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Building London Underground. Glimpse to a simpler era…

The Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) in UK has recently published an amazing video (watch below) to celebrate London Underground’s 150 years.

On 10 January 1863 the first train travelled from Farringdon to Paddington and today London’s Tube apart from being the oldest metro system in the world, it’s also one of the biggest.

Its construction started many decades before “Quality Management” was even invented.

Engineering, Design and Construction of large infrastructure projects like LU was a completely different story those days.

And probably a much simpler one.

Any kind of construction was mainly achieved through experience, craftsmanship, team work, ideas of individual brilliant minds and most of the times pride for building something amazing that the world has never seen before.

It was definitely a much more complicated era for those who had to design such structures that nobody has ever built before. The dangers and the uncertainties associated, along with the extremely limited resources and knowledge on equipment and materials would have really made the whole project unthinkable.

It was indeed a world with amazing difficulties and obstacles for everyone involved in the process of building such an extraordinary (for those days) structure.

On the other hand it was probably a simpler world for what was actually happening on the field. A world of simple engineering, practicality and common sense.

And yet…it was a world were quality on what was being built, was everyone’s job.

It was an era where NCRs (nonconformities) were closed out with a shout (or sacking…), Corrective Actions were decided in the local pub after (or sometimes during…) work and procedures were not written and forgotten in a fancy Electronic Document Management System but deeply integrated on each individual’s skills, experience or “lessons learnt briefings on Sunday’s roast table” with his father, his uncle, his brother or just his mate who just happened to know better “what works” and what simply doesn’t.

It was an era without certificates, fancy policies, standards, written procedures, Inspection and Test Plans and Audits

An era where the drawing (if there was one…) was probably the only important document that would exist. Period.

But it was also an era where people were losing their lives on the field far more often than today, due to lack of even basic Health and Safety rules and practices.

There is also no doubt, that in terms of “quality”, it wasn’t an era without failures and a lot of “waste”.

Today’s large infrastructure projects are definitely more complex than they were those days. However, we tend to create massive management systems, mountains of paperwork and petabytes of data where at the same time we probably lose the simplicity and the “engineering minimalism” of those days.

Shall we maybe look back and make things simpler for the future?

Shall we maybe reinvent what “quality” means on site?

And who knows…we might bring pride back as well.

Food for thought…

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Pavlos Inglesis
I am a Chartered Civil Engineer (CEng-MICE) and a Chartered Quality Professional (MCQI CQP) working in the construction industry for about 20 years. My specialty is Quality Control and Quality Assurance Management in Construction Projects. I have worked on projects in the Middle East, and Greece and am now based in the UK.

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