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Letters: HS2 questions that need answering

HS2 euston artists impression

High Speed 2: Common sense needed

It has been refreshing to read a number of letters in recent issues of NCE with reasoned arguments in support of the need for a fundamental rethink of the remit for High Speed 2 (HS2). I have argued previously that it might be better to improve urban transport infrastructure ahead of HS2, especially in its current form.

Last week saw the chancellor George Osborne promoting high speed across the Pennines where the real issue is capacity not speed as I understand it. Given the size and complexity of the HS2 proposal and its impact, isn’t now the time to stand back and take a fresh look at our rail network, its constraints and opportunities and come up with a national long term strategic plan? I am amazed that HM Treasury has not commissioned such a review already. While the rail industry gets on with this, let’s get on with the Severn Barrage, a scheme which would provide a sustainable and reliable source of renewable energy. That would suffice for now as the national project our politicians seem to desire so much.

  • Paul Dawkins,

Colin Elliff’s article on high speed rail and its importance to airports highlights a more or less self-evident strategic consideration which is sometimes overlooked (putting it charitably) by those whose role it should be to know better (Opinion last week).

When the Department for Transport (DfT) initiated a public consultation in 2006 on its Cross Country rail franchise renewal proposal, more than 95% of written responses objected strongly to the proposed removal of all services south and east of Reading.

The DfT’s proposal was supported only by First Great Western (who stood to benefit directly) and one private individual. Strong objections came from local authorities in the West Midlands and further north, speaking on behalf of millions of people, who were concerned that passengers would lose their minimal remaining direct rail connections to and from the UK’s second busiest airport at Gatwick. Clearly the alternative joys of multiple transfers at London’s rail terminuses, or possibly lengthy motorway travel instead, didn’t hold wide appeal.

The outcome? Sadly, logic, common sense, strategic thinking and an overwhelming majority opinion didn’t carry enough weight between them. The nearest Cross Country railheads to Gatwick are now Guildford and Basingstoke.

  • Stewart Saunders (M ret’d),

Sir David Higgins’ piece notes the divisions which still exist over High Speed 2 (HS2) but is predicated on the defence of the questionable philosophy that the proposed skeleton network will open northern markets to a wider audience (Opinion last week). Surely, HS2 is actually more likely to fuel the concentration of commerce in the capital by enabling the overheating market in London to suck in yet more resource from further afield, rather than spread capability via a wider redistribution of the economic balance which David Higgins alludes to?

The week before, Colin Elliff of High Speed UK presented the connectivity argument which HS2 does not grasp - by simply connecting a few core cities via a semi-isolated high speed network you do not achieve a massively increased connectivity to the wider community; a more integrated network is required for that. HSUK have some credible ideas through which the current HS2 budget could be used to benefit a significant number of taxpayers which the current HS2 simply will not.

As engineers we often find ourselves despairing of the politics which drive incrementally inefficient solutions. But here we have a chance for engineers to work together to show the politicians how, by bringing bright minds together, we can deliver more. We have the opportunity to make the most out of a considerable sum of public money to deliver a faster, and a more inclusive, rail network. The challenge for Higgins and his colleagues at HS2 has to be for them to work with HSUK to make the best use of the taxpayer money in delivering an optimal high speed solution for the wider UK populace.

  • Alan Shaw (M),

Sir David Higgins says that High Speed 2 (HS2) will relieve “the crippling capacity constraints that the rail industry faces on a daily basis south of Birmingham”. I learn from the railway press that Network Rail has agreed in principle to an operator having 12 additional “paths” per day in each direction between Crewe and Euston and that “paths” are also available to run high speed freight services between Glasgow/Rugby and Euston.

When HS2 was first promoted it was on the basis of reduced journey times. This argument has fallen by the wayside and now capacity is the issue.

Do the agreements outlined above not show that this argument is also flawed? Can the HS2 team really demonstrate that the current West Coast timetable has been, or can be, exploited to its maximum potential? Or is this country going to invest £50bn in the emperor’s new clothes?

