Monthly Archives: August 2014

Digging holes and making waves!

I admit some of my greatest passions are likely to bore an individual to a slow and painful death. However, this little story is a big positive, albeit not for the U.K. (yet!) but overseas! One might be excused for thinking that the Middle East is nothing but doom and gloom. But, hey… Folks I have news for you.


Whilst European governments, or was it the bankers, have been screwing up their economy in past years. In other areas of the world, the future couldn’t look brighter in terms of employment and forward thinkers! Structures and architecture that us Europeans could only dream about are being designed and erected. Metropolis’ of gargantuan proportion are being built, the likes of which many of us will never get to see other than on the news or some other form of docu-film called something like “Great Engineering Structures of the century”.

So, what does this have to do with eBooks, paperbacks and the literary world? Other than potentially being incredible places for an author to gain inspiration, probably not a lot! It’s a self indulgent article this one (aren’t they all I hear you cry?), but it’s positive…

I should start by mentioning, for those who don’t know me, that my ‘speciality’ pre-writing, if one may be permitted to call it that, has been in control room operations… Oooohh, I hear you whisper, big brother!?

Well, to be fair there has been an element or two of that side of the business in my earlier career; but these days, or in most recent times, it has all been to do with highways infrastructure and I.T. assets that accompany their smooth operations…

To be frank I miss it! Sitting at the QWERTY is great fun, I have no end of things to say or type, I have a gazillion ideas buzzing around the grey matter that all need to be transferred to paperback, hard cover or kindle. But, at the end of the day it is a solitary profession and I miss aspects of operations that writing simply cannot provide, other than through reminiscing about what challenges have faced me in recent times, such as; cars bobbing up and down flooded roads, sorting out the unfortunate aftermath of mass pile ups, acting as an Incident Commander in liaising with all of the emergency services and during every day operations acting as operational caretaker to those high value assets along the travel routes…

What I am mainly talking about here in terms of assets are Road tunnels and Bridges… OMG! I hear you all scream, he really is going to bore us to death on this one… Come on folks, or at least you drivers out there…Hear me out!

Assuming you live in the United Kingdom, the next time you begin driving through one of our many road tunnels… start by considering this: Are you ‘under’ water? e.g. The Mersey’s Queensway or Kingsway tunnels, perhaps the Dartford tunnel, the tunnel under the river Conwy or, of course, even the Euro tunnel? Where is that Dutch boy who will plug the hole where that water is seeping out of the wall, as in the book The Silver Skates written by Mary Mapes Dodge. (I knew I could get a book reference in here somewhere). Actually, if you see water creeping, rather than seeping from the walls, it doesn’t necessarily mean the walls are about to cave in, but hey ho, err on the side of caution if it concerns you and tell somebody. Not your brother, sister or parents, but somebody who might actually be able to do something to investigate, like the Tunnel Management and/or operator… Well, safety advice over with and without the wish to scaremonger…let’s continue. Where does the carbon monoxide go, why don’t I don’t die from the fumes, how is the carbon build up on the tunnel walls removed, who changes those light bulbs and when? How is everything checked for safety, how often does that happen..?

In a rather long tunnel, consider this; how are you going to escape in the event of an accident, a fire or yes… eek as above, a flood? Have you any idea?

Have you considered whether anybody is watching, looking after your back, so to speak? Cameras in view don’t always mean cameras working… Jon King, author of the book The Cut-Out, which investigates HRH Princess Diana’s death in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris, states that several cameras were out of operation during the period of her tragic car accident. Whilst my guess is routine maintenance, or simply poor maintenance, Jon attempts to add this to the weight of the conspiracy theory surrounding the tragic circumstances of her death.

I could go on and ask, who would fight a fire… remember the Mont Blanc tunnel disaster? Firefighters, mostly part timers or volunteers, entered the tunnel from two different countries, failed to communicate with each other and (I’m not implying it was their fault, but nonetheless…) multiple tragic deaths followed.

Where does smoke go in a tunnel and moreover how does it behave, does it rise to the ceiling or does the airflow push it down onto those attempting to escape, is it the same in every tunnel or does infrastructure play a part in how smoke and fumes ‘behave’. A tunnel that goes under a river or sea is, by its very nature, below sea/water level… (now that’s suck eggs stuff really isn’t it?), but, where does the water go, be it rain water or any other, is it collected in sumps and pumped away or does it pool at the lowest point of the tunnel? Where does it end up and is it polluted, how does it effect tunnel operations and those travelling through a tunnel as the water builds up?

Imagine during an incident, you can’t see a light at either end of the tunnel, which is the quickest way out, which way do you walk, run, or do you attempt to drive out? Which and what is your safest method of exit?

Providing the answers to these questions and many, many more and producing workable solutions to these challenges are some of what I miss about operations. The good news is that there are solutions and in a; well operated, well maintained tunnel or indeed for a bridge, which have their own challenges of comparable consequence, all of these questions and many rather more bizarre, have ordinarily been weighed up, risk assessed and addressed, with solutions and processes for those on the front line to enable every day driver safety. So, whilst you may pose these questions next time you enter a tunnel or begin crossing a bridge, drive out or over the other end smiling, as big brother has been watching. It may be a human, it may be a complex algorithm created to watch your back, but either way there will be a plan in place and people waiting to react like coiled springs should, or usually for when, the unspeakable begins to unfold…

You see… my problem is that passion has taken over this post, but there is a reason… A friend of mine recently sent me a note and a video link. The link shows what to me is one of the most breath-taking projects I have seen in terms of highways design and scale. It is due to be built next year in Qatar, it is the Sharq Crossing in Doha. It is possibly one of the most challenging projects I have seen operationally for a long, long while and I am itching to see who is chosen to manage its operations… I would also love to see the finished product up close and personally, rather than on a docu-film or the design video posted below…

On home soil there is some good news also… I met with a manager from the Highways Agency (HA) last week and the restructuring of the past 4 years is coming to an end with, as far as I can make out, a highly positive result. Legislation is currently being considered that will enable The HA to grow once more, the result being a more customer focussed government run company (one step closer to privatisation?) that will expand its staff by a massive 25%. After four years of cuts and freezes, maybe it’s not simply media hype, perhaps there really is light at the end of the tunnel (excuse the pun!)

I am going to leave this post here and simply say that it is such a shame that us Europeans are unable to produce such engineering fetes as the proposed Qatar’s Sharq crossing on home soil. Our skill sets are vast yet we seem to be limited to contributing to the infrastructures of governments of other countries such as; Qatar, Dubai and Bahrain and the Emirates who are currently amongst the few countries in the world that retain the financial ability, foresight and ambition to take on such incredible projects…

Readers watch this video… It is incredible… I dare you not to be amazed at the structures! Perhaps then consider writing a letter to your MP to ask why our roads have so many pot holes, because my Audi really hates hitting them, and my Bank Manager hates my Audi, or moreover, its driver who seemingly finds each and every one of them, connecting them like a dot to dot puzzle… Perhaps I should start a Facebook game called “Pot-Hole”, I’d be sure to be very good at scoring in it, might even make a few quid!

I hope you’ve all had a great weekend and for U.S. readers, have enjoyed the Labor day festivities!

Good night all…

Aside from a love of all things operations, Simon Duringer is an author and interviewer. Simon’s 10Q Interviews reached the finals of the UK National Blogging Awards 2014 and The Best of Simon’s 10Q Interviews is now available on Kindle, Amazon Prime (For FREE) and in paperback;
The Word Volume I: The Best of Simon’s 10 Q Interviews (Volume 1)