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Letters: Sacrificing hard shoulders on motorways is not a wise move

The Editor, NCE, 1st Floor, Greater London House, Hampstead Road, London NW1 7EJ



Hard shoulder running: Is it safe?

I find it hard to believe that anyone with any experience of the design, construction, maintenance or even just use, of motorways could seriously propose that conversion of the hard shoulder to a permanent running lane will not compromise safety.

I am a regular user of the variable speed limit section of the M42, and I concede that in general it works well, but with frequent gantries, the ability to switch the hard shoulder into and out of use is easily and quickly done and with refuges every 500m, vehicles with problems can usually get into one.

I have never noticed any tendency to illegal or improper use of the vehicle refuges, and it is simply ridiculous to suggest this as an excuse to increase the distance between them from 500m to 2,500m.

The gantries are possibly unnecessarily closely spaced at present, but the proposal to limit them to the approaches to junctions only is a move too far. Every 1,000m would seem about right. This whole proposal smells like a cost cutting exercise, at the expense of safety.

I still wonder, though, about the variable speed limit, and have never been certain whether it is the imposition of, say a 40mph limit, which causes the congestion on the motorway, or whether the limit has been imposed because of the congestion.

Some days, successive gantries between junctions, will show 60, 50, 40 mph clear, all in a distance of 1,500m, with no apparent cause or change in traffic conditions.

Richard Wilson (F),

If I am driving on a motorway with all-lane running and my car has a puncture, what do I do?

Alasdair Beal (F), 10 King George Avenue, Chapel Allerton, Leeds LS7 4LH

Utilities should shape up over buried services

I refer to the Viewpoint “Taking charge of safety” by Nicholas Zembillas (NCE 10 January), following the recently well publicised cable strike on a Crossrail contract.

The network of utility services beneath our streets is becoming increasingly dense. Service location must be as much of a problem for the utility companies themselves as they repair and upgrade their networks as it is for other construction companies.

For some time I have felt that the underground space should not be the exclusive province of the utility companies but should be considered a resource for all to be shared with utilities.

Why should the responsibility for service location be placed solely on the party seeking to excavate and not also on the service owner?

I suggest the service owner should have a responsibility to hold accurate records and to provide information on the location of its plant and equipment to within a standard limit of deviation.

Responsibility for damage to buried services could then be allocated on the basis of whether the location information was correct or not.

I would also suggest that utility companies should be required to facilitate detection of their services by putting detectable warning mesh above all new or replacement installations.

Donald Lamont (F),

Putting the royal into the Institution

The acceptance by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales of the invitation to become an honorary fellow of our institution (NCE 20 December) gives a welcome recognition to the empathy between our views of the world.

Perhaps the Institution could now give thought to two further actions: to seek to add the word “Royal” to our title and to review the historic wording of our institution’s purpose.

Ewart Parkinson (F), 42 South Rise, Cardiff CF14 0RH

National air hub does not mean the South East

I agree with the content of Geoff Longlands letter published in NCE of 6 December concerning locating any future air hub in Buckinghamshire.

The point that seems to be repeatedly overlooked by the politicians and the Mayor of London is that we are talking about the national air hub - not London Airport.

It needs to be as accessible as it can be to the whole country, not just Londoners.

Boris Island is fine and wonderful, but accessibility? Has everyone forgotten birdstrike and the aircraft forced toland on the Hudson River?

Is it also not time to spread investment out of London and the South East, after all that has gone on there in the last 10 years.

Finally, we should start work on a third runway at Heathrow tomorrow as the vital short term expedient due to overriding concerns about safety.

No airport can be expected to function at 98% capacity day in, day out as the government seems to expect.

Ranald Crook (M), Bennetts Barn, High Street, Tormarton, Glos GL9 1HZ

Difficulties of accurate flood mapping


Flood mapping: Localised problems are hard to predict

Your article “Climate outstrips flood mapping” (NCE last week) summarised well many of the complexities of dealing with smaller catchments and I was glad to contribute.

However, I would like to clarify some of the points made, particularly about mapping.

The Environment Agency aims to map catchments regularly, and does so for the most part, but there are often longer periods in between updates for those in the range 20 to 40km². For those below 3 to 4km² there is often no flood mapping at all, apart from surface water flood maps, which are not yet publicly available on the Environment Agency website.

Smaller catchments are also not effectively monitored for flood warnings. As a rule data is based on gauging stations further down river systems, often far away from small catchments, meaning warnings aren’t issued until the whole catchment is being affected - often too late to warn residents.

There are of course other systems that feed into the Environment Agency flood warning system but none of these are as accurate as the river gauges.

Experimental systems using radar are being piloted. Instead of measuring the water in the river these try to measure the quantity of water in the air.

The radar system literally measures raindrops as they fall to the ground and this, together with information of the movement of the storm front, may be used to estimate where rain may fall in sufficient quantity to cause flooding.

The project is an EU collaboration called RainGain aimed at giving us a complementary first warning system (

Ola HolmstromŸ, director, WSP,

Readers' comments (1)

  • stephen gibson

    I would like to see hard shoulder running on all UK motorways, similar else ware in Europe, such as Italy.

    Building in an empty lane makes no sense. People don't just brake down on the spot any more they can pull in or off the motorway in advance when they have a problem. Likewise the emergency services appear perfectly capable of getting through full lane capacity lanes.


    Stephen Gibson

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