Civil Engineering Excellence in the East of England

Last week I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days touring the East of England visiting a number of civil engineering projects as one of the judges in the Institution of Civil Engineers 2014 Merit Awards.  There were varied projects from flood defence schemes to roads and from reservoir raising schemes to railway depots.  The projects give a really good impression to non-civil engineers of the sort of things we do. Read on to learn more on the diversity of civil engineering that goes on in the East of England.

Civil engineers shape the world around us.  Without civil engineers, the world as we know it would not exist… because civil engineers build the infrastructure (the services and facilities society needs) that supports our daily lives and adds to our quality of life. Each time you turn on a tap, turn on a light, flush a toilet, catch a train, cross a road… you are benefiting from civil engineering.  To find out more about what civil engineering is click the image below.


I actually missed the first couple of projects on day 1 due to work commitments but I managed to catch up with my fellow judges at lunchtime.  The projects that I missed were a flood defence project in Chelmsford and a new building project at Cambridge University.  On my drive up to Huntingdon via Hertfordshire I was taken by the number of wind turbines I passed and this continued throughout my tour of the region.

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Turbines near Camborne

The first project I visited was a flood defence project in Godmanchester.  It is actually quite hard to see the flood defence works that has been carried out due to the sensitivity of the design and construction.  Passing through the centre of Godmanchester the defence includes walls through peoples gardens and in public areas.  Any nervousness prior to construction quickly evaporated during the works which were surgically carried out.

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Flood defence through a riverside property – can you spot it?
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New flood wall running alongside the main road
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Flood wall across a riverside garden. Lawns were raised to reduce the impact of the wall

It was only a very short drive to the next project which was very different – a short section of new road in the centre of Huntingdon.  On first looking it is easy to question the need for the road but it soon becomes clear that it relieves the gyratory system in the centre of town and opens up areas of derelict land for new use.  The road was carefully designed and constructed to minimise materials to and from site and to take into account future adjacent developments.

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General view of the new link road
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West end of new link road

From Huntingdon we headed north to Wisbech to see another flood defence project.  Although quite a long way inland (or so it feels at least) the river at Wisbech is tidal and can flood when conditions are right.  This project needed lots of different treatments to strengthen the river walls and raise the flood walls all done within a busy town centre.

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New flood walls on the left seen from the north
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Close up of a section on new flood wall built up from the old concrete river wall

We then turned back south and drove through what can only be described as a biblical thunderstorm with hail and lightening.  More wind turbines were to be seen all about through the murk.

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More wind turbines

The final project of the day was a new railway ‘flyover’ at Hitchin.  Previous the slow trains to Cambridge needed to cross over 4 tracks including the fast East Coast Mainline at Hitchin and this caused significant delays to the system.  To alleviate this a new rail flyover was constructed to take the track up and over the mainline and connecting to the existing track a bit further up.  All the chalk fill for the new embankments came from local pits to avoid having thousands of trucks on the local roads bringing imported fill.

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View of the new embankment – with train – from the north
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Beneath the new railway viaduct
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The new viaduct as it crosses the East Coast mainline
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Trains above and below. Right time right place!

At that was it for day 1.  First stop on day 2 was at Abberton Reservoir near Colchetser.  The project here was to adapt the reservoir to allow the water level to be raised by 3 metres.  This involved huge amounts of work including new earth dams, raising the old dam and causeway, effectively raising the offtake pump station and dam overflow, new inlets etc etc and all this while keeping the reservoir operational and not upsetting the wildlife!

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The raised causeway and new highway
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One of the structures that needed raising


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Looking across to the raised main dam

From Abberton we drove north all the way to Sherringham on the North Norfolk coast to see the somewhat controversial new Tesco store that was finally completed last year after a 10 year battle.  I have to admit to being impressed with how the store has been designed in sympathy with its surroundings and the quality of the finishes.

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Front elevation of the new store
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Inside looking at the exposed timber roof.
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Front of the store from the other side
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The flint wall – made in panels off site and craned into place complete

After a quick lunch we turned south and headed back to our next stop which was at the University of East Anglia in Norwich where we had a tour of the newest building on the campus – Building 57.  What makes this building so interesting is its energy efficiency in use due to its design.  Only two domestic sized boilers provide all the heat required for the building.  The structure is also interesting being mostly CLT (cross laminated timber) for the walls and Terimdeck concrete planks for the walls joined via an innovative connection.

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The new lecture theatre in the basement
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Detail of the exceptional level of finishes in the lecture theatre
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Exposed CLT walls in the stairwells – beautiful look and smell!

After dragging myself away from the excellent Building 57 we headed to the Port of Felixstow for the final visit of the day.  At the port we had a tour of the new railway terminal – the third now at the port.  The new terminal has 6 new sidings that can accommodate trains with 30 container cars.  An interesting feature is the train ‘traverser’ at the end of the sidings.  The traverser – the biggest of its kind in the UK – was installed due to a lack of space for the tracks and points needed to be able to take the locomotive from the front of the train to the other end via the bypass road to be able to take a full train back out of the port.  Most impressive.

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The new depot seen from the pedestrian overbridge
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A train arriving at the depot as we visited
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Said train locomotive on the traverser being moved across to the bypass road
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The locomotive driving off the traverser


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The traverser ready for the next locomotive movement
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Arty shot of the depot seen from the far end.

And that was it for the moment.  Two long but very interesting days touring some great and diverse projects in the East of England.  We still have another day of visits in the south of the region in a couple of weeks time.  I shall post some photos in due course….


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