  • Neil Raw (M),

A definitive guide to being an engineer

In defence of his less restricted application of the designation ‘engineer’, the editor - in response to an apparent proponent of a more controlled use - made reference to the Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED’s) definitions to support his position.

Whereas the authority of the OED as a source of linguistic reference is not in question, I am unlikely to rely on it unflinchingly for technical guidance.

If professional engineers, both as institutions and individuals, strive to protect and consequently succeed in reserving its use for qualified persons, society would begin to adapt to the shift and the OED’s lexicographers would have no option but to evolve their definitions.

What would be the benefit of this? As a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) ambassador, I am aware that many pupils’ perception of an engineer is akin to OED’s second definition (a maintainer/controller of machines or tools).

They have no notion of engineers having to be qualified (first OED definition), or that we develop solutions as part of intellectually stimulating situations.

If the industry is serious about encouraging uptake of STEM subjects and attracting the best especially among females, the word ‘engineer’ needs to invoke a very specific and accurate picture commensurate with the training, excellence and dedication that professionally qualified members possess.

Until this is done, engineering will be seen as largely labour-intensive and perhaps too
physical for females, and I will continue to be thanked profusely by staff at my local GP surgery for providing “something for the males” any time I donate my old NCEs, despite my gender-neutral intention.

  • Hameed Jehanfo (M),  


Deconstructing the entente cordiale

I refer to Mark Hansford’s Comment of 15 May. It is not quite fair to compare a contractor that has an in-house project design team with another contractor disposing of a design consultancy company. Unless a contractor has sufficient contracts he cannot support a large number of designers; hence, I imagine, Balfour Beatty is disposing of Parsons Brinckerhoff. Also, not all clients want to hand over the design to contractors, although it has been found that the design and build contracts are economical and get results quicker.

Furthermore, you are comparing different cultures. The French are brought up to respect engineers, likewise doctors, because they have acquired professional qualifications. They also respect their technicians and artisans. The British are not brought up to give that respect.

Internationally, I have experienced that a UK university degree plus membership of the ICE carries more weight than a diploma from a French Grandes Ecoles.

  • Michael Arshad,


Why not put ‘professional’ before our title?

You failed to point out in your Comment column of 15 May that in France the word ingénieur denotes a professional engineer and does not have the much wider scope meaning for the English word engineer.
Despite commonly expressed proposals to the contrary, there is no potential for acceptance of a narrower meaning for engineer.
An obvious strategy is to use a different name. Ingénieur, that is used with different spellings in several European countries, is a candidate but at least we should make a habit of using “professional engineer” when that is what we mean.

The pre-eminence of French ingénieurs was established in the late 18th century by the creation of the Ecoles des Mines and the Ecole Polytèchnique.

There is a high level of competition for entry and top civil servants are recruited from the graduates of these schools.

The standard of education that they receive may be excellent but it is prestige that drives the status of ingénieurs in France.

To gain prestige, professional engineers need to be more active in self-promotion.

  • Iain A MacLeod (F), 45 Keystone Quadrant, Milngavie G62 6LP

Thames Garden Bridge deserves our support

The two letters criticising the Garden Bridge across the Thames are I am afraid typical of why our profession appears to lack appeal to the general public and also to those many students who graduate in civil engineering and choose to do something other than practise what they have learnt (Letters last week).

This proposal is exciting and will change for better views along Thameside which are denuded of any proper planting. This proposal would provide a site for open air theatre in the heart of London. How exciting; how innovative. For once our designs will not be affected by cost benefit analysis or by accountants.

Let us demonstrate what civil engineers with architects and horticulturalists can do for the benefit of Londoners and those who visit our great city.

The question of our ability to design, build and maintain the planting on such a bridge is not new. At the end of the Lamberhurst bypass in Kent, the access to Scotney Castle has been provided by a bridge which is planted on both sides so that those accessing the castle do not see the new road.

Please support this proposal.

  • Andrew Leadbeater,

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