Now everyone’s a structural engineer

Most people in and around London know that the M1 — a major road out of London to the north-west, has been closed for several days because a bridge was damaged by a fire underneath it on Friday. It’s the first incident of this kind in a number of years — there were at least two big incidents a few years ago in which a major railway and then another major road was closed because of fires in premises next to them in which oxyacetylene was being used. I haven’t heard that mentioned in the news reports about the M1, although I heard someone mention it in the street this afternoon while delivering water.

However, when I was setting out on my work journey this morning, the cab radio was tuned to LBC, a commercial London talk station that I don’t normally listen to; I normally listen to BBC London. The callers and texters were coming out with the most outrageous things, insisting that the closure, and the works that were going on to make the bridge safe again, were all just “jobs for the boys” (i.e. they are just making work for the sake of it). I’m sure I heard mention of men standing around in yellow jackets doing nothing, and the repeated insistence that the people who had taken the decision to close the road did not know what they were talking about. One guy said he had seen the bridge and there wasn’t a scratch on it.

I don’t know if any of these people had seen it up close, or had done a thorough inspection of the fabric of the bridge, because whoever did decided to build another bridge underneath the present one to support it, as they had never seen a bridge that badly damaged in a fire. I understand that everyone is frustrated by not being able to use the road, but surely it’s better than the whole thing collapsing and people driving into a concrete ditch at 70mph. Why is it that people cannot accept that sometimes people know more than they do, even when they make unpopular decisions?

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