Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Lightning cables - slow haul starts

Each of the copper-coated steel cables weighs around 1.5 tonnes. But by the time you read this, British military engineers will have hauled one of them to the top of the Rock by hand.

A team of 26 men from 20 Field Squadron Royal Engineers will have worked through the night and – barring any last minute glitches – should have by now completed the task of removing one of the 450m-long cables. Tomorrow night, they will repeat the task and dispose of the second one.

The cables, anchored at the base of the Rock close to Catalan Bay and running up to two separate anchor points at Rock Gun, were installed years ago as lightning conductors. But they are rusting, redundant and something of a safety risk, hence the decision to remove them.

To get the job done safely, road access to the area has been intermittently closed off. Alternative arrangements have been put in place, including a bus service through Admiralty Tunnel for pedestrians wanting to reach Catalan Bay and Both Worlds during key periods of the operation.

The task of removing the cables is fairly straightforward, if physically demanding.
The first step is to release them from the base anchor and ease the tension until they are flush against the cliff face. The cables are then hauled up to top of the Rock using eight manual winches and ample muscle power. Ten engineers worked the winches through the night to get the job done.

Once at the summit, the cables are chopped into segments for easier transportation and disposal.

There are numerous fail-safes in place to avoid any pitfalls and ensure a smooth and secure operation.

One of the engineers involved candidly described the task as “a really controlled, slow and painfully boring job.”

There are currently 63 men from 20 Field Squadron Royal Engineers in Gibraltar, many of them at work on other sites around the Rock.

One of the jobs involves dismantling decrepit roof structures over two ventilation shafts leading into the tunnels known as Great North Road. The shafts, which are on the Rock face behind the Moorish Castle and are each around 25m deep, provided ventilation for the now de-commissioned Calpe Generating Station. The original roofs are being replaced with secure steel grilles, while fences are also being installed to prevent access and render the area safe.
The Engineers, who will be here until early June, have already dismantled a disused lighthouse at the end of the South Mole that was in a poor state of repair.

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