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Your View | Third runway debate


I am always amazed that engineers can still write articles without including the words sustainability or resilience, especially when talking about infrastructure plans. But Mark Hansford has certainly done it again (Comment last month). When will we as engineers comprehend that we are part of a planet that has limited resources? The opportunities of that in itself are massive. Innovation and ingenuity is needed.

  • Katja Leyendecker


You say: “So we, as an industry, must support Heathrow” (Comment, last month), implying that your decision is in the interests of the civil engineering industry, without regard to the interests of the country. As distinct from this, Lighthouse says “As engineers we can (and always will) argue about the merits of individual projects” and that the National Needs Assessment says a “30 years strategy is about outcomes, not just delivering assets”.

That means not delivering vanity or self-interest projects, of which Heathrow could be said to be one of the latter.

I have tried to ascertain how the Brexit vote related to density of population, but the nearest I could find was my inference from a Guardian map showing that the major density of leavers lies between north London and the Scottish border, an area which broadly distinguishes the makers from the paper-pushers and an area which seems to be generally recognized as needing most infrastructure for development.

Apart altogether from arguments about the merits of developing Heathrow for which there are many powerful opponents (as mentioned in your Analysis), the political decision should be to have a new or expanded airport in the south Midlands with high speed rail connections to London and HS3, preferably using finance available by stopping the vanity HS2 project.

  • Godfrey Ackers (F), Ocean Court, Plymouth

I am no expert, but it has struck me that a solution to the airport capacity question would be a high speed maglev-type connection between all the major London airports. This would make better use of existing ground facilities and transport links as well as airspace. The technology has been proven in China and Japan. The big question is costs.

If it operated air side, it would then be possible to transfer between airports in the time it could currently take to move between terminals at Heathrow. Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton could then operate as one virtual airport.

No doubt your more informed readers will show why all this is a bad idea.

  • Duncan Froggatt


Editor’s note: It’s an idea that has been floated before Duncan, but the chief obstacle is that all four of those airports have different owners; the (then) BAA having been forced to sell off Gatwick and Stansted if it wished to keep Heathrow in the name of competition. Whether that was in the best national interest is, of course, always an interesting debate.


Aberfan and civil engineers

The special report on the Aberfan Disaster 50 years on (New Civil Engineer, November 2016) reminds us of the dangers from waste tips. Aberfan was a civil engineering failure in the mining industry.

It is perhaps not so widely recognised that the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Aberfan disaster had as its engineering member not a mining engineer but a civil engineer. Harold (later Sir Harold) Harding, ICE President in 1963/64. Harding was a leading geotechnical practitioner having been a director of both Soil Mechanics and Mowlem. One of the “lessons” from the inquiry was very clear: “tips should be treated as civil engineering structures”. Other outcomes from the inquiry were the Mines and Quarries Tips Act legislating for tip safety and the employment of civil engineering inspectors within HM Mines Inspectorate.

In my 20 years as the Health & Safety Executive’s geotechnical specialist I also acted as civil engineering adviser to HM Mines Inspectorate. In that time I only investigated two major tip failures. Both were flow slides. One affected a china clay waste tip, failure being due to a combination of exceptionally heavy rain and groundwater upflow below the base of the tip. The other failed due to the sudden liquefaction of previously consolidated mineral tailings within a lagoon which then overtopped the containment bund. Both could have resulted in fatalities had the failures occurred in daytime.

Because of the somewhat specialised nature of the civil engineering associated with tips and lagoons, there are relatively few practitioners around.

The current UK regulatory regime coupled with the engineering expertise available in the UK has raised the safety standards for tips but failures still occur. Given their engineering complexity and that in many ways they are akin to temporary structures, it is not surprising that countries with lesser standards are still experiencing catastrophic tip failures. There is clearly a role for UK experience in this.

High Speed 2: Making the numbers work for politicians

And we’re supposed to believe the cost estimate for High Speed 2 (HS2). Ho ho. There is no way that the extent of HS2 can be delivered for the laughably low estimate of £43bn. One hundred and fifty billion pounds is more like it.

The figure of £43bn was chosen because it suggests that it’s been carefully calculated rather than anything ending in a 0 or a 5. Kevin Rudd, Australian prime minister between 2007 and 2009 chose exactly the same number (A$43bn) for the cost of building the National Broadband Network (NBN) when it was worked out literally on an envelope over dinner with one of his ministers.

Hs2 2by3

Hs2 2by3

HS2: Limited scope for high speed

Actual cost is now estimated at over A$75bn. So politicians are either stupid or assume “the people” are fools. Both are true. It’s why we now have President Trump. Voters are fed up with being patronised and treated with disdain by regular politicians

If the cost of HS2 was coming out of their own pockets it wouldn’t get near the starting post.

Philip Alexander posted online on article headed “Damning report into Great Western electrification”

Perspective on Croydon tram deaths

I cannot understand the level of death and injuries that is the result of the Croydon tram accident. The personnel damage seems out of all proportion to the physical damage to the tram or the accident in general. How has this relatively innocuous overturning of a tram resulted in so many deaths and serious injuries?

Exaggerated speed claims

Much is said about the 200mph that High Speed 2 trains will do. I have two questions which I hope someone will provide simple answers to.

Over what distance will the train be travelling at 200mph? I guess that it will not be a high percentage of the route.

I assume that the cost of train and track rise exponentially with the speed. On the assumption that the 200mph section will be relatively small would there be significant cost savings and relatively small increases in journey time if the headline top speed was reduced to say 150mph?


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