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Letters: Smart motorways are just a sticking plaster

Smart motorway

Smart motorways: Small capacity increase will soon be swamped as traffic inevitably increases

I read with interest the latest list of Smart Motorway contracts awarded (NCE 30 July-6 August). What happens in 15 years’ time when all these Smart, actively managed, variable speed, hard shoulder running motorways have taken up their small increase in capacity as provided by these sticking plaster schemes?

Should we not be thinking ahead to the new routes which will be desperately required at that time, but need to be built in the 2020s/2030s? These routes can then be safeguarded like the new London Underground routes, as Crossrail 2 is.

I can think of a few that could be pencilled in now and I’m sure other readers closer to the problem can complete the list:

  • The M65 to Bradford needs completing to provide the relief to the M62
  • The Birmingham Western Bypass needs extending to the Mersey Gateway bridge to relieve the M6
  • The A1 needs completing to motorway standard throughout its length to relieve the M1
  • Bristol needs its east and southern motorway bypasses into which the Ashford, Portsmouth/Southampton, Bristol expressway can be linked. This relieves the M4
  • The outer ring to London (like Paris’s A86) linking up with the Lower Thames crossing and the Thames Airport is required. This relieves the M25
  • The M69 needs extending to the M50 relieving the M42

This list will do for starters. I do hope someone somewhere in Whitehall/Westminster is in lateral thinking mode. There does not seem to be much evidence of it at the moment.

  • John Franklin (F), 11 The Ridings, East Horsley, Surrey KT24 5BN

Birmingham HS2 link not a priority

Your Comment has highlighted the problems with rail capacity in the Manchester and London areas and I am sure that Birmingham is not far behind (NCE 17 September). Personally, I favour building a dedicated freight network to release capacity on the main lines but, now that we have a Conservative government, surely High Speed 2 will go ahead. However, is it too late to reconsider the benefit/cost of the components and apply some joined-up thinking?

The link into central Birmingham, and associated station, will be very expensive and will result in the city being served by five main line stations.

If this sector of the project was delayed until Phase 2 then funding could be diverted to extend the main line of High Speed 2 up to Crewe, only recently identified as a hub which is crucial to the success of the project. Connecting Liverpool, Holyhead, Scotland and Manchester into Phase 1, it would be possible to adapt the project to bring about a much better and more timely benefit/cost ratio. This could involve using shorter trains of only 200m length rather than the projected 400m and reducing the operating speed to (say) 200km/h. Shorter trains would also make the Euston Station regeneration much simpler.

  • Peter Styles

Mega projects need cost control

Those supporting the High Speed 2 (HS2) project apparently accept that rail capacity saturation will be reached on the West Coast Main Line in the 2020s and spending £50bn on one rail line can be justified. Saturation in one region of England’s rail system is not the fault of rail transport. Capacity shortfall within our transportation infrastructure applies to road and air as well as rail and can only be adequately addressed by demographic redistribution.

The philosophy of healing the north-south divide is not sufficiently systemic. The objective should be healing the UK divide by investing significantly in integrating Northern Ireland and Scotland with the other two regions. A project consisting of an Irish Sea tunnel offering rail, and drive-on road transport is a scheme that arguably has much greater merit than HS2 or HS3.

Charles Penny raises the need for society to benefit from the huge expenditures envisaged for future super projects by using value engineering (alternative term: value management) (NCE 13-20 August).

VM, a project management process, should be compulsory on all public sector (and private sector) projects. Typically, between 5% and 25% of the potential project cost can be saved if VM is used. The connection between deteriorating health of the aged and raising health-support funding from public projects through VM has great merit.

  • Albert Hamilton (F)


Lioness lesson for engineers

At the Women’s 2015 football World Cup in Canada, the England Ladies team won a well deserved bronze medal. Their mission statement was to inspire a generation and that is certainly what they have done. Since the tournament match, attendances have soared and significantly more girls have taken the sport up. The grass roots infrastructure was in place long before the tournament but it took this exposure to really kick it off.

The ladies are excellent role models who have shown and convinced children and parents that it is acceptable for women to play football and that they can be very good at it. Parents still have a large influence on their child’s initial career decisions. Of course pupils need to be shown what a great career they could have in engineering but you don’t want parents to say “what do you want to do that for?” or “that’s what boys do” when they get home from school.

Like the Lionesses have done, parents need to be educated and although we don’t have a World Cup to show our skills, we need to find an effective way of spreading the message to them.

  • Ian Amos

Fracking fast track fears

I share Stephen Penfold’s concerns about government plans to fast-track planning for unconventional gas extraction, or fracking as it is generically called.

The 2012 Royal Academy of Engineering report on shale gas extraction gave cautious approval. The report contained 12 recommendations, each with several sub-clauses, qualifying that approval.

A quick re-read of the report today highlights my concerns. Fast-tracking of planning approvals would seem to go directly against these sensible and cautious recommendations.

One wonders if the government used the report to convince a fearful public that fracking is safe, while ignoring the caveats and engineering safeguards, which are a central part of it.

The report also expressly excluded any consideration of climate risk and the proposed use of shale gas, the terms of reference being restricted solely to risks during extraction.

This should also raise grave concerns. Fugitive methane is a major climate change driver, but was not included in the report.

Three years have passed since the report was released, during which time experience in the United States has shown problems with fugitive methane and contamination issues.

Rather than fast-tracking fracking we need much more research, a study of the US industry and a far more cautious approach than the government is currently pursuing.

  • Andrew Wood (M) 21 Victoria Avenue, Haworth, West Yorkshire BD22 8HP

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