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Letters: Is there a strategic case for investing in increased fire protection for bridges?

Is there a strategic case for investing in increased fire protection for bridges?

The effect of fire on infrastructure has been recognised by road tunnel operators and designers for some years (NCE 21 April).

Severe fires can be generated by products not normally considered to be hazardous such as paint, margarine or even pallets of plastic cups.

Following the St Gotthard tunnel fire in 2001, a number of full scale fire tests were made in the abandoned Runehamar road tunnel in Norway in 2003. These showed that peak temperatures in excess of 1,300°C could be generated by an intensive fire and this research supported work done by the Dutch in developing their Rijkswaterstaat RWS time- temperature graph for fire resistance.

The RWS fire curve requires designers to ensure that the structure can resist a fire of two hours duration with a peak temperature of 1,350°C. The fire at Deans Brook Viaduct did not reach this level of intensity.

There are several proprietary products that can be used so that structures can readily achieve the required fire resistance. The usual solution is to provide either protection boards or a spray applied cementitious layer to the inner surface of the tunnel.

A 27mm thick board can be exposed to 1,350°C on one side and would be no greater than 3000C on the other side, which is sufficient to avoid damage to concrete and steel.

One of the better pieces of European legislation is the 2004 Minimum Safety Requirements for Tunnels in the Trans-European Road Network. As a result, the Highways Agency has already improved three strategic tunnels in recent years and plans are well underway for a number of others.

It would be relatively simple to design bridge structures for this level of fire resistance, if there was a strategic need for increased protection however, the occurrence of such severe fires is rare and so it may not be cost effective.

  • Rob Wheatley, 13 Nower Road, Dorking, Surrey RH4 3BS

Let’s avoid indebted grads

Future CEng graduates could be saddled with £50k debt at 22 from the mandatory 4 year MEng with accommodation costs included.

With starting salaries of circa £20k and prospects of 5% per annum rises how does the ICE expect to attract the brightest talent?

A new route to CEng is needed to enable employers to develop in-house modular training coupled with work experience to help school leavers meet the basic educational requirement for CEng. Similar schemes are offered by leading accountants as a real alternative to university in preparation for accountancy exams.

If combined with initial professional development, this win-win solution would avoid indebted graduates while providing our industry with bespoke resources some two to three years quicker than the MEng route.

  • Andrew Powell,

Push for part- time learning

Many of us saw back in the 1990s, the affordability of civil engineering degree courses coming under pressure with the move from three year to four year accredited degrees.

This has now reached new heights with the implementation of £36k course fees. But once again I see the reporting on the issue being only about full-time students. Part-time students do not get any coverage.

Down the years I have written occasionally to NCE about a forgotten minority. If the industry is serious in these testing economic times about continuing to encourage and develop talent to come through, could the profession consider investing in part-time degrees and facilitation?

Of course I am biased having done part-time degrees myself, but I feel the industry should consider making a different leap of faith by employing staff pre-university thence facilitating part-time HNC and degrees. CEng is a tad harder and longer by these means, but the candidates arrive in generally good shape.

My duties as a STEMnet ambassador in secondary schools strengthen my view that the apparent “uncouple” between schools and universities (widened by the £9k/year funding issue) needs to be overcome by some other means.

NCE editor Antony Oliver is right (NCE 14 April), students do need help. Day release/part-time could be part of it.

  • David Goodliff (M), ICE Essex vice-chairperson, 34 George Road, Braintree, Essex CM7 2RX

Funding streams for flooding

Professor Richard Ashley (NCE 14 April) rightly argues that the necessary scale of cost savings from using the same supply chain regionally for specific Environment Agency (EA) flood defence projects over protracted periods of time is unlikely.

In addition we now require overall public wellbeing to be provided for at lower capital cost generally.

So it is any multi-purpose public infrastructure opportunity as it arises, preferably coupled with multiple funding streams, that must be prioritised in any programme, short, medium, and long term, if we are to reduce the cost of UK infrastructure as a whole.

The extent of a systematic assessment of all elements of public infrastructure such as a modular approach, is both massive in detail and still substantial in outline, but can be made quite workable by appropriately limiting the geographical extent being considered.

The responsibility therefore lies with locally multi-function local authority infrastructure asset management teams.

They must take a greater opportunistic role, in regionally managed single function EA infrastructure, with the mutual aim of reducing the joint cost of flooding and flooding infrastructure assets.

  • Stephen Tingle,

Morely no more at the ICE

I refer to Elliot Morley’s recent suspension from the ICE (NCE 14 April).

The Institution has done the right thing so far in suspending his membership, but if indeed he is found guilty I think the disciplinary committee need to take a firm hand and expel him.

A fine comprising his seven years as a Fellow at the going rate wouldn’t go amiss either. The guy was made an honorary member, which I’m assuming costs the ICE money in some way, money we all pay in our subscription fees.

I do hope that his £30,000 alleged fraudulent claims didn’t include his ICE subs.

  • Neill Tupman (G),

Let’s go forwards not backwards

I refer to Geoff Bank’s recent letter (NCE 21 April). We all appreciate that nuclear power management is risky, but it would be very short sighted and reactionary to let a failure like this simply halt our ongoing power supply strategy.

Rather we should see it as an opportunity and salutary lesson in risk assessment and move forward the wiser for it. To quote the author, “We have the engineering skills to proceed”. I suspect that is exactly what we will do.

  • Peter Fensome (M),

Lights out may turn Nimby tide

John Collins (NCE 14 April) implies that the residents of The Severn Estuary would rather depend upon a Severn Barrage than the proposed next generation of nuclear stations planned for their shores.

That is unsurprising. Add that a barrage would displace all in annual energy terms happens to be approximately true and may add to the view that “we’re OK, thanks!”

But infrastructure is not a pile of disassociated building bricks. There is no reason why the Severn Estuary should not do much more than simply supply Wales and/or south west England; it has the capacity to support both, and the UK as a whole needs much more.

Energy supply has unfortunately become too nimbyish. Supermarkets work well on a pile it high, sell it cheap basis, whereas the marketing of energy is beset with distorted views of competitiveness, when all we need (nearly) is reliability of supply.

We’re scarcely in a position right now to be choosy. Perhaps a dose of lights out would help focus minds. If a barrage is one for our agenda, its energy source is indigenous, effectively everlasting and predictable − it won’t let us down. What more can we expect of a key piece of infrastructure?

  • Tom Shaw & Michael Watson, Shawater Limited, Ston Easton, Radstock BA3 4DN

Floating a new idea

As the potential difficulties and costs in the design and construction of foundations for marine wind turbines have been highlighted in NCE, I wonder whether floating the turbine column is one possible solution.

Foundation loading would then be minimal. The attached diagram illustrates the principle. All dimensions are nominal and could be adapted to varied conditions as required.

  • GD Slade (F), 6 Penhyes Road, Kenton, Exeter, Devon EX6 8NR

Letters to the editor

NCE welcomes letters from readers.

We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.







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