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Letters: Is there a way of getting over the problem with Dartford?

The main point

Dartford Crossing

Dartford Crossing: Delays are common

NCE deputy editor Jackie Whitelaw calls for a solution to congestion at the Dartford to Thurrock River Crossing (Comment 20-27 August) that involves improved toll collection technologies.

Sorry Jackie, but the constraint at Dartford is highway − not plaza − capacity; primarily tunnel capacity in the northbound direction. Improving throughput at the toll plaza would do nothing but relocate the congestion. This is a familiar problem to those designing or evaluating (my focus) toll roads. American tollsters call it “hurry up and wait”.

In fact, the northbound toll plaza plays an important safety role in terms of traffic control, by metering vehicles into the two, two-lane tunnels. Imagine vehicles filtering from 14 tollbooths into four lanes at speed and you’ll get the picture. (Incidentally, the junction arrangements immediately to the south of the crossing are such that I doubt if free-flow traffic operations would be safe there either − supporting the presence of the southbound toll plaza at Dartford for the same reason.)

No − like it or not, you have two options.

Increase the toll tariffs further to reduce the demand (and run the risk of traffic reassignment onto less suitable local roads) or build another crossing. Such a pity that in the UK we are now so paranoid about any new road construction that we are blind to those situations, like Dartford, where it clearly remains the best option − and has done so for a number of years. Make it a PFI-style investor-financed toll concession and the government can solve this problem for free!

  • Robert Bain (F)

Your article regarding the Dartford Crossing was interesting and accurate when it comes to the delays. I believe that there is a simple way to avoid the hold ups.

You draw a line across the M25, say 500m from the toll booths. Every time the traffic queues beyond this line no tolls are charged and the traffic moves freely through for a period of 15 minutes.

This would encourage them to collect the fees without causing any holdups.

As it is now, they can cause as long holdup as they like without affecting their income at all. If they risked loosing part of their income they would find ways of collecting the tolls without causing any holdups. Easy isn’t it?

  • Dave Filmer, T Loughman & Co, Moatfield House, Highfield Road, Dartford DA1 2LH

Last year there was a petition on the Number 10 website for the abolition of the tolls and one of the reasons for rejecting the idea was the need to reduce the usage of the motorwaya toll being a means of regulating the numbers and reduce unnecessary journeys.

If this is the government’s thinking then it will resist efforts to increase capacity at Dartford and thus encourage more usage.

One of the simplest means of increasing flow, in my opinion, would be to have the tolls only in one direction, but this would have to be over the bridge because if it was through the tunnels the real reason for the problems would emerge − the capacity of the two tunnels.

As an owner of a “Dart Tag” I would love to be able to drive up the outside lane to the tag-only booth that used to be on the far right, but all you get is cars trying to keep in the outside lane as far as possible before trying to get over into the “change given” lanes. I regret that I will retire before the crossing is sorted!

  • Ian Moore


Lost in Wales? Get on your bike

Welsh public transport

Welsh public transport

As a civil engineer living and working in Wales, I was looking forward to the promised article on transport.

What I was not expecting was a write-up on a journey to and from one of the most de-populated areas of South Wales (NCE 20-27 August).

The recent growth in use of private vehicles reported in the NCE is mainly down to the collapse of the manufacturing sector and the need to travel further to work.

This factor has occurred a lot faster than it takes to create an effective integrated transport system, but the current Welsh Government is at least trying to do something about it. What a shame then that you chose to concentrate on the exercise of getting from London to a tiny mountain farm and back.

I also think that the excellent devolved ICE setup in Wales deserved better, particularly as they are very constructive and quite influential in Welsh affairs.

  • Ian Titherington(G)

Expecting a bus to arrive on demand on “an isolated country lane with no road name and no cars” in the mountains of South Wales is a little unrealistic (NCE 20-27 August).

This is not what public transport aims, or can ever aim, to address. Nor is it of much relevance to the 83% of mostly urban Welsh commuters who currently drive to work.

