Six thousand massive pipes, 100km of engineering and some of the tightest roads in the country –connecting west Cumbria to its new Lake District water supply on time is like a military operation.
That’s where ex-Army non-commissioned officer (NCO) Neil Bambridge comes in.
With a cool head and precision planning, Neil and his team of pipe road truckers have so far successfully squeezed 1,146 heavy truckloads along mile after mile of Cumbria’s most tortuous unclassified roads – and earned praise from communities along the route.
With just 135 loads left to deliver, it’s been one of the toughest, most critical jobs on United Utilities £300m new West Cumbria Supplies Project, says project director John Hilton.
At 14m long and up to almost a metre in diameter, each section of spiral-welded steel pipe needs to be ready and waiting in a nearby designated area at exactly the moment pipe-laying teams need them.
Sounds easy. The pipe sections have already made the 1,633 mile journey by sea from a factory at Lorca in Spain by the time they reach Workington docks. But it’s the last 30 to 50 kilometres where things get really tricky.
“Cumbria is known for its wide and expansive rural landscape, not wide and expansive roads. Getting tonnes of pipes along narrow backroads, with high hedges, blind bends and through ancient villages built when the widest load was a horse and cart was identified as one of the project’s biggest risks when we were planning how to build it,” explained John.
“Some of the pipe lay-down areas we are working from are pretty remote so hauling trucks through communities without causing damage or unacceptable disruption for communities was a key objective. With the bulk of this work now done, we’ve nothing but praise for the way Neil and his team have handled it.”
The key was in the planning. Although the lorries were not outsized by normal standards, compared to Cumbria’s back roads they were effectively a moving road block to any other road user.
Neil and his team avoided any formal long-running road closures, instead managing largely with a system of rolling 15-minute temporary closures using ‘stop and go’ boards with Neil in a pilot vehicle to look out and guide people emerging unexpectedly from farm and field entrances.
Neil, a former non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the Royal Welsh, who works for the pipeline contractor Farrans Roadbridge Joint Venture, said: “My logistics team is also made up of ex-military personnel plus local traffic management teams who I know I can rely on to get things done. They’re dedicated, disciplined, and the military culture of planning, rehearsals and drilling helped prevent problems.
“I talk them through the routes and we drive together along them in advance identifying every possible passing point. Then I do a dry run the morning of the delivery to make sure nothing has changed before we set off.
“Another thing that really helped was that, before any lorries went anywhere, I went and visited each area to introduce myself and the work we are doing. They have been very supportive and we have had not one complaint about haulage.”
The £300m West Cumbria Water Supplies project is the largest current inland pipeline project in the UK and will bring more reliable and sustainable water supplies into Allerdale and Copeland.
The scheme will link the area to Thirlmere Reservoir, and involves the construction of 100km of new pipeline, a new water treatment plant at Williamsgate, two new pumping stations and two new underground service reservoirs. The project started in spring 2017 and will be completed by 2022.