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Letters: Guided busways: one man's meat, another man's poison

Adding to Neil Raw’s views (Letters 5 August) about the futility of guided busways, a perfect example is the one in Bradford.

During regular trips to the city I have witnessed the building of a guided busway into the city centre, causing considerable disruption at the time and at a cost I can’t imagine.

This has permanently removed a very substantial part of the road space available to other private and business road users, the majority of whom are in no position to gain any advantage from the availability of the guided bus.

What I repeatedly see is a bus lane that is unoccupied for probably 95% of the time, effectively quarantining a large area of otherwise useable road to the detriment of other travellers. The only times there are more than a very few (frequently no-one) at the bus stops are in school start and finish times, also the only times on weekdays when I see reasonable numbers of passengers on the buses.

What a waste of valuable public resources. It could have been used to actually improve road services to the benefit of everyone, including those travellers who would have been equally well served by an ordinary bus.

  • Colin Leighfield, Wedge Group Galvanizing,

Imagine a public transport system that could travel on a fixed track but leave that track virtually at will.

This would combine the benefits of a fixed track – segregation, smooth ride, ability to fit down a corridor of minimum width, and, yes effortless docking at raised platforms – with the flexibility to travel on road allowing the penetration of city centres without massive disruption.

As well it would have the ability to serve low density residential areas where there is no need for a fixed track, and in an emergency to bypass any obstruction on the track by diverting to the local road network.

Imagine that this was achieved not by some complex technology but by a simple and robust adaptation of an existing technology with the result that it was several times cheaper than the alternatives. This is, of course, a description of a guided busway.

The tragedy is that there are those who simply can’t or won’t get it, either through being wedded to the older, more complex and more expensive technology or through a simple lack of imagination about what can be achieved with buses when freed from the constraints of traffic congestion.

  • Bob Menzies, head of delivery, Cambridgeshire Guided Busway,

What is the ICE’s policy on jobs?

Your recent editorial on the lack of graduate recruitment (NCE 5-12 August) left me puzzled at the lack of comment regarding the position that the ICE seems to have adopted to the recruitment of overseas engineers as set out in the same issue.

Whilst there may be a small number of very specialist engineers who cannot be recruited within the UK, from my experience it is typically cost that is encouraging companies to hire from overseas, not skills.

This is evident by the recent trend for outsourcing engineering work to cheaper overseas offices. Given the level of recent redundancies throughout the industry it is hard to believe that there is a shortage of experienced engineers. The lack of graduate recruitment is evidence of the oversupply of engineers within the market.

I am not sure that many recently unemployed engineers will find much comfort in the Institution’s position of encouraging overseas recruitment to fill the limited vacancies available.

Unfortunately, the position of the ICE centrally appears over-dominated by the views of large organisations whose interests are not necessarily those of all engineering companies in the UK or even the membership in general.

I appreciate that formal responses to the issue of economic migration have been requested. But it seems unclear to me why, given the ease of electronic communications, a more active and automatic consultation process is not engaged in to directly determine the membership’s position on this and other fundamental issues.

  • Chris Milne, RJM Ground Solutions,

The lessons of Hatfield

As the 10th anniversary of the Hatfield rail tragedy approaches, readers will recall that it was put down to the dysfunctional nature of Railtrack with no individual being held responsible.

NCE described the trial as a “hollow victory for the profession” but that “the railways are now safer because engineers and engineering have been given centre stage and money has been made available to ensure that this important part of the nation’s infrastructure is looked after”.

Those who occupied centre stage, however, were primarily managers who tried their very best to make the dysfunctional system work.

Indeed, they found themselves demeaned as foot-soldiers for their efforts. What appears to have been missing were outspoken warnings from hands-on engineers who thoroughly understood the technology and could see the danger of moving towards harder steels without proper crack control/monitoring resources in place.

Not being a rail engineer, forgive me for my presumption in revisiting this sensitive matter, but in my view it all hinges on that very precious principle of professional integrity.

I have made my position clear in an article “Let a tragedy become an object lesson” (The Structural Engineer, 88(15/16) 3 August 2010) and would like to think it will initiate an important and much-needed debate.

