Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Who Does That?; JUST THE JOB

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Who Does That?; JUST THE JOB

Article excerpt

Byline: KATE CROCKETT

Kate Crockett meets the man who opens and closes Tower Bridge - and who once left Bill Clinton stranded

ERIC Sutherns 54, is the bridge master and operations manager at Tower Bridge. He is the man responsible for opening Tower Bridge for tall ships to come and go from the centre of the Capital. "We do anywhere between 800 and 900 lifts every year," Sutherns explains. "During the summer months we will do anything between 100-120 lifts a month, so we can be here very long hours during the summer."

Sutherns and his team of five other trained "bridge drivers" are on-call 24 hours a day to open the bridge, free-of-charge, for vessels over 14 metres that can't make it under the road level.

Tower Bridge is controlled by an Act of Parliament dictating that Sutherns and his team must open the bridge when required at 24 hours notice. They cannot be out of action.

Opening Tower Bridge is, technically, just a case of Sutherns "pushing the right button" on the computer in his office or in the control room.

But, as he explains, the computer can't account for "that driver or cyclist that have jumped the red lights". So, in order to ensure a safe opening every time, the bridge driver (that is, the one pushing the button) is assisted by four colleagues who act as safety officers on each corner of the bridge.

As the traffic lights change to red, a klaxon informs the traffic and tourists that the bridge is about to open (and there's a photo opportunity about to be had). The safety officers close the road and pedestrian gates and Sutherns is in business. It takes about seven minutes to complete one bridge lift.

Sutherns joined Tower Bridge in 1988 after 23 years in the Royal Navy, starting as a senior technician on the engineering team, which maintains and operates the bridge. …

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