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Letters: Edinburgh tram's value and green credentials questioned

The main point:

Edinburgh tram

David Neale was right to point out the waste of time and money in constructing a tramway in Edinburgh (Letters last week).

Whether the same procurement process for trolleybuses would have been less wasteful is debatable, at least if the 2004 National Audit Office report is a guide. Neale was even more correct than he imagined, as Edinburgh was offered in 1998 a tramway on the same route at no cost to taxpayers (as detailed on the Edinburgh Tram website).

Instead Edinburgh chose the guided busway, and spent £25M building that, before deciding trams were better.

When the present tramway got into financial and time difficulties, TIE was offered a track solution that would have saved considerable time and money by minimising the need to relocate utilities.

Sadly the Edinburgh problems mean that there is not likely to be another publicly funded tramway or trolleybus in Scotland for 20 years.

  • Professor Lewis Lesley, technical director, 99 Stanley Road, Liverpool L20 7DA

David Neale is correct in highlighting that “while the Edinburgh tram scheme is said to be green, it will be a long time before the greenhouse gases emitted during constructing the track will be recouped by using green electricity”.

But he misses the point about the “greenness” of the tram project during construction and after inauguration.
The displacement of general traffic through residential areas under Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTROs) has displaced the harmful nitrogen dioxide gases and particulates from all classes of vehicles into the residential areas adjacent to the tram route.

When these TTRO’s are formalised later this year into a Traffic Regulation Order the routing of general traffic will permanently pollute these residential areas which are currently experiencing over twice the European Union maximum for nitrogen dioxide pollution.

These figures are from the City of Edinburgh monitoring stations in residential areas adjacent to the tram route. It will take forever, rather than the “long time” Neale suggests, for the environmental damage from construction to be recouped by so called “green trams”.

  • Alistair Laing (F), 4A Great Stuart Street, Edinburgh, EH3 6AW.


Juggling the demands of historic restoration work

Shoreham toll bridge restoration

The letter about the Shoreham Toll Bridge restoration (NCE 18 March) highlighted the issues faced every year during judging for the Historic Bridge & Infrastructure Awards.

It’s interesting to read the view that cosmetic distressing of timber would benefit a project that has been selected by the judges for its excellent engineering, minimum intervention, retention of historic fabric and sympathetic environmental approach. Perhaps mock wood grained GRP structure would be more to some readers liking?

The judges never shy away from controversial decisions. For instance, during the past 10 years they have given awards to several projects where innovative testing and analysis demonstrated that seemingly under-strength structures needed no physical strengthening − “virtual strengthening”, the ultimate in conservation. Happy clients, happy judges.

Whether your conservation project is traditional, or unconventional, or just downright quirky, now is the time to submit a nomination.

  • David Greenfield (M.Retired), Technical Secretary Historic Bridge & Infrastructure Awards,


Arguing the case for high speed

Andrew Shimmin’s empty assertion (Letters last week) that High Speed 2 (HS2) “would be a highly valuable addition to our national infrastructure” is typical of the shouting match that tries to justify it.

We are aware that a case is being cobbled together from dubious assumptions and will be used to press this threat of despoliation of the Chilterns. But it is flippant to suggest that serious well-informed people along the “preferred route” only “snipe” at HS2 when what everybody is trying to do is avert an environmental catastrophe.

The whole project is frighteningly reminiscent of Concorde, a mechanical and aeronautical marvel that cut something like a third off the time to cross the Atlantic. It did everything asked of it but cost and allegations of noise made it unacceptable to airlines and therefore unsaleable.

Government should not shut its eyes to the fact that with HS2, noise and extra cost will be there as well as habitat destruction for a time saving that will not approach that achieved with Concorde, even if several difficult assumptions are realised.

So much damage will be done that it will not be possible, as it was with Concorde, to swallow the losses and move on.

  • Edward Giles (M) Chalfont St.Giles,

Is high speed really necessary?

