lot of the other sites just get reduced to the just the first word, but the question does remain; can you ever use the phrase “Final solution” in any context without getting someone looking at you in a slightly odd way?

Calendars

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Tunnels with tags , , , , , on October 19, 2010 by awickerman

One of the minor foibles of engineering is the insistence of many clients on using different calendars. This has recently been a quite hilarious issue on a job where a large water scheme must cross the railways.

Network Rail use a calendar where weeks start on the personal tax year, the 6th of April, while the Water companies have a ‘water year’ that runs September to September (that way their annual rain data will catch the whole of winter). Of course both organisations also have financial years  that run from the 1st of April, the dates they used when they were still state owned and occasionally throw in references to the actual calendar year.

All this is fine, until someone starts talking about ‘Week 40’ and you have absolutely no idea which of the various calendars they are using.

Fortunately Network Rail have a built-in system to protect from such mistakes; ludicrous delays giving everyone time to think things through carefully. On trying to book some time on track to put in some monitoring our liaison chap was told we could get access “Next August”. “August 2011?” he asked. “August 2012”  came the reply.

A variety of deaths

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Tenuous Link of the Day, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , on October 14, 2010 by awickerman

Breaking news from Saudi Arabia by way of Singapore! Why? Why not, that’s why.

As the traditional Islamic death trap the Hajj approaches the Saudi authorities have discovered a new way for vast numbers of pilgrims to get killed; H1N1 bird flu. This is something of a departure from the traditional methods of stampede, fire and heat stroke but will almost certainly be more fatal than usual disease of choice of meningitis.

I do concede H1N1 is a particularly pathetic pandemic, even by the low standards of such minor irritants as SARS, but this the Hajj in Saudi. If anyone can find a way to get vast numbers of people killed it’s them.

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.

Continue reading

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.

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