Engineers are giving up initiative on project funding
Whilst the National Infrastructure Plan is welcome, I was struck by a paragraph in Lord Sassoon’s foreword which stated that “we will make [this] happen through smarter use of public funding, improving private sector investment models, encouraging new sources of private capital and addressing the regulatory failures that stand in the way of greater private sector investment in our country’s infrastructure”.
The sad inference from this rather incomprehensible statement is that yet again, in very critical times, our profession may be relinquishing both authority and responsibility in a matter such as the funding of infrastructure which is central to what we do.
Yet again engineers are about to hand the initiative to financiers, accountants, management consultants as well as the legal profession who will no doubt take hold of the new “investment models”, “regulatory failures” and “smarter use of public funding”.
I hope that the Institution and ourselves will rise to the challenge and not allow that to happen.
- Andreas Markides, chairman, Colin Buchanan, 20 Eastbourne Terrace London W2 6LG
A clear route for road taxes?
In Chris Platts’s letter (NCE 2 December) he declares that the funds for highway maintenance amount to £38 per year from each Band D householder. Surely he forgets that this householder, if he is a car owner, will have paid around £200 for his car tax disc as well.
This should have been paid to his former authority by central government as part of the annual settlement.
If it has been diverted by central government or if his authority has used it for other purposes, this is not the fault of the local taxpayer and is no excuse for his authority to deliver even worse value for money along the lines he is suggesting.
- Tom Moss, email@example.com
Fire risk due to tunnel vision?
We were very interested in the letter from Judith Rastall about fighting fires in the Channel Tunnel (NCE 2 December) and have to agree wholeheartedly with her comments.
As leading bodies representing the UK fire protection industry we have been advocating compartmentalising the rail wagons for some time and particularly since the third fire.
The ASFP Tunnel Task Group, which consists of specialist expertise from industry, testing and certification bodies and academia, looked at this issue in early 2009 to consider the viability of appropriate methods for cladding the wagons with a fire resisting membrane and dividing curtains so that any outbreak of fire would be limited to the compartment of origin.
The floors of the wagons are already fire rated we understand. The total journey time is around 30 minutes so that a fire barrier of 30 or 45 minutes integrity will ensure that any fire is contained until the complete train is safely out of the tunnel, as advocated by Judith Rastall.
If considered appropriate, each wagon could also be fitted with active fire suppression mechanisms that could effectively control a contained fire.
The system now being installed is complex and surely is only treating the symptom and not offering a cure.
All the major risks remain, i.e. the train must be stopped in the tunnel, so evacuation must still take place in a potentially hostile environment and fire fighters will still be required to fight the fire under very restrictive and dangerous conditions.
The mere fact that the train will remain in the tunnel means that if the fire is not contained, then the potential for further costly structural damage to the tunnel lining remains a serious risk, leading to inevitable tunnel closure or at best disruption with all of the real on-costs to industry that such an action will generate.
It is perhaps regrettable that Eurotunnel Group has never acknowledged the support offered by the UK fire protection industry on such a very important decision.
- Wilf Butcher, chief executive officer, Association for Specialist Fire Protection and David Sugden, chairman, Passive Fire Protection Federation, firstname.lastname@example.org
No prizes for this piling
To claim a record as Murphy Piling did with their secant piled wall in Enfield (NCE 2 December) is always to tempt fate.
Whilst a significant achievement, it was easily surpassed by the 60m diameter wall, 40m deep that Stent built at Heathrow in 1996 following the tunnel collapse at Heathrow Express.
The Heathrow wall comprised 182 piles, 1200mm diameter, interlocking down to 20m depth before stepping down to 900mm diameter to form a contiguous wall.
Verticality tolerances of 1 in 400 were achieved and for this effort the company won a major national award.
- Wesley Lees (M), email@example.com
Engineers don’t always know best
You commented on Simon Griffith’s letter that we should engage in “the debate around high speed rail” by attending the High Speed Rail Summit being organised by NCE in February (NCE 2 December).
One of the topics in the opening address is advertised as ‘Overcoming protest: Persuading the public of the benefits of HSR’.
This is an interesting concept: that the debate should start from the premise that industry knows what is good for “the public” and that these ignorant and foolish people should be told what they need to have.
A few weeks ago I attended the Transport Planning Society’s discussion at the ICE.
As a transport planner of 40 years’ experience, the guy who gave the most balanced and considered opinion was Stephen Joseph of the Campaign for Better Transport.
He argued that investment in High Speed 2 (HS2) needed to be considered as only a small part of a much bigger transport picture covering all modes.
Unless the whole package made sense, the promoters of HS2 should not assume his organisation would support it.
I first came into contact with Stephen when he was objecting to the 1974 proposals to build motorways in London.
At the time, the stance of the engineering profession was that building motorways was generally a good idea.
If only the profession had been more prepared to engage with the public then, perhaps we could have achieved a higher level of investment in the railways in the 1980s, and not been in the mess that we now find ourselves.
- Peter Wiltshire, firstname.lastname@example.org
Letters to the editor
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