Obituary - Sir Alan Muir Wood 1921 - 2009


Sir Alan Muir Wood died on Sunday 1st February 2009. A memorial service will be held on Thursday,
4th June 2009 at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, London at 1pm.

Sir Alan Muir Wood
1921 - 2009

Sir Alan Muir Wood 1921 - 2009
At 87, Sir Alan had enjoyed a long and distinguished career as one of the world's leading professional engineers and subsequently as a leading statesman of our industry.
Right up to the last, his passion for his chosen expertise and speciality was at the fore. In December 2008, he was on the podium giving a presentation to the British Tunnelling Society - a society within the UK's Institution of Civil Engineers, of which he was the 113th President from 1977-78, and a society that he promoted and was the second Chairman (1973-74), after the founding Chairman, Sir Harold Harding, himself the 99th President of the ICE in 1963-64.
Sir Alan is most well known to the international community as an initiator as well as the first President and the Honorary Live President there after of the International Tunnelling Association (ITA), a group of 54 member nations that meets annually at its general assembly. The ITA is also a recognized NGO (non-governmental organization) of the United Nations. From its beginnings in 1974, Sir Alan remained ardently

"Tunnelling is not inherently accident-prone; only miscasting of its players makes it so."
Sir Alan, Sydney 2002

committed to the operation, growth, and work of the Association, giving his last presentation to the gathered delegation at the World Congress in 2002 in Sydney, Australia.
It was at the BTS in December that Sir Alan told TunnelTalk that he was not well, suffering with sclerosis of the lung, which had manifested itself only recently and could be traced back to his days as a young man in the Royal Navy when asbestos was used prolifically as an insulating material. He admitted that it had been a great effort to make it to the meeting but that "it was very important to be here. This is a very important topic. I feel it is the crux of all successful tunnelling projects and the root of all those that experience failures. We must get it right."
Sir Alan was known internationally as a senior engineer with the Halcrow Group in the UK head offices, retiring as Senior Partner in 1984, and remaining a consultant to the firm into his retirement. Sir Alan is the author of many books on engineering and tunnelling and lectured to many international schools and universities of engineering.
His opinions on practical tunnel design and construction were often contrary to a wider school of thought and in recent years he devoted his attention to the interconnection between the designer and the contractor.
One of his latest books, titled Tunnelling: Management by Design (2000), gives an indication of Sir Alan's thoughts on the subject. At the BTS meeting in December, he was supporting as seconder the motion of the Society's debate: This House believes: Tunnelling contracts are best implemented based on a detailed design procured by the client before tendering the construction contract.
As was his wont, Sir Alan spoke in support of both sides of the debate to different degrees and after lively discussion and a show-of-hands call, the motion was narrowly defeated. The result testifies also in some way to Sir Alan's point of view. Many say he represented the 'old school' of tunnel design and construction, believing in the preeminence of 'The Engineer', as embodied in the ICE 5th form of contract, and in his suspicion of contractors being able to understand and undertake design engineering - despite the fact that design of all 'temporary' works for tunnels was, and remains, the responsibility of the contractor.
He was often considered the nemesis of those promoting the 'new', although he often explained that he too, broke with convention when he designed, as head of the Halcrow team, the Heathrow Airport Cargo Tunnel in the early 1970s. This large vehicular tunnel of about 11m diameter, was designed and built at relatively shallow depth, in the London Clay, and under an active runway, with an expanded boltless segmental precast concrete lining. "A courageous and superb job," as many admit.
As well as the Heathrow Cargo Tunnel, Sir Alan influenced so many major tunnelling projects in the UK as well as around the world, including the Channel Tunnel attempt in the 1970s; the latest and successful Channel Tunnel project of the 1980s-90s; refurbishment of Brunel's Thames Tunnel in the late 1990s-early 2000s - where he crossed swords with engineers who had designed a cost-effective internal shotcrete (or sprayed concrete) reinforcement and relining of the deteriorated, yet still operating, mass transit tunnel structure; the Jubilee Line Extension of the London Underground; the extensive tunnelling on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link into the new international terminal at St Pancras in London; and most recently the Parliamentary approval process for London's Crossrail project. Internationally, and among many, he advised and worked on the 80km long Orange Fish water tunnel in South Africa, rail tunnels on the steep mountainous east-side of Taiwan, and the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme in Australia. He was Knighted in the Queen's 1982 New Year's Honours List for his services to civil engineering in the UK and abroad, while working for Sir William Halcrow & Partners, as the firm was called at that time.
