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Letters: Closing hard shoulders is a recipe for disaster

I read your article “Hard shoulder safety row” (News last week) with some concern. A motorway is fundamentally safer than other roads only because it has a hard shoulder for use by drivers who have broken down and/or the emergency services who need access and additional carriageway space to attend to emergencies. If all lanes are full of high speed vehicles the motorway accident rates must increase.

For too long the government agencies have been obsessed with wringing out increases in motorway capacity from a network that was primarily built to provide safe, long distance, high speed travel for HGVs.

The right direction to improve the network is to upgrade the A road system so that this can take away private cars from the motorways and return motorways to their primary function.

This would need an overhaul of the planning laws to enable compulsory purchase of “sacred cow” land and resolution of complex design problems to alter and limit access to the A road system.

Unfortunately, we are still waiting to elect a government with the courage and foresight to take this approach. Let us hope that the MM-ALR experiment, for that is what it is, doesn’t cause too many deaths before it is shelved.

  • Graham C Law, 5 Marianne Close, Southampton SO15 4JG

Last week’s report entitled “Hard shoulder safety row” left me very concerned. It is quite clear that police forces, including South Yorkshire, along with other emergency services, have serious safety issues relating to the permanent use of the hard shoulder as a running lane within the managed motorway proposals for the M1 and other motorways.

As a regular user of the M1, and in particular the sections to be improved, the situation of a vehicle broken down in a live running lane worries me, particularly after dark.

There are many hours throughout the day, both now and in the future, when the motorway can operate effectively using three lanes - the fourth lane (hard shoulder) being required only when congestion occurs (usually during peak travel times).

I note the Highways Agency’s reference to “experience from the M42 scheme” - well I hope we are not comparing apples and pears, because from my use of the M42 scheme I have never seen the hard shoulder used as a permanent running lane.

Also there is a significant number of gantries, which enable the hard shoulder to be returned to a “safe haven” in the case of a traffic incident.

Your article seems to indicate an entrenchment in attitude by the Agency, which I sincerely hope is not the case. We want improvements to our motorways but not at the expense of safety.

  • Alan Carnall (M Ret), carnall.2012@gmail.com

As an engineer retired from the Highways Agency I think I understand as well as anyone the need for additional capacity on the roads network. For several years I considered and authorised departures from standards for the layout of widening schemes on the M25 and other motorways.

Narrow lanes, discontinued hard shoulders and reduced stopping sight distance present risks to road users that have to be balanced against the overall benefits of the scheme. I followed the principle that risks should beALARP - as low as reasonably practicable.

I am concerned, along with the police, (NCE 3-10 January) that running traffic permanently on the hard shoulder with refuges only every 2.5km tips the risk balance too far the wrong way. It seems we shall soon have the anomaly of an all-purpose dual four-lane road with hard shoulders (the A2 in Kent) at the same time as we have dual four-lane motorways without hard shoulders.

Will they still be truly motorways and will the Highways Agency now be rewriting its cross-section standard to remove hard shoulders altogether? For the sake of the safety of road users, I hope that my fears and those of the police will prove to be unfounded.

  • Gordon Heath (M ret), gordon.j.heath@gmail.com
  • Editor’s note: Concerns about all lane running seem to be shared by most NCE readers. Our online poll shows that 81% of you are against the initiative. Have your say at www.nce.co.uk/alr

Please make OGS more bicycle friendly

I decided to cycle to One Great George Street for a seminar recently.

However, to my frustration, I had difficulty finding any cycle stands to park my bike; which surprised me considering the close proximity of St James’ Park.

I am of the opinion the ICE promotes sustainable transport; let’s hope also for its own engineers travelling to the HQ! I am also of the opinion that the ICE has political/local government influence.

So, would I be asking too much for a few more bicycle stands outside the front of or around the corner from our lovely HQ?

  • Alanna Marsh (M), lally_ma@hotmail.com
  • Editor’s note: I have some experience of cycling in central London around the area of One Great George Street - mostly during the warmer months I admit - and while it is true that there is no obvious point to tether a bike outside the ICE building there are many parking options a short walk away off Victoria Street, Whitehall and Millbank for example. Realistically in London, if you want to guarantee parking a bike close to your destination you must invest in a folding variety.

