Obituary - Tommy Talbott 1932 - 2011


Tommy Talbott 1932 - 2011
A leading personality of the British tunnelling community died last weekend on Saturday 11 June. Tommy Talbott, well known to so many as a leading tunnel contractor and Managing Director of Miller Civil Engineering (the forerunner of today's Morgan Sindall), died at home with his wife Sheila and his family after a battle against cancer.
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Tommy Talbott

As a strong supporter and Vice Chairman of the British Tunnelling Society, Tommy was one of a group of construction directors who shaped the UK tunnelling industry in the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s. With a strong company commitment to the tunnel construction sector, Miller Civil Engineering, under Tommy's leadership, was involved in most of the major utility tunnel projects of the time as well as growing to become a leading contractor of major tunneling projects.
Among them, and to mention only a few, the company had contracts on the Thames Water Ring Main; four major contracts for the MEPAS (Mersey Estuary Pollution Alleviation Scheme) in Liverpool; sewer tunnel drives in Folkestone and Hastings for Southern Water; recovered from a difficult situation on the Hull sewer tunnel project for Yorkshire Water, and has completed many kilometers of cable tunnels in the London area for electricity supplier EDF and for the national grid.
For larger scale projects, the company completed the Heathrow baggage tunnel in the mid-1990s; all the tunnelling works associated with the new Terminal 5 development at Heathrow (including twin road tunnels and extensions of the Piccadilly Line and Heathrow Express railways); and completed the single-tube, double-track North Downs railway tunnel on the first section of the high-speed link between London and the Channel Tunnel.
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Always time for the crew and a trip into the heading of a project

Through all his dealings, Tommy showed personal regard and respect for those he came into contact with. These included his colleagues, of note David Donaldson among others, and fellow tunnelling contractors and competitors, chief among them Maurice Gooderham who recalls an early association, when, as manager of the civil engineering division of Thyssen GB at the time, he shared with Tommy the company's patent-pending vacuum segment erector invention to solve a similar segment-damaging problem on one of its current shield tunnel contracts. Close working relationships and personal friendships were developed with Max Will and Friedrich Blindow, managing directors at the time of the Austrian tunnel contracting firm Beton-und Monierbau.
From an initial joint venture on the Heathrow baggage tunnel, the two companies partnered on the BAA T5 work as well as the CTRL North Downs contract with fellow joint venture partner Dumez of France. Through the association, Miller introducing to the UK high specification shotcrete techniques and from that developed the company's CombiShell design of fibre reinforced primary and final shotcrete linings, a system that accrued significant savings on the baggage tunnel.
Memorial donations
Donations are requested to two charities; the St Lukes Hospice in Harrow and JDRF, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
On the supply side of the business, Tommy had a high regard for Richard Lovat, using several of the company's earliest TBMs of many in the UK and using on the Ring Main the first dual-mode Lovat EPBM in the country.
For more recent contracts, the company has operated Herrenknecht machines, using them on the Heathrow T5 projects and today assembling a slurry Mixshield for the Lee Tunnel for Thames Water. In the early days it was working with Richard Lewis and the tunnelling shields from Markam of Chersterfield that provided the base of the company's tunnelling equipment inventory.
Additional principal suppliers to the company include Mühlhäuser for several sets of rolling stock from Germany and Bekaert of Belgium, which, through its UK sales representative John Greenhalg, the company bought large quantities of steelfibre for their fibre reinforced shotcrete lined projects and worked with on development of the CombiShell concept.
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Tommy (left) receiving the 2007 James Clark Medal from then BTS Chairman Bill Grose

Through his career Tommy continually mentored new engineers into the tunneling business, not least of which are the current set of managing directors at the company, among them Chris Hughes and Colin Eddie. They continue the legacy of hard work and fairness in business and in competition that Tommy laid down as a foundation for the company they now manage as a leading British tunnelling contractor and working now on major SCL contracts for London's Crossrail project.
In 2007, Tommy was awarded the James Clark Medal by the BTS (British Tunnelling Society) for his contribution to British tunnelling over many years. On that occasion, Chris Hughes explained that Tommy left the Royal Engineers in the late 1950s to join Sir James Miller and Partners as a site engineer. Over the next four decades, he rose through the ranks in as it changed ownership to Miller Buckley, Miller Construction and more recently Morgan Est and Morgan Sindall.
Tommy retired as an executive director in the mid-1990s but continued in a part-time capacity, offering advice and support to the Morgan tunnelling team. In his address Chris praised Tommy for his unstinting generosity in coaching younger tunnel engineers and for his ability to inspire. He will be missed.
Our thoughts are with his wife Sheila, who was a partner well known to Tommy's colleagues and supported the setup of the BTS Society's annual dinner in honour of the wives and partners of tunneling engineers and workers, and with the Talbott family.


Development of vacuum segment erectors - TunnelTalk
Richard Lovat 80th birthday celebrations - TunnelTalk, Sept 2008
TBM commissioned to tackle London CSO task - TunnelTalk, May 2011
Crossrail awards tunnelling contracts - TunnelTalk, Dec 2010

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