After a long career in traditional tunnelling procurement, the current era of design-build was something of an anathema to Sir Alan, and the idea of contractors leading PPPs and concessions, the start of a brave new world. It never diminished his passion however to improve the profession and steer tunnelling in the "right" direction. A towering figure in so many respects, whose presence will be missed.
Sir Alan is survived by his wife, Lady Winifred, and a family of three sons, his daughters-in-law and his grandchildren, among whom the lineage of civil engineers with the Muir Wood surname continues.
Shani Wallis, Editor, TunnelTalk
Published obituaries by:
The Times
The Telegraph
The Scotsman
The Herald
The Royal Society
University of Bristol
Rodney Craig
London, 19th February 2009
At the British Tunnelling Society (BTS) meeting at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in London on Thursday,
19th February, Rodney Craig paid tribute to Sir Alan as a friend for the past 25 years and as a colleague at Sir William Halcrow & Partners until Sir Alan's retirement in 1984.
“I first met Alan when I joined Halcrow in 1961 on the design of the Clyde Tunnel where he was senior engineer responsible for the project, and have been a close colleague and friend for the last 47 years - the whole of my engineering career. Sir Alan was not only the most well known tunneller in Britain, but probably the world’s most well known tunneller. It was excellent that we saw him at the BTS debate in December last year when he was seconding the motion that was close to 'his heart'.
We were corresponding by email a week before he died about the death of Professor Olek Zienkievicz, late from Swansea University; and about Sir Alan’s article in the February 2009 issue of the ICE Civil Engineering Journal on Thomas Young and the Brunels: masters of masonry analysis, in which Sir Alan showed his great knowledge of design. He was also very pleased that one of his grandsons was working as a civil engineer in Denmark on the design of wind farms. On the Tuesday before he died he was talking to another grandson about whether or not arbitration has been improved through the introduction of lawyers/arbitrators, again close to his heart.
Early career
Sir Alan was born in 1921 and after a degree from Cambridge University joined the Royal Navy in 1942 where regrettably he was in contact with asbestos, which may have been partly responsible for his death. After the war he joined Southern Region of British Railways on permanent way, bridge and maintenance works. He investigated the landslips at Folkestone Warren and was responsible for the remedial works.
He joined the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive in 1950, before joining Sir William Halcrow & Partners in 1952, where he worked initially on the design of small diameter rock and soft ground tunnels, particularly GPO cable tunnels, and the rehabilitation of old tunnels in Stockport. This was when he was first associated with the use of shotcrete for tunnel support and for remedial measures. As many of you know Alan had firm views about the New Austrian Tunnelling Method, NATM, which he used to call the New Australian Tunnel Method as he considered that it had been used first on the Snowy Mountain project. He was both vocal and wrote many articles giving his views on the method. So far as he was concerned it was certainly not "new", not "Austrian" and not really a “method”.
Channel Tunnel
Alan was greatly associated with the ‘recent’ history of the Channel Tunnel. Between 1958 and 1960 he was the leader of a team that carried out a technical study on the Tunnel, which included the interpretation of available data about the ground and the sea bed. The late Sir Harold Harding and Alan’s late colleague Colin Kirkland, both Past Chairmen of the BTS, worked in that team. He was Project Director for the investigations carried out by Franco – British consultants in 1964 to 1965.
In 1973 to 1975 he was the Halcrow Partner responsible for the joint consultancy team with Mott Hay and Anderson for the design and construction of the first stage of the Channel Tunnel Service Tunnel before its cancellation in 1975. The late David Wallis, also Past Chairman of the BTS, was Halcrow’s senior person on site.
In 1981 the House of Commons Transport Select Committee called upon Alan to be their Specialist Advisor on the Channel Tunnel. After he retired in 1984 Sir Alan became a consultant to Halcrow and advised on the Channel Tunnel before becoming a member of the 5-man Disputes Panel for the Channel Tunnel from 1988 to 1998, thus completing forty years on and off the project. He was also the Specialist Advisor to the House of Commons Select Committee on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in 1985 to 1986.
Senior engineer
Alan was appointed a Halcrow Senior Engineer in 1956 and was Project Engineer on two major tunnelling projects:
  • The Potters Bar railway tunnels in London Clay where the expanded concrete lining was used for the first time for a large diameter (8.1m) tunnel (1955 to 1959).
  • The twin road tunnels under the River Clyde in Glasgow (1955 to 1964).

