Cutting corners

When weighing up whether to do a job properly or to cut corners whilst maximising profit seems to be a dilemma of our times. You might think. Or not, as this story illustrates…

My grandparents lived in Hastings. Well, moved to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia after the big storm in ’88 – to move back after one Canadian winter – but that is a another story, to all intents and purposes they lived in Hastings on the south east coast of England. I have many fond childhood memories of the place: the old town, the sea front and beaches, the cliffs, all quite magical, as childhood memories so often are.

When you return as an adult you have that moment of brutal disenchantment, especially when considering Hastings. The place is… struggling. And far from magical. And just never quite as hip as Brighton, despite superficial similarities.

One of the reasons for this dates back to bad decisions back in Victorian times.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the matter (I know I should stop referring to Wikipedia, just an easy option –and it is not as though this were being peer reviewed):

The Hastings Line is a secondary railway line in Kent and East Sussex, England, linking Hastings with the main town of Tunbridge Wells, and from there into London via Tonbridge and Sevenoaks. The railway was constructed in the early 1850s across the difficult terrain of the High Weald. Supervision of the construction of the line was lax, enabling contractors to take short cuts in the construction of the tunnels. These deficiencies showed up after the line had opened.

Rectifications led to a restricted loading gauge along the line, requiring the use of dedicated rolling stock. Served by steam locomotives from opening until the late 1950s, passenger services were then taken over by a fleet of diesel-electric multiple units built to the line’s loading gauge. Freight was handled by diesel locomotives, also built to fit the loading gauge. The diesel-electric multiple units served on the line until 1986, when the line was electrified and the affected tunnels were singled.

Robertsbridge station looking in the direction of Hastings, 1954

So essentially the decision by a Victorian contractor to cut corners on the amount and quality of brick used to construct the tunnels on the line led to situation that persists until today, which is that rolling stock is restricted and therefore commute times are slow, unlike the forty minute run from Brighton up to Clapham Junction, which is one of the reasons that Hastings became a backwater.

Why am I rattling on about all of this?

Well, the obvious parallel to draw is that it is very rarely wise to cut corners with an eye on short-term profit, this is equally true of railway tunnels as it is when selecting Personal Protective Equipment, such as climbing gear. A bad decision in both instances may well return to haunt you at a later point in time.

In view of all this it makes sense to go that extra mile, to do your due diligence and to ensure that you have taken all necessary measures and are in possession of all tools necessary to enable you to do the job properly.

And what is the morale of this story? I am actually not overly keen on morales, but I suppose what this would say to me is: Do not mess up important decisions.