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Letters: HS2 is not a necessity – it is misconceived and inefficent

high speed train

Time for real debate: Is HS2 the right choice ?

When asked about his support for High Speed 2 (HS2) recently, the leader of the Labour party Ed Miliband, speaking at his former school in Camden, told sceptics that we needed the scheme “because every other country in the world, every advanced industrial country, has high speed rail”.

This vacuous statement indicates the level of national debate in regard to what is projected to be this country’s most costly piece of infrastructure.

The level of debate in the pages of NCE has not been much higher. You have certainly moved on from the previous policy of support for anything with enough numbers after the pound sign.

Yet while a refreshing candour has entered your editorial pages, the light has yet to be turned onto HS2.

We need a proper opportunity to debate both the structure of a strategically-shaped national high speed rail network and how this will integrate with the existing network.

While politicians may have determined HS2’s inappropriate remit as a stand-alone high speed line, engineers have failed to question this remit, and hence they have failed to respond to the public’s clear need for a network delivering improved inter-city connectivity.

It is not too late to shake the cosy consensus that has cocooned this project.

We know how few of our major towns and cities will benefit; we have some idea of the costs even if they have never included the socio-economic and environmental damage caused; we recognise the absurdity of the benefits in time savings and their narrow economic base; and we can anticipate the commercial future of such an isolated piece of infrastructure from experience with HS1.

Contrary to the impression created in most articles on the subject, we do not face a choice of HS2 or nothing, of engineering valour versus timidity. HS2 is simply an inefficient and misconceived solution.

There are other options that provide an integrated high speed rail network, linking with city centres and airports, that will serve the many, not the few, and create greater demand at lower cost. Their footprint in time will not envelop a whole generation in deprivation.

Your pages support the idea of a non-political national infrastructure authority. Here is a chance for this need to be clearly demonstrated.

Let us start by asking the right questions. Let us expose the intellectual bankruptcy of the HS2 project before the entire profession has to hang its head in shame, tainted by what will become the most costly infrastructure debacle in history.

Open your pages to serious debate.

Peter Darley (M),

  • Editor’s note: Thanks Peter; and over to the rest of you - what are the questions the ­profession should be asking?

Urgent need to shore up small reservoirs

You may well have seen the briefing note published outlining a ministerial decision not to extend reservoir safety regulations to cover smaller reservoirs at the present time.

The British Dam Society has already supplied case histories relating to more than 70 small raised reservoirs for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the regulators in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have already decided to implement the 10,000m3 criteria.

Apparently ministers have asked the Defra Reservoir team to explore doing further research to inform a future decision whether to regulate smaller reservoirs in the next Parliament - so is this a political decision?

You will remember Sir Michael Pitt recommended a move to a risk based approach and looking at the stock of many reservoirs built for the industrial revolution in the north of England, 10,000m3 capacity was felt to be a sensible volume to adopt.

This legislation has been drafted since 2010 and the principles have been adopted by Scotland, Ireland and Wales to protect persons and property against an escape of water. Please lobby your MPs and government to follow the lead of others and let’s hope we don’t get a failure of a reservoir with a capacity of 10,000m3 or more which causes loss of life in the meantime.

  • Andy Hughes, director of Atkins Dams & Reservoirs, BDS vice-chairman,

Hammersmith viaduct raises vital questions

The Hammersmith viaduct article (NCE 26 February) briefly mentions corrosion due to water as the cause. Is every bit of wet reinforced concrete now suspect? Presumably the road salt dissolved in the water was the prime cause, and the salt was applied because the electrical surface heating was not maintained. It would be useful to see some cost benefit analysis, possibly including the 20 other Transport for London salt affected similar structures.

Some local authorities now have a policy to use extra salt to melt all the snow on pedestrian structures, rather than clearing snow first and then using salt sparingly (or sand). There seems to be confusion about the relative risk of someone falling on concrete, and concrete falling on someone.

  • Dave Cox (M),


Look to the past for lessons in railway safety

On looking at the annotated Google illustration accompanying the report on the Newark train death (NCE 26 February), my eyebrows rose slightly on seeing positions two being described as “positions of safety”.

Recalling my days with British Rail 40-plus years ago, I would have doubted if these were “positions of safety”.

Standing in the four-foot way of an adjacent line would normally have been seen as inadequate. Rule 234 (a) of the British Railways Rule Book of January 1962 states “When a train is approaching, men working on or near to the line must not remain on any running lines, nor between them …” it then goes on to specify exceptions to this generality.

Strangely, Rule 273 (a) of the North British Railway Rule Book of January 1921 contains the same requirement using a slightly different vocabulary.

  • David Sinclair (M),


ICE to examine Safety Register and EngTechs

Stuart Nagle asked why the ICE Health & Safety Register is open to applications from IEng and CEng qualified members but not EngTech qualified members (Letters 19 February).

At this time, the Register is a recognition by peer review of competence in health and safety risk management beyond the level demonstrated at the Member Professional Review, which is why it invites candidates who have already achieved IEng or CEng qualifications. This has been recognised in the current guidance to the CDM Regulations 2007.

We fully accept Nagle’s underlying point, that our technician members play a part in meeting health and safety standards in the industry and that they need to be recognised accordingly.
Indeed, the ICE is committed to driving forward EngTech membership and boosting the status and recognition of our engineering technician members.

The ICE’s Health and Safety Expert Panel will explore how it could involve technician members more in future - either through selection criteria that allows them to demonstrate competence at the current levels or possibly through an additional level of Register membership.

In doing so, we will ensure that the Register’s standards continue to be demonstrable, objective, transparent and robust.

To help us to demonstrate that ICE members are raising the standard of health and safety risk management across the construction industry, I would encourage qualified members at all levels to come forward - demonstrating their competence, commitment and leadership in health and safety risk ­management in its broadest sense.

  • Margaret Sackey (M), Chair, ICE Health & Safety Expert Panel, 1 Great George Street, London SW1P 3AA


Can we have a Northern edition of NCE, please?

Having just read this week’s very interesting NCE, it came to my notice that I am receiving the London edition for some reason.

Although the content is well written and full of information, it would be more interesting to me (being a Northern Member) to review projects and articles elsewhere in the UK.

  • Brian Alston (M),

Gatwick’s operators dial into magic numbers

aircraft landing

Lift off: Gatwick believes its two runways can handle 95M passengers

I note that the operators of Gatwick airport reckon they could handle up to 95M passengers with two runways (NCE 19 February). Yet, we are frequently reminded, Heathrow has negligible spare capacity when handling about 75% of that number of passengers. Perhaps the Gatwick operators should share some of their wisdom? Or are they assuming that the average number of passengers per plane is going to increase significantly?

Because this isn’t something we can be certain of given the new generation of medium-sized, long-range aeroplanes.

  • John Ratsey (M)

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