Why fly to London to get a train to Paris?

Connecting High Speed 2 (HS2) to High Speed 1 (HS1) would clearly be advantageous for UK travellers, and a Heathrow connection would be used. However, the idea that this would connect Heathrow to Europe via HS2 and HS1 is meaningless.

Is anyone seriously suggesting that someone in New York who wants to go to Paris is going to fly to London and then get on a train. Come on!

  • Jim Walker (M Ret), 48 Laycock Lane, Keighley BD22 0PN

Agency must take lead in home protection

We are missing out on the option of adapting houses to give them natural resistance to flood levels up to 1m, which would cover most situations.

This is an alternative to trying to keep rivers within their boundaries and has the advantage of not restricting water flow, with consequent reduction in flood levels upstream.

The overriding economic problem is that only 8,000 properties got flooded in 2012 despite the weather severity.This is not enough to build a business selling house waterproofing, at least for reasonably inexpensive upgrade options.

It is no use talking about upgrades that cost £100,000 per property as no-one and no local authority would be interested in spending that much for a low to medium probability event, and quite rightly. The complete package must come in below £10,000, fitted.

Flood proofing - including drains and electrical aspects - for this amount is feasible and methods exist, but companies that have the concepts will not bring the products to market without development testing being paid by someone else.

What is needed to kick-start development by industry is to get the Environment Agency to set up a test site for testing and certifying solutions offered by industry.

This site would have bunded areas around some existing properties, which allow flooding to 1m deep.

The test facility should be wholly government-funded.

If this was done all sorts of low cost solutions would appear out of the woodwork, some of which could be marketed cheaply by the likes of B&Q. People in flood prone areas would be all the better for it.

  • Robert Brewerton (M), rwb@natabelle.co.uk

Protecting our heritage needs a careful approach

Claire Symes argues that history is these days allowed “to prevent progress rather than guide it” (NCE 3-10 January). English Heritage, as the government’s adviser on the historic environment, fully recognises the need for a realistic approach but experience proves that only in extreme cases is it necessary to sweep away a historic structure to make room for the new.

More often an innovative solution can be found to allow our engineering heritage the same respect as a stately home or ancient stone circle.

For example, English Heritage has recently been working with Network Rail, who, in advance of the electrification of Brunel’s Great Western Railway between London and Bristol, needed us to identify all its surviving significant historic structures.

Their engineers are now devising ways of installing the electrification infrastructure so that it has minimal impact on Brunel’s great work. We’ve got the greatest engineering heritage in the world in this country.

By taking good care of it, we could be creating the engineering heritage of the future.

  • Charles Wagner, head of planning and urban advice, English Heritage, 1 Waterhouse Square, 138-142 Holborn, London. EC1N 2ST

Lets unite the Institutions for 2018 bicentenary

It is encouraging to read (NCE 3-10 January) that the ICE has formed a special formal partnership with IMechE and IET to support engineering technicians.

It would be even more encouraging if this were to be the first step to closer co-operation on other matters. Working together we can achieve more at less cost. Our goal to mark the bicentenary in 2018 should be a merger to create just one Institution of Engineers.

It will happen eventually, if only for economic reasons, and it would be sensible to start planning now.

  • Robert Freer (F), rfreer.dulwich@virgin.net

Readers' comments (1)

  • Whilst agreeing with the comments published in nce24.01.13 I cannot refrain from saying that these proposals are symptomatic of what appears to be the attitude of the Dept. of Transport/Highways agency, namely 'We know best because we are 'The Department' ' This has been demonstrated by the recent debacle over the franchising of the WCML services and the procurement of the IEP in the form of trains nobody in the industry wants, but are constrained by the franchising procedures from voicing such views. This attitude needs to be confronted because the major players in the Industries concerned are dependent on the Department for their livelihood and are unwilling to risk being disadvantaged if they speak out. Further evidence of the unprincipled approach to the business of looking after the interests of the nation are in the same issue of nce with the report on the Area 10 maintenance contract. Whilst this may be in response to Treasury demands, it does not do what professionals are expected to do as a minimum, protect the interests of the public.
    David S Fletcher M(Ret)

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