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Is change really a viable option for saving the planet?

Your editorial raises the subtle but shady suggestion that the car is suddenly back in favour (Comment last week).

Should a hint of political support for electric vehicles suddenly reverse all recent thinking, raising the old chestnut that the car is here to stay?        

By definition, the word congestion refers solely to overcrowding, but in our car-dominated culture has come equally to imply pollution. Removing the pollution from the equation will not solve the congestion problem. In fact for many years electric cars will be more applicable to urban transport, where congestion is already highest.        

The mixed messages continue to increase. Car travel is often the most dangerous activity in our lives. For this reason most employers are now encouraging us to greatly reduce work-related car transport.       

As engineers we need to be very careful about using dreams of electric cars to justify jumping back on the 1960s-style car bandwagon.   Resurrecting the car is much easier than facing the challenge of other safer and more healthy forms of transport.        

 Should we be instantly duped by the politicians into taking the easy road, or do we continue to face the challenge of alternatives to the car?     

  • Stuart Nisbet (M), 15 Victoria Crescent, Glasgow G76 8BP           

Reading our editor’s ever optimistic contribution last week, about the future of electricity and cars, reminded me that one only ever reads of changes proposed to our built or manufactured environment.        

For some reason, it is supposed that people will be enabled to continue exactly as they presently are, this miracle being achieved by modifying said environment sufficiently to permit it.        

No one suggests that people might have to seriously change their habits in order to survive? Doing without things we have got used to having readily to hand, be it mobility, warmth, potable water or holidays, is something it is not politically sensible to contemplate.   And yet, with reference to the car specifically, plenty of people still around can remember a time when, if one was going to work, one lived in close proximity to the place where the process happened. Thus we had mining-towns, textile-towns, fishing, steel and shipbuilding-towns, all now history.           

It was the car which facilitated the fragmentation of such communities, and the easy transport of heavy goods between nations which facilitated the view that an industrial Britain could dispense with its own industrial base.       

It now looks as if this era of cheap transport is drawing to a close. I too like the idea of a windmill-powered car, but I cannot see it doing the same job culturally as its old-fashioned, oil-powered forebear.   

  • Malcolm Cox (M), mcmwriting@googlemail.com        

Green performance over growth    

Can Laurie Price really be objective in giving advice to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure, given his 3km comparison between airports and high speed rail (NCE 9 April). The comments would be better backed up with detailed comparisons of the two, including environmental costs.       

I would have said that 37M people flying round the world is not desirable in environmental cost terms and it will only be available to those who can afford it. A decent integrated transport system including rail is the only sensible way forward.        

Perhaps such advice should come from the ICE following reasoned and detailed research, rather than by the vested interests which seem always to help form policy and then are helpfully around to implement it.      

If the current recession teaches us anything, it should be that we need to end the continued push for economic growth and expansion as an indicator of the country’s well being and perhaps look more at the environment, equality and poverty as measures of the UK’s performance. 

  • Mark Philpotts (M), mark.philpotts@ntlworld.com 

Paying the way    

The simple answer to the [Dartford Crossing] congestion problem is to remove the toll plazas altogether (News last week). Although this would involve a deal with the owners of the concession it is surely not beyond the wit of the politicians to come up with something.   The cumulative costs of the congestion and the tolls are of course off balance-sheet as far as the government is concerned, but it is nonetheless a very real cost to the public and is, in effect, another stealth tax.        

In my view, there is no engineering logic behind charging for a particular stretch of motorway simply because it cost more to build. On that basis there should be a toll on the M62 for the Pennine crossing.         

If we accept that motorways are generally toll-free they should be free throughout.  

  • Howard Ward (M), Howard Ward Associates, Brewery House, Radcliffe on Trent NG12 2FF       

 

Not worth booking a look    

Is it me, or do others find the proposed new Birmingham Library a poor piece of architecture (NCE 9 April)?  A boring box-like structure clad in what looks like panelling resembling net curtain material. Surely we can do better. 

  • John Anderson,  nosreda@tiscali.co.uk  John Symmons (M), 9 Main Street, Ledston WF10 2AA          

Safer times?     

It is admirable that contractors believe the greatest advancement in our industry, in the recent past, is the improvement in health and safety standards now achieved (NCE 2 April)        

Statistics given in NCE (NCE 3 April 2008) show that the majority of the improvement, ie the reduction in the number of annual fatalities within the industry, occurred prior to the implementation of health and safety legislation in 1994.         

It is also very relevant that any reduction in the number of fatalities must have been influenced considerably by the advancement in medical science over any related period.         

Taking such factors into account our achievements in health and safety are shown in an entirely different light. This may suggest that the implementation of legislation has failed.        

If one is to examine the statistics for major injuries, which must now contain those lives saved by medical science, we see that the number of accidents has certainly not decreased but has shown a positive increase since 1994.        

There are indications that the Health and Safety Executive has been unable to obtain suitable adequate staff numbers. We are now experiencing a recession and it should be an opportunity for those believing that this discipline is worthy of support to be urgently employed to the benefit of all. 

  • Allan J Chambers (F), allan@achambers.wanadoo.co.uk          

Innovative ideas from the past    

I was fascinated to read the article in the Innovation & Research Focusconcerning the Highways Agency’s new innovation ramp metering. At the very start of my career as a traffic engineer I worked for the GLC which at that time had some of the best traffic and transportation experts in the world working for it.        

In the late 1960s I was involved in carrying out and analysing surveys on the M4 corridor into London to assess the viability of ramp metering as a means of reducing congestion and delays. A GLC Research Memorandum was produced which showed quite clearly that ramp metering would provide considerable benefits.          

Unfortunately the Department for Transport at that time would have none of these “new” ideas and nothing was done, not even an experiment.      

Pleased to see that after a mere 40 years the Highways Agency as now come up with this “innovation” in its own right.   

  • Jim Bennett (M), retired traffic engineer, jimben@waitrose.com      

Replacing the fastest finish for replacement rail bridge        

 Faber Maunsell Aecom claims to have completed the first replacement of a rail bridge in under eight hours (NCE last week).  

In 1957 I was working with Nigerian Railways in the bridge department and all work on the bridges had to be done within standard possessions of four or exceptionally eight hours.         

I attach photos of a three span bridge in central Nigeria which was replaced in eight hours.         

We did not have to think of overhead cables but there were no computers or consultants. We had to be self sufficient because there was no back up within range, and there was no access by road to enable the use of mobile cranes other than the railway’s own rail mounted crane. The single track main line shown was used to export the tin ore which with ground nuts was the mainstay of the Nigerian economy before the coming on stream of oil which at that time had just been discovered.         

At that time Nigerian Railways received no subsidy and ran at a profit. 

  • JT Fulton (F), killultagh@aol.com 

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