Alan Muir Wood (forward left in the group) in one of the Potters Bar tunnels in late 1950s

During the subsequent downturn in tunnelling Alan was responsible for coastal protection and cliff stabilisation works on the south coast including works at Folkestone Warren where he started his career with British Railways. He also advised on the cooling water tunnels for Dungeness Power Station.
Alan was made a partner of Sir William Halcrow & Partners in 1964 with his main responsibilities concerning tunnels, maritime works and problems in soil and rock mechanics. During the next 15 years he continued his tunnelling career and was responsible for the Heathrow Cargo Tunnel (1966 to 1968), the largest expanded concrete lined tunnel at 10.3m i.d., which saved the client 40% of the cost compared to a cast iron lining which would have been used with conventional methods. Alan had learnt from the Potters Bar tunnels and reduced the thickness of the lining from 0.68m to 0.3m for the much larger diameter tunnel. The tunnel was only 7m below the No. 5 runway, which was not closed during the construction. By specifying strict control methods the settlement on the runway was minimised to a face loss of only 0.4% with the maximum settlement of 11mm. One well-known tunnelling theorist said that the tunnel would collapse and pop out of the ground. It is still there 40 years later and was a project that was completed on time and within budget, which a proud Alan always remembered and mentioned at appropriate times.
He was responsible for reports and designs for rail links to Heathrow Airport. The British Railways link from Victoria was never constructed, but the extension of the London Underground Piccadilly Line to Heathrow was built and he was responsible for the design and initial phase of the construction.
Other tunnel projects during this period included studies for road tunnels under Bath to reduce congestion and studies of the Glasgow Underground. He was a Director of the Orange Fish Tunnel Consultants (South Africa) responsible for the design and construction of the then longest tunnel in the world 80km, which included sprayed concrete linings, but did not use NATM.
His other activities included:
  • The investigation of the collapse of the 2,000 tonne steel coal bunker at Sharlston, Yorkshire, and the design and supervision of many reinforced concrete coal bunkers of up to 3,000 tonne capacity.
  • Responsibility for design and supervision of works to stabilise National Coal Board spoil heaps in South Wales and in North Derbyshire and elsewhere, following the Aberfan spoil heap slide disaster in Wales that killed many including the children in the village’s buried school.
  • Studies and expert witness for coastal problems and the expert witness for the Government on reinforced earth.
  • Marine coastal works in the UK, in Greece and the Dominican Republic of Honduras
Alan was President of the Institution of Civil Engineers 1977 to 1978
British Tunnelling Society
In 1970 Alan was Chairman of the OECD Conference in Washington, on tunnelling. Sir Alan called the conference "this unique conference" as it was the first time that an international conference had been held to advise governments on the policy which they should adopt for tunnelling. The conference was attended by 20 nations and led to nations forming their own tunnelling societies.
The inaugural meeting of the British Tunnelling Society was in March 1971 which was attended by 300 people. The late Sir Harold Harding was elected the first Chairman and Alan Muir Wood was elected the second Chairman (1973–1974) and is the only person who has been elected twice as Chairman (1975 – 1976). Sir Alan was awarded the James Clark Medal jointly with John Bartlett, of Mott Macdonald in 1994 for their services to the industry. Sir Alan gave the Sir Harold Harding Lecture in 2004.

Sir Alan and Lady Winifred at the 2002 ITA Congress in Sydney with Andre Assis, President (center), myself, and Colin Kirkland (right).

