Transport for London will restrict Overground to local services
Hopefully the bid by Transport for London (TfL) to take over suburban rail services into London will fail (NCE 14-21 July).
One has only to compare Thameslink developed by the national rail industry with Crossrail where the project has been led by London interests.
Thameslink is a dynamic addition to the national rail system with a range of fast, semi-fast and stopping trains passing through central London and covering an area from the Wash to the South Coast.
Crossrail is a downgrading of main railway lines giving priority to a London Underground stop everywhere service which hardly crosses the M25. An end to end journey from Maidenhead to Shenfield on Crossrail will stop 32 times in 77km and take the best part of two hours. 28 of the 48 Crossrail trains each hour will terminate at Paddington − a criminal waste of the billions of pounds spent tunnelling under central London.
As long as Crossrail joined Mayfair and the West End to the City, Canary Wharf and Heathrow, London opinion formers were euphoric.
The recent review of long term rail services into London found that in spite of spending £4.5bn on Crossrail joining the Great Western and Great Eastern mainlines the most intractable rail capacity problems were on these two routes. This is not a good advert for giving priority to slow stopping trains.
If TfL is given control of London radial rail services, hard luck to anyone who lives outside the capital itself and wants to use the train into and out of London.
- Jim Middleton (M), 5 Crab Tree Close, Olney, Bucks, MK46 5DU
Beware of BIM
I despair when I read the hype about Building Information Modelling (BIM) (NCE 14-21 July).
I’ve seen systems like these going through most stages of development during 40 years in engineering. Some work well, some don’t.
Some enable savings and efficiency, some become a burden; especially for smaller projects. If they are as good as their promoters would have us believe then industry will adopt them; and adopt later evolutions not hidebound by “standards”.
Meanwhile the idea that government should impose them on industry recalls the NHS integrated data systems fiasco. How long before we survey the wreckage, escalated costs, unmanageable systems, and ask ourselves which idiot thought that was a good idea? Who profited? Not the taxpayer.
Let the promoters of BIM promote and sell it on its merits. Let government stay out and save us another regulatory burden. I thought the new administration would be better than this.
- Jonathan Smith (M) firstname.lastname@example.org
Qatar: A good example?
I share your concern about the length of time it takes to obtain planning permission for UK infrastructure projects (Comment, NCE 14-21 July), but I consider that your use of Qatar as an example of good practice is a mistake.
Qatar has a population of about 1.4M people but will be spending £55bn on football stadiums for the 2022 World Cup. This will apparently be a zero carbon event but will not meet any sustainability test, as most of the stadiums will be redundant after the World Cup.
Unlike Qatar, one of the more liberal Arab countries, we live in a democracy and have a form of government which is the envy of many of the people involved in the Arab Spring uprisings.
You say that “engineers must lead the change to cut back the political long grass and ensure that the difficult policies are addressed and not forever conveniently ducked.” How should this be done?
As I have been involved in the planning of many infrastructure projects since I graduated in 1967 and have been an elected councillor since 1986, which has involved serving on a planning committee for many years, I can speak with some knowledge.
I believe we need to shorten the planning process for major projects. Projects of national importance should proceed when approved by Parliament. After approval, a public inquiry should be held to examine the details and give ordinary citizens the right to a fair hearing and, when appropriate, adequate compensation.
- Mike Hodgkinson (F), email@example.com CV32 7EG
Qatar: getting things done
Antony Oliver’s comment “Why can’t our planners take a leaf out of Qatar’s Book” (NCE 14-21 July) is simplistic to say the least.
Sure, Qatar is set to be the next “engineer’s playground” and certainly it will be “exciting” as he says, but so is, I suppose, the lifestyle of all the super-rich celebrities one reads about in the popular press. But this has little relevance to ordinary folk.
To compare the way projects are planned and realised in a civilised, democratic state of 60M with a per capita GNP of £25,000 with those in an autocratic fiefdom of about 1.4M with a GNP per capita of £55,000, thanks to its natural gas and oil reserves, is ludicrous.
Planning and procurement of the projects cited by Oliver is not easy, nor should it be. It’s the price one pays for living in a democracy.
It is not for engineers to lead the change and ensure that “difficult policies are addressed” it’s a matter for the people to decide though Parliament, that’s how it works in a democracy, and it’s made a bit more difficult if you’re a bit short of the financial wherewithal.
- Michael Robinson (M), Mill House, North Creake, Norfolk, NR21 9LQ
Editor’s note: I accept that of course there are major differences in culture between Qatar and the UK. However, I maintain that having a vision for infrastructure can span such divides and make even the most unimaginable projects deliverable − as we have just seen at the London 2012 Olympics site. That vision is absolutely the role of the engineer.
In Qatar, UK firms will be heavily involved in ensuring that this project is delivered appropriately and sustainably and is therefore very much within reach of forward thinking and adventurous engineers − “the ordinary folk” as you put it. Get involved!
Reducing the footprint
CH2M Hill sustainability director, Jay Witherspoon’s figure for concrete’s contribution to a building’s carbon footprint do not appear to accord with UK practice (NCE 30 June).
We recently carried out a study with Arup to investigate the embodied carbon in four typical building types. Even without services, concrete contributes less than half the embodied carbon in a concrete building.
The study found that embodied carbon for steel and concrete framed buildings is equivalent, but the specification of a lower carbon concrete, can reduce the carbon footprint.
In the UK, over 70% of ready-mixed concrete is supplied with a low CO² cement, that is a cement comprising either ground granulated blast furnace slag (GGBS), fly ash or limestone fines with Portland cement clinker, or an equivalent mixer combination.
Embodied carbon can also be saved by the use of fair-faced concrete for walls and soffits. This also enhances the performance of concrete with respect to thermal mass and thus reduces operational energy use.
- Jenny Burridge, head of structural engineering, The Concrete Centre, 4 Meadows Business Park, Blackwater, Camberley, GU17 9AB
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