I’d be only too pleased to email a copy to interested NCE readers.

  • John Roddick CEng MIStructE,

Give engineers more control

Following on from my letter “Haiti Horror” (NCE 15 July) recent floods in China and Pakistan have killed thousands and left millions homeless.

We have seen our charities and aid agencies galvanise into action and ask us for aid to which we will contribute generously, but we still have
the problem of how we are going to help rebuild these lives in the intermediate and long term.

The overwhelming response to my last letter has prompted me to write to the Presidents of the ICE, the Institution of Structural Engineers and the Chartered Institute of Highways & Transportation, urging them to get the government to allow us to control part of the funds
to allow our contractors and consultants to plan, project manage and execute a rehabilitation programme so that the Haiti experience is not repeated.

It is now up to our institutions to show us how they can orchestrate the change.

  • Mario Donnetti (F),

Benefits of the tidal barrage

Sue Turner’s letter (NCE 5 August) made for interesting reading. Could she say how her port would operate if we go on melting the icecaps?

She would have to relocate to Tewkesbury, perhaps.

By using the Severn barrage the UK would reduce its reliance on nuclear and natural gas. Fantastic. Hopefully we can get a decent bid to design, build and operate the barrage by UK companies?

If there was a huge storm and tidal surge in 10 years time with rising sea levels would Bristol Port not be better protected by a barrage? How much would a flood cost her business compared to a bit of extra time spent transiting a dock. In fact, the barrage could potentially save an awful lot of people from flooding 50 to 100 years down the line.

From that perspective every insurance company should be backing the barrage. I think that they turn over a lot more than Bristol Port Company.

In the short term she could buy Barry docks off ABP. Barry docks are empty and slowly disintegrating. There are other docks that are not affected by the barrages like Swansea, Port Talbot and Milford Haven that could do well if yours faces commercial hurdles due to the barrage.

Turner’s last point is 100% right except for the fact that engineering enthusiasm should be bolstered not “tempered”by a full understanding of the environmental and economic impacts. So let’s get building the barrage.

  • Richard Annett,

High old times in Scotland

Oh dear, oh dear – Bateman only needed to raise the water level of Loch Katrine by 1,200m, which would therefore have taken it right up to the top of Ben Nevis (NCE 5 August).

I presume you mean 1.2m, or, as Bateman would have put it, 4 feet.

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

Make motorists pay their due

There’s no disputing NCE’s enthusiasm for covering all sides of a debate, devoting swathes of space to sustainability in the form of renewables and carbon capture on the one hand, while salivating over the prospects of massive, inappropriate developments in that most barren and inhospitable place that is the Gulf desert, and giving support to road pricing which might allow a lowering of fuel duty and encourage the motorist to divert from motorways.

Surely, if we need to find funds for roads and wish to cut congestion it’s a no-brainer - increase fuel tax to a level that will make the motorist think twice. Such a strategy:

  • has no cost associated with infrastructure or collection
  • is sustainable in that the polluter always pays
  • will be safer in not diverting drivers off the safest roads on to those which are already hopelessly underfunded
  • could also allow abolition of road tax, with the appropriate road user meeting that cost.

The only difficulty is convincing the politicians that this is the way forward, as their voters have brainwashed them into thinking: touch road fuel duty today and it’s riots in the potholed streets tomorrow.

Whereas, stick 2.5% on VAT and we are happy that this is an entirely prudent way out of the credit crises.

  • Allan Doyle,

Readers' comments (1)

  • Re- the last letter, Quite so. And recollect, the last 2.5% went on VAT to pay for Mrs Thatcher's mistake (widely foretold, not hindsight) re-Poll Tax. Who says we are happy (content?), we are stuck with it, now more is on the way.

    Poll tax is history, the VAT, an evil tax levied before stuff is even sold - delight for the taxman (someone else does all the work), bane for the trader, has stayed stubbornly at 17.5. So, if the current emergency passes, will someone have the decency to drop taxes to a small proportion of exchanges, not half our income or so ..

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