NCE readers have expressed “shame” in their profession after images of an infilled masonry arched bridge were published in national newspapers and circulated widely on social media channels.
Engineers have since hit back at the decision to pour 1,000t of concrete beneath the Great Musgrave bridge arch.
Robert Hairsine described the infilling as “disgraceful vandalism”, while J Haines said the work “looks more like fly-tipping than engineering”.
John David Gartside warned that continuing to infill historic bridges in this manner threatens to “bring well-justified opprobrium onto the whole civil engineering profession”.
Meanwhile, Philip Alexander and Andrew Hodgkinson both stressed that they were “ashamed” as civil engineers.
David Edwards added: “Ashamed to be a civil engineer. How do I explain this to my family and friends?”
The structure is part of the Historical Railways Estate managed by Highways England on behalf of the DfT and comprises 3,800 bridges, tunnels and viaducts, including 77 listed structures.
Jacobs acts as the ‘sole provider’ (designer) for the Historical Railways Estate and has just been reappointed for another 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 programmed for infilling by Highways England, with 15 others due for demolition.
Highways England contests this number and instead states that its five-year plan only includes nine bridge demolitions, the removal of six redundant abutments and 69 full or partial infills.
Highways England said infilling of the Great Musgrave bridge was needed to “prevent further deterioration of the bridge from occurring and remove the associated risk of structural collapse and harm to the public”.
However, the HRE Group and two local railway groups (the Eden Valley railway and Stainmore railways) claim that there were no real concerns about the bridge’s condition.
They add that while infilling the bridge cost £124,000, a £5,000 repair job would have made it safe for all vehicles to pass over. And bridge restoration experts agree.
Highways England Historical Railways Estate director Richard Marshall added: “Most of the 3,200 tunnels, bridges and viaducts we look after were built well over 100 years ago, so they need a lot of maintenance. We will spend £13M this year on keeping the public safe when using these structures or the land around them.
“Infilling is maintenance-free and preserves the small number of bridges where this is required. The infilled bridges remain intact and supported, and the infilling process can be reversed if a future purpose is found for the structure.”
Last week, Goldhawk Bridge Restoration Ltd managing director David Kitching told NCE that “infilling historic bridges is so unnecessary”.
John David Gartside: “Do the HE engineers driving this project have any professionalism whatsoever? By no manner or means can this be called responsible engineering. If this continues it will bring well-justified opprobrium onto the whole civil engineering profession.”
Robert Hairsine: “Disgraceful vandalism not to mention uneconomic. Jacobs and HE should be ashamed of themselves.”
Andrew Hodgkinson: “As a profession we should be ashamed of this needless, wasteful and environmentally damaging vandalism to our historic bridges when there are more innovative and cost-effective solutions available.”
Philip Alexander: “I am ashamed of my profession. I am ashamed of my Institution for not having the guts to speak out against this environmental, engineering and social vandalism. And I am disgusted with Jacobs. I am sure that their UK constituent parts would not have undertaken such wanton vandalism. But think why they are doing it. They are probably on a lump sum fee so what is the easiest way to save “design” costs. Specify some nice runny low strength concrete and that’s it. £50,000 please. I cannot believe that Highways England believe that this is an acceptable solution. It’s unbelievably crass. I suppose the best we can hope for is that there will be such an outcry from the public and others that the program will be halted. And the ICE needs to speak out immediately.”
David Edwards: “Ashamed to be a civil engineer. How do I explain this to my family and friends?”
J Haines: “Looks more like fly-tipping than engineering.”
Department of Civil Engineering https://www.ibu.edu.ba/department-of-civil-engineering/