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Planes, trains and ferry terminals

Planes, trains and ferry terminals

Author: Patrick Bruce, Group Commercial Director


My career has spanned almost one-third of Costain’s 150-year existence, so you’d expect me to have worked on at least some projects that have a lasting impact on the UK. And you’d be right.

I step down as Group Commercial Director on 31 March, having been involved in some of the largest infrastructure projects undertaken over the past 40 years and which will continue to serve the country for decades to come.

The M25 motorway, Flotta marine terminal in Orkney and London’s St Pancras railway station are a few of the jobs on which I’ve worked.

I’m probably one of the few people in Costain who’s worked in most of the sectors – oil & gas, highways, ports, marine. Most of the time I’ve been on the commercial side, but I spent five years running a subsidiary, Land & Marine Engineering.

Having started out as a trainee QS, after two and a half years hitch-hiking round the world, I went through an excellent training course and became a chartered surveyor. I went on to become a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Surveyors, as well as a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.

One of my most memorable jobs was at Flotta in the 1970s, where the day began and ended with an hour-long boat trip to and from the worksite. The Orkneys’ reputation for fierce weather was confirmed when a Force 12 storm struck one night, demolishing a structural steel jetty and sinking many of the barges and ro-ro ferries we were using on the project. We had to restart the jetty from scratch.

Still in the Northern Isles, I was involved in laying new runways at the Shetlands’ Sumburgh Airport as the North Sea oil boom gathered pace. My spell with Land & Marine took me to the rather warmer surroundings of Malaysia.

St Pancras provided both the largest commercial challenge I faced in my time with the Group as well as the fondest memories. The job started at £350 million and in the end we settled it at £660 million. The station, home to London’s Eurostar terminal, is now regarded as an exemplar of engineering and the re-use of an iconic Victorian structure.

Less glamorous was the creation of bomb-proof aircraft shelters on several US Air Force bases; with the end of the Cold War and closure of the sites, several were converted into some of the world’s most expensive mushroom farms.

Reminiscing some of the projects that have shaped my career has given me a great sense of pride. Costain has truly been involved in meeting our nation’s needs with many iconic features, but also non less importantly the vital infrastructure that we as society take for granted.

My message to people is that you’ve got to try to stretch yourselves. There’s a bit of luck involved, but go for it because people are always there to help you out.

I would welcome you to share your memories of past Costain projects with us.