International Tunnelling Association
The International Tunnelling Association (ITA) was formed, following the Washington meeting, with its inaugural meeting in Oslo in 1974 and Sir Alan was elected the first President. After his three-year term he was elected Honorary Life President in 1977. The ITA is the family of international tunnellers which meets once a year somewhere around the world. He attended the 25th anniversary in Oslo in 1999 and was at the meeting in Sydney in 2002 with Lady Winifred.
Sir Alan was well known to the majority of tunnellers attending these meetings. He kept in the background and advised the Executive Committee when requested and when carrying out reviews of their structure.
The late Colin Kirkland and currently Martin Knights are ITA Presidents elected from the BTS, the Association’s UK membership Society.
Senior Partner
Alan was appointed Senior Partner of Sir William Halcrow & Partners Ltd in 1979, a position which he held for five years until 1984. He was appointed Knight Bachelor in 1982 for services to engineering. Sir Alan was responsible:
  • For comparative studies between immersed and bored road tunnels across the River Thames and the River Orwell at Ipswich in the UK
  • The Cuilfail road tunnel in Lewes, England
  • Power stations and desalination plants in the Middle East
  • Studies for the World Bank of solar energy for small irrigation projects
  • He was Chairman of the Consultants Board for a water interceptor tunnel in Sao Paulo.
  • Member of the Management Group for eight years for British Metro Consultants Group for the Baghdad Metro Project (1981–1988), which required visits to Baghdad often travelling by car from Jordan.
When Sir Alan completed his term as Senior Partner in 1984 he decided to retire early at the age of 63. He became a consultant to the firm so that he would be able to continue his civil engineering career. He was still actively working until his death. One of his last projects was an adviser on the Gerrards Cross tunnel collapse. Sir Alan worked for Halcrow for 32 years, 20 of which as a partner. He worked as a consultant for 25 years. His worldwide reputation meant that Sir Alan was asked to work on many projects as an adviser, on Review Boards, as an expert witness and on Disputes Boards.
These included:
  • The Singapore North East MRT
  • The Sydney Ocean Outfalls
  • The ODA Mass Rapid Transit in Developing Countries
  • The Health & Safety Executive Enquiry into the Heathrow Collapse
  • The Great Belt crossing in Denmark,
  • He advised the House of Commons on the alignment of the Jubilee Line and a number of developers which led to the rerouting of the alignment through Greenwich
  • The Heathrow Express cut and cover section through contaminated land
  • The management of the Melbourne City Link, and later as an expert witness
  • London Underground and English Heritage on the treatment of the Brunel Thames Tunnel
  • He acted as an expert witness for North West Water Authority during the Abbeystead court case that prosecuted the methane gas explosion disaster in the water tunnel project’s pumping station that killed many who were visiting the facility at the time
  • The Strategic Sewage Disposal scheme in Hong Kong
  • Dredging for the Corio Bay Channel in Victoria in Australia, and
  • On the risk sharing and disputes resolution panel for the Øresund Crossing between Denmark and Sweden.
Books, articles, lectures and papers
Sir Alan found time to write more than 100 articles, papers, books and lectures. His first of many in the Proceedings of the Institution was the investigations on the Folkestone Warren Landslip in 1955. He wrote a number of books or chapters on tunnelling and one on coastal hydraulics in 1968 with a second edition with a Halcrow colleague. Since 1968 there has been only the odd year when he has not published up to five or six papers. This year he went to press only a week before he died with the article in Civil Engineering on Thomas Young and the Brunels. There have been many articles on the Channel Tunnel, but the one paper that all tunnellers remember is the March 1975 paper in Geotechnique on The Circular Tunnel in Elastic Ground, which is considered the bible for tunnel design. He was the Chairman responsible for the CIRIA Report 79 – Improved Contractual Practices in Tunnelling.
Sir Alan has made a major contribution to the Civil Engineering industry. We here know him as a tunneller but his other contributions to the industry have been immense. He was one of those rare people who had a thorough grasp of the subject that he could combine both the art and the science of tunnelling. He was a kind man and very approachable and friendly to all, a great friend. No job was too much and he took on work as he enjoyed it, and was enthusiastic, in solving problems and getting to the bottom of incidents.

Speaking at the Brunel anniversary seminar in 2006

He was a "a good Engineer" of the old school. People here tonight have made comments that "they knew that they would be given a fair hearing in any dispute which would be fair, reasoned and not biased". Sir Alan had some controversial views and therefore his critics, and not everyone agreed with him, but he was sincere and gave a good argument and discussion on any topic that he believed in. He dedicated much time to the advancement of civil engineering and research. He had very high standards that he expected you also to achieve and was critical, in a kind way, when you did not achieve what he expected you to do. But he always remembered it!
He received Honorary Degrees from four universities and said with a smile that he was the only amateur doctor in the family. Lady Winifred and their three sons had earned their doctorates. He was a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers; of the Royal Society; of the Royal Academy of Engineering; of Imperial College; an Honorary Fellow of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, and Portsmouth Polytechnic and visiting professor of Bristol University. He received the Institution of Civil Engineers Gold Medal in 1998.
Sir Alan will be remembered as an inspiration and role model to us all. His dedication to the civil engineering industry and to Halcrow was exemplary. We send our sincere condolences to Lady Winifred, his three sons and eight grand children."

