Is there a crisis on Britain’s railways? Many media reports and stated public opinion might lead us to believe so: Crises of safety, economics and public confidence. However, in spite of such beliefs, our railway system is Europe’s second largest in terms of passenger numbers carried and fourth largest in terms of track length, so some things must be right about it.

Rod Muttram will dispel a few myths at the BA Festival of Science on Wednesday September 8, 2004. Giving a unique insight into the history, maintenance, and accidents past and recent which have occurred on Britain’s rail network, he will explain the complexities of the railway and the role of the engineer in keeping it safe.

The railways were built by some of the most famous engineers of their age. Names that live on today and even now remain much more famous than many modern engineers; names such as Trevithic, Stevenson, Brunel, Brassey and Locke. In a recent BBC poll, almost 150 years after his death, Brunel came second only to Winston Churchill as the Greatest Briton ever. Yet these engineers took significant risks and made many mistakes. However in their day this seems to have been much more accepted than today; Nicholson’s British Encyclopaedia of 1909 makes the statement:

’Engineers are extremely necessary for these purposes; wherefore it is requisite that, besides being ingenious, they should be brave in proportion.’

A man who actually knows many of those personally affected by recent tragedies, Rod will discuss rationally the failings that occurred and ask, were these failures down to bad engineering and could engineers have prevented them?

Supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering, the whole day promises to be a treat for all those attending with six presentations in total, a panel session and press conference.

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship - comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers - provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.
  2. The BA is the UK’s nationwide, open membership organisation dedicated to connecting science with people, so that science and its applications become accessible to all. The BA aims to promote openness about science in society and to engage and inspire people directly with science and technology and their implications.
  3. The BA Festival of Science is one of the UK’s biggest science festivals. It attracts 400 of the best scientists and science communicators from home and abroad who reveal the latest developments in research to a general audience.
  4. The BA Festival of Science 2004 will take place at the University of Exeter from 6 - 10 September 2004, and throughout the city from 4 - 11 September. The Engineering Section ‘Where have all the engineers gone?’ takes place on Wednesday 8 September. The engineering session, Where have all the Engineers Gone? takes place on Wednesday 8 September, 09.30 – 17.00, Queen’s Building LT2.

For more information please contact

Dr Claire McLoughlin at the Royal Academy of Engineering
Craig Brierley at the BA, tel: 020 7019 4947