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Letters: Scientific advancement creates problems as well as solutions


Automation: Extra manpower rarely required

As my 102nd year on this planet rapidly draws near, my in-built computer constantly reminds me of the vast differences in my life from when I commenced mycareer at the age of 18 years in civil engineering.

In 1929 I began my career with a civil engineering contractor Fitzpatrick & Sons on the construction of roads and sewers on new housing sites, “new ideal homesteads” priced £550 to £700.

The only mechanical item was the steam roller with 20 to 30 Irish labourers, a contrast to today when modern technology has done away with manpower by the introduction of numerous machines in various areas.

Scientific achievements rarely create the need for extra manpower, generally the opposite. This misuse is the root cause of the disastrous economic state today in the Western World, ignored by those in political power.

Until this is recognised by authority the situation will grow worse and expand. The printing of money is not the answer, only an irresponsible excuse.

Man was created to work and enjoy life. Unless action is taken, what benefit does the future hold for the present and future generations?

  • B Butler, 10 Vale Close, Lower Bourne, Farnham, Surrey GU10 3HR


The need for local authority engineers

In Alexander Jan’s article on Lord Heseltine’s report on the economy (NCE 8 November), it was good to read his reaction to our present low level of infrastructurerecovery and construction projects of all kinds.

It is important to stress the phrases “Local authorities used to be the best at delivering these sorts of improvement” and “this “nationalisation” of local finance has surely contributed to the emasculation of local government”, reminding us that the loss of most of the engineering departments in our local authorities has doneenormous damage to maintaining and improving the infrastructure.

It is urgently necessary to bring back these centres of entrepreneurial development in the public sector if progress is to be made in achieving infrastructure recovery.

Think back: how great was the post-war recovery - and later in maintenance improvement and project achievement - in virtually all our cities and counties, led by first class chief officers and able enthusiastic civil engineering staff of all disciplines.

The public weal was improved and developed for the benefit of us all. The answer clearly is to store and support the system of local authority engineering department once more and the public wellbeing would benefit immensely as a result.

  • J Ward, former city engineer, Swansea and county engineer of West Glamorgan, 54 Gabalfa Road, Sketty, Swansea, West Glamorgan SA2 8NE


Bravo for backing better training

I sincerely hope that our profession responds with enthusiasm and determination to our President’s focus on better training and capturing the imagination of youngpeople.

China would never have achieved the transformation of its society in the last three decades if it had not given enormous emphasis to mathematics, science andengineering in its education and its politics.

For the last 10 years the key politburo that runs China had nine members of whom eight were scientists or engineers. This effect was mirrored at lower politicallevels.

I was also pleased to see the President mentioning four inspiring engineering feats including the Cardiff Millennium Stadium. I was privileged to be invited to be the leader of its concept design team in 1994.

We sought to create not simply a rugby stadium but a temple of international excellence for sport and entertainment with the ability to raise significant amounts of cash from the 75,000 participants enjoying the rugby, the megastar entertainers or the racing motorcyclists.

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

Official line on tram safety

In response to John Rigby-Jones (NCE 15 November), the design of the Manchester Metrolink Phase 3 extensions follows the guidance given in the ORR Rail Safety Publication 2 – Guidance on Tramways, with alternatives to the shallow or acute crossing of the rails provided at all locations where the line leaves the road alignment.

By including alternative crossing layouts as well as cycle routes around the rails at tram stops, the permanent works provide cyclists with a safer alternative to crossing the track at shallow angles.

In this way the design has included physical measures to minimise the foreseeable risks to cyclists and does not rely simply on the provision of warning signage.

The design of the alignment of the East Manchester Line has been developed in association with, and agreed by, the local highway authorities.

The design is also subject to road safety audits in line with the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges as well as being subject to the CDM Regulations.

This includes the provision of appropriate risk information by the designers where mitigation has been required outside the design process. This information has been used to assess and incorporate appropriate solutions reducing the level of risk to as low as reasonably practicable.

Transport for Greater Manchester has produced a safety leaflet about cycling on roads on which trams operate, which has been distributed through local cycle training instructors, local authority road safety officers, given out at cycling events in the region, and is available at the National Cycling Centre.

Safety is of paramount importance to us and we will continue to work hard with our partners to keep everyone safe.

  • Phillip Purdy, Metrolink director, Transport for Greater Manchester, 2 Piccadilly Place, Manchester M1 3BG

Sandy flooding

Subway flood: Could it happen in London?

London’s Underground would not have survived Sandy

Arising from your excellent articles on Hurricane Sandy (NCE 8 November), it occurs to me to wonder if anyone, anywhere, is calculating the tonnage of water thatmay have to be pumped out of the London Underground after the remains of Sandy have visited the Thames estuary?

You will not have forgotten the three underground stations close to the Embankment - Westminster, Temple and Embankment. Yes we have the Thames Barrierbut the surge was 3.4m high. There is still a lot of water in the North Sea, which gets steadily narrower and shallower as the wave move south.

Richard Hegarty (M), 38 Heldhaw Road, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP32 7ES

Fear the car, not the tram track

Sorry to hear John Rigby-Jones came off his bike on some tram tracks (Letters 15 November). However, all those continental European school children pedalling to school every morning seem to manage.

Anticipate, be confident and relax, and don’t cross at too acute an angle would be the practical advice I guess.

Anyway I’d rather face organised trams and tram tracks on a bicycle any day of the week compared to the many careless, aggressive and dangerous drivers of motor vehicles we normally have to deal with.

Compared to this, trams, and properly planned cycling infrastructure, give a much lower health and safety risk assessment number in my book and are much more civilised.

  • Russell Bayliss,

Dams and rail face similar trials

I sympathise with the views of Dr Hughes concerning the myriad of legislation that is getting in the way of his responsibilities for the care and maintenance of dams (NCE 15 November).

It did remind me very strongly of the pickle British Rail (BR) got into several years ago over clearing scrub and cutting down trees on cutting and embankment slopes. Shrub roots can help to stabilise a slope but if that shrub grows into a larger tree, it can cause instability.

BR was required to inspect and maintain the stability of these slopes in the same way that those responsible for the safety of dams are responsible for theinspection and maintenance of the dam slopes.

However, if the clearance and management of the shrubbery is neglected or given a low priority, then the important and essential job of a detailed inspection become harder and more costly. It’s a case of penny wise, pound foolish.

British Rail and its successors, like those responsible for dam safety, have a duty to manage the slopes with full regard to the whole environment. That means that the housekeeping tasks of managing the undergrowth must be done in tune with nature, so that nothing is disturbed during the nesting season and nothing is allowed to take hold and create a problem.

It should be an annual task, it is not difficult and it is entirely within the power of those responsible. If trees are not allowed to grow, then no tree preservation orders will be imposed, it’s as simple as that.

I quite agree with Dr Hughes that there must be a hierarchy of legislation with structural safety as paramount, but managing the consequences of the differentstrands of legislation is largely already within their power.

  • Judith Rastall (M),

Comic relief on tram troubles

John Rigby-Jones’s letter about coming to grief while cycling over tram lines takes me back 60 plus years to the Dandy comic and a road safety story, which I still

Korky the Cat was on his bike, he carelessly crossed the tram lines at an acute angle, and the wheels dropped in to the groove of the rail at the top of a hill, onlyfor him to discover that he had neglected to maintain his brakes.

He stopped farther down the hill when he hit the tram stopped at the stop.

  • David Sinclair (M),

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