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Letters: The unravelling of HS2 accelerates

High Speed 2

High Speed 2

I wonder if Antony Oliver’s championing of major civil engineering projects and passion for mega projects in last week’s Comment column is a slightly old-fashioned view of the way that civil engineering should impact on modern society.

A recurring theme of the drive towards sustainable development, it seems to me, is the need to make existing resources go further than they have in the past because these resources are beginning to be exhausted by the current world population.

With this in mind, I have a very uneasy feeling about High Speed 2(HS2) and I am not convinced that a “robust” business case has actually been made for it.

It has been reported that this business case has not taken into account that passengers often use time on the train to work and the impact of developing communication technologies on reducing people’s travel has not been factored in.

In relation to the first point, it appears that HS2 should actually been named High Capacity 2 as the time saving from the increased speed of rail journeys between London and Birmingham is so small to be negligible.

Accepting that capacity is the main issue begs that question as to whether the expected size of the increased capacity has been ­overestimated.

For example, last year an initiative in my own company, led by the chief executive and involving improved communication technology, reduced our business travel by 50% saving nearly £200,000 over two months.

The implication from this is that the most sustainable solution in this case is to increase capacity and reliability by upgrading existing lines. I am concerned that objectivity in finding the right long-term solution is clouded by the interests of those concerned. It may be that investment in a lot of smaller projects may be more appropriate.

The modern view of civil engineering should be one that asks how we can make more with what we already have and use our ingenuity to make this happen. That isn’t to say that mega projects won’t have their place at times.

  • Tim La Touche, (M) tim.latouche@blueyonder.co.uk

Your recent supplement on High Speed 2 (HS2) unfortunately omits any mention of the warts built into the scheme of which I would bring your attention to just one.

You mention a speed reduction at Middleton to 350km/h as though it has been introduced at a late stage for the benefit of Middleton Village.

In fact the speed on part of this section was reduced in December 2010 as a result of a change in the alignment of the track around Hints, a village just north of Middleton in Staffordshire, following pressure by local MPs for the line to be moved away from Lichfield.

As a result the curvature around Hints had to be increased to beyond the standard design criteria being used by scheme promoter HS2 Ltd. This, by HS2 Ltd’s own admission, will result in increased wheel/rail friction over this section of the line with associated increased noise and the doubling or tripling of night-time maintenance.

Thus, while the reduced speed at Middleton may represent a bonus in terms of benefit to HS2, it has arisen from reduced mitigation handed to the villagers of Hints.

  • David Outen, Cedar Tree Cottage, School Lane, Hints, Staffordshire B78 3DN

It is encouraging that the High Speed 2 (HS2) project leaders will be looking at disruption during construction and the interface between the main elements of the project.

The record is not good in that passengers from places such as Milton Keynes, Northampton, Rugby and Nuneaton suffered years of delays and blockades during the West Coast Main Line (WCML) upgrade only to finish up with a worse service than before. These places send more passengers into Euston than all the HS2 stations.

It is essential that the HS2 project put before Parliament includes full details of the services and works for the development of the existing WCML. This should be a very significant part of the total benefits of the HS2 project.

It would be totally unacceptable for these same passengers to suffer a further seven years of disruption when Euston is rebuilt on the vague basis that improvements to services should be possible.

  • Jim Middleton, 5 Crab Tree Close, Olney, Bucks Mk46 5DU


Is he full of promise or just full of himself?

I read with some incredulity the letter from Jonathan Meredith extolling his superb virtues and demanding that he be given respect for his perceived brilliance and potential value to the civil engineering industry. He told us that he was just about to graduate and expected to be confirmed as “top dog” at Cardiff University.

Perhaps I may respond belatedly. On one - and only - point, I agree with him; it is inexcusable that letters of application for jobs go completely unacknowledged by firms receiving them.

I regret to say that this is not new in the industry; it unfortunately has been a curse of the industry for decades. What it should tell an applicant is not to trust the firm in question in the future in any respect - and to spread the word.

