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Letters: Why skew Scottish transport spend so much towards roads?

Why skew Scottish transport spend so much towards roads?


Scottish roads: spending dwarfs that set aside for low carbon transport

Your article “Full steam ahead for ambitious Scottish Infrastructure Plan has lauded the Scottish Government’s Infrastructure Investment Plan (IIP) (NCE 15-22 December).

However, it makes no mention of the Scottish government’s embarrassing difficulty in attempting to square the plan with its own ambitious commitment to cut potentially climate-altering pollution.

The Scottish Government’s September 2011 Draft Spending Review proposed reducing the budget available for improving walking, cycling and other low-polluting travel facilities.

These plans, as I understand them, are to cut the spending on sustainable and active travel from £25M (2012/13) to £16M (2013/14).

Such a reduction would be lamentable, especially when set against the proposal to increase roads spending by £100M next year and to spend £10bn between now and 2015 on “shovel-ready (infrastructure) projects” as reported in your article.

Such an imbalance makes it difficult to see how the ambitious 2020 climate targets are to be achieved.
Indeed these infrastructure spending plans would seem, on the face of it, to erase completely such a prospect, despite the Scottish government’s much-trumpeted intentions.

Fortunately the Infrastructure & Capital Investment Committee has at least recognised the likely inability of the draft budget to meet the government’s Emissions Reductions Targets and has recommended, inter-alia, consideration of changes to the manner of funding active travel.

Although this should be welcomed, it seems most improbable that any subsequent adjustment to this element, in itself, will have any great impact on the overall carbon reduction targets. The congratulatory reactions of the Civil Engineering Contractors Association and the ICE are apparently oblivious to the dilemma.

  • Ron Ireland (M), Kirkintilloch, Glasgow,

“Full steam ahead for ambitious Scottish infrastructure plan” shouts the headline in the latest NCE (NCE 15-22 December) The article details the Scottish government’s unveiling of a £60bn infrastructure investment plan.

The letter by Mike King in the same issue reiterates the comment from Irwin Steltzer that “…raising £50bn (for the Thames Hub airport) would be hard to achieve” (NCE 1 December).

What does the Scottish government have that the Houses of Parliament does not, other than the Barnett formula?

  • John Fisher (M),

A London-centric rail upgrade

Referring to the recent article on upgrading the Great Western rail network, I would like to comment (NCE 15-22 December).

While the proposed improvements are welcomed, they are still very London-centric and aimed at improving the service within commuter distance of the capital. All well and good, but the improvements will only speed up the journey times into London over a relatively short length of track.

We in Cornwall are a long way from London, the journey made longer by local conditions such as speed restrictions through Cornwall and the intermittency of the service over the coastally exposed, although magnificent and desirable, seaside railway in south Devon which is closed when sea conditions dictate.

I note from the plan included in the article that, apart from the better, larger capacity trains, which are welcomed, Cornwall and Devon (apart from St David’s Station, Exeter) are not planned to receive any of the benefits of the improvements which will only marginally affect the overall journey time from Penzance to London.

I am aware that, in terms of population and fiscal value, Cornwall and Devon do not rate against counties further east around London. But, if we are to be able to use the facilities London has to offer such as One Great George Street, Heathrow Airport and sporting venues we need to be able to get there quickly, comfortably and economically if the rail companies want us to be customers and abandon the car or the plane in favour of the train.

Come on, Network Rail! Give us a better share of the improvement work!

  • Steve Burstow (M), Cornwall,

Hands-on experience

Antony Oliver’s recommendation that young professionals should seek overseas experience and Brian Bromwich’s response echo ICE past President James Walker’s pragmatic advice to aspiring engineers in 1841 at a time when employment prospects in Britain were dwindling as the first railway “mania” came to an end.

In his 1841 Presidential address to the ICE, Walker encouraged these “young gentlemen” to “direct their studies so as to fit them for other countries also”.

However, he warned them that there would not be enough work to support “men who are strictly and exclusively professional. [To succeed] a man must be a tradesman as well as an Engineer; he must furnish his hands as well as his head”.

Should today’s young civil engineers be encouraged to learn an appropriate “trade” also?

  • David Greenfield (M),

Solution for slab savings

As engineers, we have to achieve more for less carbon, less cost, less disruption and less time.
I wonder if a better raft could have been designed for Tesco’s Seaton site using a combination of steel fibre reinforced concrete (SFRC) and a light mesh (NCE 15-22 December 2011)?

My back of the envelope calculations suggest that, to construct the 70m square, 250mm thick slab in C32/40 concrete, you’d need at least an A393 fabric top and bottom to limit crack width.

You’d get the same flexural capacity with a 210mm thick SFRC slab and A252 fabric top and bottom; with savings of 16% of concrete and perhaps 33% in fabric and bar, and it would be much easier to build.

Using this technique could have saved up to 40 lorry loads of material trailing through the narrow roads into the town.

The current German guideline for SFRC and the Fédération Internationale du Beton’s forthcoming Model Code may be used to design using this method, which has already been used on several projects in the UK.

Combining two types of reinforcement in this way can be the “best least” solution.

  • Tim Viney (M), Modura Engineering, 150 Kenton Lane Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 3QE

Good for graduates?

The last issue of NCE included a welcome comment that some enlightened firms are now seeing the value in graduate recruitment (NCE 15-22 December).

When you reported an average of 130 “applications” per civils vacancy, was this indicative of a graduate’s chance of employment being 1 in 130?

Alternatively, recognising that many graduates will have been making multiple applications, is a lower figure available for the total number of “applicants” which can then be judged against the total number of vacancies available across the industry as an indication of a graduate’s chance of achieving employment?

  • Andrew Gardner (M retired),

Is Asian tunnelling expertise a match for our own?


It was surprising to learn from your article that Thames Water is considering seeking Asian assistance on the Thames Tunnel project (NCE 15-22 December).

British contractors have successfully tunnelled through the varying London geology for over 100 years, and as such it has to be highly doubtful whether our friends from Asia can offer additional influence beyond that currently available through our own experienced contractors.

British contractors have recently successfully completed landmark projects such as Hindhead, Thames Water Ring Main, Channel Tunnel Rail Link, Jubilee Line Extension and many others.

British contractors are very much involved in the Crossrail project where, through close contractor involvement, anticipated costs have been reduced and good relationships established with the client. These are so essential on any underground project, where geological conditions can change during the course of the contract.

Understanding and reacting to varying ground conditions will be essential on the Thames Tunnel and the experience within British contractors is proven.

Comments that the Asian influence will keep costs down need to be challenged, as the large proportion of tunnel costs for driven tunnels are associated with the procurement of the tunnel boring machines (TBMs) and the precast linings.

The TBMs are likely to be obtained from Germany, where Herrenknecht has shown value for money in supplying machines for Crossrail. The precast tunnel linings will almost certainly be made locally where we have excellent experience of producing quality segments at competitive prices.

The experienced supervision and craftsmen required to drive the tunnels through the London geological conditions will almost certainly require previous experience in similar conditions.

There are sufficient British tunnelling contractors capable of constructing the Thames Tunnel at competitive costs, and in times of economic difficulties, the UK construction industry needs to be encouraged.

  • Derek Godfrey (F), Clover Cottage, Hughenden Valley, Bucks HP14 4LX

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