‘Ashamed of being an engineer’: NCE readers react to filling Highways England bridge



RCE readers have expressed “shame” in their profession after images of a completed masonry arch bridge were published in national newspapers and circulated widely on social media.

The 159-year-old masonry arch bridge in the heart of the Cumbrian countryside was filled almost two weeks ago by contractors from Highways England.

Engineers have since fought back the decision to pour 1,000 tonnes of concrete under the arch of the Great Musgrave Bridge.

Robert Hairsine called the infill “shameful vandalism”, while J Haines said the job “looks more like a fly spill than engineering.”

John David Gartside has warned that continuing to fill historic bridges in this manner threatens to “cast a well-justified stigma on the entire profession of civil engineering.”

Meanwhile, Philip Alexander and Andrew Hodgkinson both stressed that they were “ashamed” as civilian engineers.

David Edwards added: Ashamed of being a civil engineer. How do I explain this to my family and friends? “

The structure is part of the Historic Railways Estate managed by Highways England on behalf of DfT and comprises 3,800 bridges, tunnels and viaducts, including 77 listed structures.

Jacobs acts as a “sole source” (designer) for the historic railroad business and has just been re-appointed for seven years. Six contractors will support Jacobs in carrying out any work, including Dyer & Butler and Balfour Beatty.

According to The HRE Group – an alliance of engineers, sustainable transport advocates and greenway developers – the bridge is one of 115 disused railway structures scheduled for infill by Highways England, with 15 more to be demolished.

Highways England disputes this figure and instead says its five-year plan includes only nine bridge demolitions, the removal of six redundant abutments and 69 full or partial infills.

Highways England said the filling of the Great Musgrave Bridge was necessary to “prevent further deterioration of the bridge and eliminate the associated risk of structural collapse and damage to the public”.

However, the HRE Group and two local rail groups (the Eden Valley Railway and the Stainmore Railways) say there were no real concerns about the condition of the bridge.

They add that although it cost £ 124,000 to fill the bridge, £ 5,000 repair work would have allowed all vehicles to pass safely. And bridge restoration experts agree.

Last week Goldhawk Bridge Restoration Ltd Managing Director David Kitching said RCE that “filling historic bridges is so unnecessary”.

Kitching explained another way to restore bridges without the need for infill. Click here for a full interview with Kitching.

Reaction from NCE readers

John David Gartside: “Do the HE engineers who are leading this project have any professionalism? This can in no way be qualified as responsible engineering. If this continues, it will bring a well-justified stigma to the entire civil engineering profession.

Robert Hairsine: “Outrageous vandalism, not to mention the non-economic. Jacobs and HIM should be ashamed of themselves.

Andrew Hodgkinson: “As a profession, we should be ashamed of this unnecessary, unnecessary and environmentally damaging vandalism on our historic bridges when more innovative and cost-effective solutions exist.”

Philippe Alexandre: “I’m ashamed of my job. I am ashamed of my institution for not having the courage to denounce this environmental, technical and social vandalism. And I’m disgusted with Jacobs. I am sure their UK constituent parts would not have undertaken such gratuitous vandalism. But think about why they are doing it. They’re probably on a lump sum, so what’s the easiest way to save “design” costs. Specify a nice, low strength concrete that sinks and that’s it. £ 50,000 please. I cannot believe Highways England thinks this is an acceptable solution. It’s incredibly rude. I guess the best we can hope for is that there will be such an uproar from the public and others that the program will be cut off. And the ECI must speak up immediately.

David Edwards: “I am ashamed to be a civil engineer. How do I explain this to my family and friends? “

J Haines: “It’s more like a switchover than engineering. “

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