But in fairness, I must say that if Meredith’s letters to firms were written in the arrogant style of his letter to NCE, then perhaps it is not surprising that he got no responses.

No firm can possibly be “big enough” to accommodate him - perhaps even the whole industry may be too small for him. He will learn - I hope.

  • Brian Clancy (F) 4 St John’s Court, Altrincham WA14 2NB

It’s time to pay attention to CDM report

A while ago there was a small column in NCE highlighting the fact that the ICE had published a report on “CDM 3 Years On”.

I’m extremely surprised to note that since its publication the report does not appear to have generated any discussion whatsoever among your readers. Having read the report and its pretty damning findings on CDM coordinator competence; the pre-construction information; and the health and safety file, I would have expected to have seen some form of comment.

The report should be required reading for everyone involved in construction even if it’s only to highlight areas we should be aiming to improve upon.

Hopefully, the lack of response does not mean that I’m the only person to have read the report.

Just in case anyone missed the report is found at www.ice.org.uk/information-resources/document-library/ice-cdm-3-years-on-report.

  • Michael Woods (M), ICE Health & Safety register, taff-mtw@blueyonder.co.uk

More detail on EC framework contracts

EC framework contracts are used to engage individual “experts”, via framework contractors (consulting firms). A framework contractor may consist of about 10 firms, but nevertheless will engage freelance “experts”, like myself, for brief assignments overseas.

However, EC Practical Guide for Contractor Arrangements (PRAG) rules discourage subcontracting but define the hired expert as not a subcontractor. Thus, the contractor can pass all responsibility, usually via an associate firm, to the expert, engaged under a single mission agreement which is specifically not an employment contract.

The contractor receives payment from the EC (including a substantial advance) but the experts on site may not be supported with funds for project or personal needs, “in a regular and timely manner” (EC expression), if at all.

The terms of reference may fail to emphasise significant commitments: for a feasibility study, surveys, detailed design and full contract documentation may be only vaguely indicated. Poor firms will miss these significant costs and submit low, winning bids, putting the expert in an impossible position.

I would be interested to learn of any similar (or contradictory) experiences? For more (reliable) information on the EC Framework Contractor system, see www.ec.europa.eu/europeaid/ and PRAG Rules. Similar comments apply to other funding agencies.

  • Jim Naisbitt (M), St Albans, jim_naisbitt@talk21.com


Liverpool firm’s contribution to Thames Barrier

The stainless steel to the iconic Thames Barrier shells and companion roofs to the control tower and generator houses was carried out in the greater part by MPC International, a Liverpool company in which I was proud to play a small part.

Without the craft skills which the company had developed over many years, the outcome would have been the poorer. Let us remember that training at all levels is important to achieve results. Nil nisi bonum.

  • Mike Tomkinson (F), CM Tomkinson, Oxton Hall, Rathmore Road, Oxton, Wirral CH43 2HF


Clash of words will not stop accidents

I hope those who are determined that we should refer to road accidents as anything other than accidents will take the point made in David Duncan Turner’s letter to heart.

Although I have worked in the road accident arena for several decades, I have yet to hear of any sound argument from its proponents for the change from accident to “collision”, “incident”, “crash” or anything else.

Turner is right - accident is the correct term, and not only because that is the one used in the relevant legislation.

Unfortunately, this has been overlooked by the Department for Transport/Driving Standards Agency/Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, who banned “accident” from the Highway Code in 2007.

It is now very difficult to find the relevant guidance. No sound argument for the change has been provided to bona fide road safety practitioners.

The allocation of blame to persons involved in road accidents, of course, has never been of much assistance in reducing them. Accidents remain random, multi-factor events. It is always east to blame drivers, but one does wonder whether a main contributory factor to the M5 accident was a failure to use the correct term.

  • Andrew Fraser, senior accident investigation officer, Falkirk Council, andrew.fraser@falkirk.gov.uk

 

 

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