Andrew Shimmin doesn’t seem to think that the HS2 can withstand a bit of sniping. I suggest that if it can’t, then it isn’t much of a scheme.

I live in Great Missenden and so might be accused of nimbysim, except that I do not argue that the alignment should go somewhere else; I argue that it is a relic of an out-dated perception of transport need based upon retrospective and crude market research that is more than 10 years old − at least four years before the first WiFi on UK trains.

Virgin Rail, an organisation that is infinitely more attuned to the wishes of travellers than HS2, commissioned a study of business attitudes towards the rail services between Edinburgh/ Glasgow and London in 2007.

The report is available on the internet under the title The Railways Mean Business. The conclusions were that business travellers primarily wanted reliable, comfortable travel, with minimum inconvenience of access, and the freedom to conduct their business on the train using internet facilities.

Reductions in journey times were considered to be nice, as one might expect, but weren’t perceived as being of prime importance.

So why are we charging headlong into building a 1980s concept that is based upon no more than a presumption that reductions in journey time are paramount?

And why has no-one apparently considered the possibility that business travel demand is likely to radically reduce with the greater availability of internet access and the need for travel cost reduction?

  • Peter Wiltshire, 50 Church Street, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, HP16 0AZ

Don’t confuse sniping with debate

Living close to one of the likely alternative routes, I have paid a great deal of attention to the development of HS2 as a project and its options.

To assume that I have not considered the relevant content of the report, Andrew Shimmin is somewhat discourteous. He confuses “ill-informed sniping” with constructive debate.

It is obvious that, if there is no connection to HS1, then it will not be used to link with the Continent and travellers will continue to use airports instead.

If the London end of HS2 is wrong then it will fail anyway but not through our comments which are generally aimed at getting the best solution.

  • Peter Styles, Kingsbury,

Risk sharing and temporary works

Mike Cross (NCE 15 April) raises some very valid points regarding the importance of appropriate training on temporary works design and control.

The argument of built-in redundancy versus additional costs would quickly evaporate should an incident occur as a result of “lean” design. Balancing commercial pressures with the provision of robust design and effective control of temporary works has been an issue for longer than I can remember.

Could main contractors do more to assist their sub-contractors achieve a better understanding of the risks involved in the design, use and control of temporary works?

  • Chris Bennion (M), The White Cottage, Threapwood, Malpas, SY14 7AL

Signs of overheating

I was intrigued by your article, which suggests unexpected and immense reserves of heat at shallow depth in Cornwall (NCE last week).

The article says that the deep drilling is done on the same principle as shallow drilling, but what material is used for the drill bits and pipes?

Steel normally melts at temperatures of about 1,200°C to 1,500°C, and loses strength long before this, so how is the drilling done when the temperature reaches 1,700°C?

Or is there just a stray extra zero on the temperature, andn Cornwall is not about to catch fire after all?

  • George Mathieson (F), George Mathieson Associates, Consulting Engineers, 83 Blackheath Park, London, SE3 0EU

Editor’s note: Apologies the correct ground temperature should have been 170˚C.

Patchy pot hole solutions

Your articles on plant surveying & mapping, (NCE last week) made interesting reading and reminded me of the 2M reported potholes in our nation’s roads.

As a motorist who travels four southern counties on a weekly basis, may I pose some simple question prompted by observing the actions of East Sussex County Council in response to its plethora of potholes:

  • Why fill the hole with lightly compacted cold fill that invariably works out/fails within three days?
  • Why, when the road is closed and patched, are areas adjoining the patch left that will clearly fail within a week?
  • Is there a hidden contractual incentive that ensures failures will guarantee plenty of ongoing work − is this good value for the taxpayer?

We all aspire to a high standing in society but sadly things such as potholes are very good at eroding any green shoots.

  • John Albinson (M),

Your views & opinion

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, whichmeansletterslonger than 200 words are likely tobecondensed.

The Editor, NCE,
1st Floor, Greater
London House,
Hampstead Road,
London NW1 7EJ

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