Robert Mair, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering and Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering,
Cambridge University, and Master of Jesus College

25 Feb, 2009

These are my three favourite quotes by Sir Alan and included in his published works:

“It has been said that a tunnel is a long cylindrical hole through the ground,
with a geologist at one end and a group of lawyers at the other.”

“Yet more dire is the present day phenomenon of lawyers at each end.”

“Uncertainty is a feature that is unavoidable in tunnelling. But it can
be understood and controlled so that it does not cause damaging risk.”

Professor Mair, FREng, FRS, included these quotes as part of his tribute to Sir Alan at the end of his lecture to The Royal Society in London on Wednesday evening last week (18 February, 2009). Entitled "What's going on underground: Tunnelling into the future", the lecture addressed the risks and challenges of building infrastructure tunnels beneath historic, highrise, modern and dense cities and protecting the surface buildings from the potentially damaging affects of subsidence - a topic that was also of great interest and attention for Sir Alan. Sir Alan was also a Fellow of The Royal Society as well as a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering.

James Metcalf, GOBA, Durban, South Africa

24 Feb, 2009

I must say I am pleased to have it confirmed that the late Sir Alan Muir Wood was (of course) a member of the old school of professional engineering thinkers, those who gave The Engineer on projects all the moral support they deserved. This is compared with the new NEC contract where the word Engineer is never used.

Although I was, years ago, a fan of Andrew Baird's NEC, it greatly irritates me that the current version - on which I attended a lecuture last December in Paradise Valley Nature Reserve, Westville, South Africa - now talks only of ‘supervisors’ and never of ‘professional engineers’.

It reminds me of the days in the mid-1980s when I worked within the SAICE Wits Branch Committee with Alex Hay, then City Engineer for Johannesburg. That was a time when the term ‘City Engineer’ was paramount. Now instead we have politically appointed Municipal Managers, who, as far as I am aware, are governed by no professional rules and get paid handsomely for toeing the party line while knowing little about engineering.

It all stems from SAICE and its members not going on strike over this loss of status, a scenario that has lead to the current degradation of the country's municipal corporate management - and its infrastructure - and its professional engineers no longer being ‘iconic’. Chartered accountants, lawyers and medical professionals would never have let it happen to their professions!

Tony Boniface, Director – GIBB, Johannesburg, South Africa

24 Feb, 2009

As someone who worked under Sir Alan Muir Wood for some time, my one anecdote about him that I really enjoy retelling stems from the time when, in 1970 in Johannesburg, we had what was one of the first major international tunnelling conferences - anywhere. An erudite Austrian engineer had just presented a paper on “The New Austrian Tunnelling Method” and when he had sat down Sir Alan got up and said that what had just been presented was not particularly new and not particularly Austrian. In China I’ve seen it referred to as the New Australian Tunnelling Method!

Alan was certainly one of the ‘old school’ and an absolute gentleman. As session chairman at the ITA World Tunnelling Congress in Oslo (1999), it was his duty to introduce me to the audience before I presented a paper of mine. Notwithstanding the fact that I was some 18 years his junior, he introduced me as ‘my colleague’! This gave me quite an undeserved boost.

Martin Knights, President, International Tunnelling Association

5 Feb, 2009

There will be many tributes to Sir Alan and rightly so. He was well known in the international tunnelling field and his colleagues will be saddened by the news of his death.

Sir Alan had a formidable intellect. Even until very recently he wrote and spoke widely about many issues in the tunnelling world and even as recently as December 2008, he debated at the Institution of Civil Engineers in London on tunnel engineering design matters. His final paper, published only last month in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, gave a detailed interpretation of design issues affecting Victorian brick bridges and tunnels, demonstrating not only the fundamental behaviour of these historic structures, but the theory to support his interpretation.

His achievements were many. His wide circle of government and business colleagues and friends, and his family, will surely miss a man who influenced everything he was involved in and whose legacy to the Engineering profession is well documented and acknowledged. I shall also miss a friend and advisor.

David Caiden, Arup, New York

5 Feb, 2009

A sad loss for the BTS, the ITA, and the worldwide tunnelling industry. Many of us would not be doing what we are doing today but for the genius of this great man and his contributions to the art and science of our craft.


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