As a teenager, full of confusion and uncertainty, I was faced with the overwhelming exercise of picking what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Engineers I thought are problem solvers - an attribute that can be used in all sorts of industries and work environments. Construction in particular is a global phenomenon that will always be present in one form or another all over the world. And so driven by the vast number of opportunities that it presented, I decided to become a Civil Engineer.
After four years of university studies in my home country Lebanon, I secured my first construction job and moved to Turkey… then to Qatar… then to Oman. Finally when my assignment in Muscat was coming to an end, I had the option to remain in the Middle East or make a big move to the UK. To me it was a no-brainer. I had seen how much the Gulf region really needed construction and development but I thought that for a professional, London has something extra to offer.
How do we build a much needed piece of infrastructure in a city that is already established both above ground and below? How do we work to serve the millions of people living and working around us without adversely affecting any part of their daily life? With the added intricacy of delivering this truly world class project, I chose to join Crossrail.
Slowly, the answers to my curiosities began to unravel, and it has not been easy! I started as a Contracts Administration Assistant on the utilities mitigation package for C305 - Eastern Running Tunnels. Our main objective was to strengthen the underground network of services surrounding our main contract works such as sewers, gas mains and water mains primarily to ensure that they were robust enough to withstand the vibrations our Tunnel Boring Machines caused as they passed by.
Traffic management, odd working hours and acoustic protection were some of the many considerations that needed to be carefully calculated when operating in such close proximity to people’s homes. It was a great experience for me to witness how we work closely with the contractor (Dragados-Sisk Joint Venture), subcontractors, local councils and residents to make it work in the most effective and least intrusive way possible.
Nine months later, I switched to a Field Engineering position as part of the cross passages team. The cross passages are smaller tunnels connecting the eastbound and westbound running tunnels at different locations along the route. They are built for the purpose of emergency and drainage and the C305 stretch contains ten of them in total. To simplify, the way these cross passages are built is similar to the main tunnels in that rings of segments are advanced into the ground as we bore ahead of them.
However, the segments are made of Spheroidal Graphite Cast Iron or SGI and a small erector is used to fix them in place and line the tunnel due to the smaller tunnel diameter and working space constraints. Also, all preparatory, excavation and finishing works are done by hand which makes this a very labour intensive and somewhat old fashioned method. Each cross passage is unique in size, location and ground conditions and so the job is never tedious.
The biggest challenge I have personally been confronted with consists of preserving the integrity of the existing structures on the streets of London directly above the cross passages. With various buildings, bridges and railways on the surface that are extremely sensitive to the most minute ground movements, it is our duty to monitor and maintain their safety while we build away underneath them. It’s a very delicate operation and could be compared to brain surgery in precision!
Being on site more often now has allowed me to fathom just how much pride every member of the Crossrail family takes in this job. From young engineers like me eager to learn from the highly skilled experts of this field, to experienced tunnellers who have done it all before, we all come to site everyday with the same determination and a common goal. I am reminded of the diligence and commitment of the eastern tunnels team to the safe delivery of high quality work on a daily basis. Whether it’s the gangs in the tunnels or the staff in the office, everyone goes through their day looking after the project and each other.
Whatever the future holds for me after Crossrail, I know that I will continue to raise awareness among young people of the great work that we do.
I am currently participating in a number of initiatives that aim at encouraging students to pursue careers in Engineering. The way I see it, each and every member of Crossrail can influence the next generation of engineers just by sharing with them how they spend their day for example or showing them in simple terms how something works.
You never know when a brief conversation that you have with your niece or nephew or cousin or anyone might ignite that little spark of interest that encourages them into engineering and contributes to the continuation of our accomplishments. I have a brother who’s eight years younger than me and I started asking him from an early age what he would like to become when he grows up, so that he would not find himself as lost and confused as I was when I was finishing school. “I want to be an engineer” he says, “just like you”.