What it does demonstrate is the mental block that British people have in picking an appropriate alternative to driving. NCE features editor Alexandra Wynne would have saved herself two and a quarter hours by simply packing a Brompton to replace the walking and Tube legs at either end of her journey.

But if you are going to pack a bike, why not use it to its best advantage - replacing the slow and irregular bus legs as well. That would cut the journey time down to:

  • Cycle: Cwmwysg to Llandovery = 1 hour
  • Train: Llandovery to Paddington = 5 hours
  • Cycle: Paddington to Highbury = 30 min
  • Total: 6 ½ hours

Therefore Wynne would have been home at 5pm, not 7.30pm, saving 2 ½ hours over the journey by foot / bus / train / Tube. It is still longer than a clear car trip, but in my experience the extra time spent is amply repaid by a stress free journey that is immune to the vagaries of traffic.

I regularly make the journey between East Anglia and North Wales. The choice of whether to drive or take the train depends mostly on what toys we plan to take with us. Putting bikes on a train is OK with a little preplanning, but sadly kayaks don’t fit whichever way you stack them.

  • Alasdair DV Massie


Making it into the movies

Tycoon poster

Tycoon, starring John Wayne

Did anyone catch the film Tycoon on TV the other week? John Wayne stars as engineer Johnny Munroe, building a railroad through the Andes, while at the same time trying to save his troubled relationship with his boss’s daughter.

The film included a fantastic boardroom exchange between Wayne and Anthony Quinn (who plays consulting engineer Ricky Vegas) about the pros and cons of incorporating a concrete lining into a tunnel under construction, following a significant rock fall. It was a wonderful example of negotiation linking health and safety, contracts and front-line civil engineering with Wayne intoning: “I’ve got a railroad to build.”

Has anyone tried to catalogue instances of engineering in film and TV for use within schools and universities? It could add a certain spark to a degree course!

  • Mike Worsnip (G)


Easy learning

As a Fellow of mature years, I noted ICE director general Tom Foulkes’ comment section (ICE News 20-27 August) with particular interest.

I am of the generation where I and all my peer group obtained Chartered membership through the HNC-HND route, via block release (thick and thin sandwich), or day release and evening college studies etcetera.

This route had the advantages of the individual being able to take on progressive responsibility as education was developed and to being able to justify one’s earning potential at every stage.

Clearly earnings at 16 years of age were modest but equally so were the needs. However, by their mid 20s at the stage of preparation for professional interview, with 10 or more years of experience one could demand payment well in excess of that of the degree holders. Who with only two or three years of experience were generally considered a burden rather than a benefit to the business.

I recall that in the mid 1960s the institution effectively blocked the route, stating “we are for degree holders, honours degree preferred”.

I would not wish to see a complete return to my days of trainee under agreement. But if Foulkes is advocating the institution and the education establishment return to accepting that a part time education is the equivalent, if not superior, to a degree, he has my full support and my best wishes in undertaking the task.

I seriously consider that the self esteem loaded education establishment will have difficulty adapting to the role. Furthermore there will be considerable effort required to transform employers’ attitudes.

Looking at the jobs section this week it is seen that “a good degree is required and possibly chartered membership” for most positions. Is this not the wrong way round, surely what they actually require is a “good chartered engineer, possibly with a degree”?

Incidentally, could someone please tell me what constitutes a good degree, and the alternative, a bad one?

  • Mike Speakman (F)

In it for the money?

Cliff Bonnington’s idea that engineers do not enter the profession to get rich may be a bit rich in itself (Letters 20-27 August). If engineers do not enter the profession to get rich then what do they expect?

I thought that the idea of ‘gentlemen and players’ died at Lords a long time ago. Properly prepared engineers should be well aware that earning plenty of money provides one with security, the ability to help others and if one allows oneself, a certain sense of achievement.

Engineers need to understand the value of what they are doing and find a way of drawing out some of that value for themselves. That is what I call being professional. In my book there is no such thing as a lost cause unless and until you make one yourself of course.

  • Ivor Richards OBE

We need to keep graduates

I feel there are worrying times ahead for the engineering industry due to lessons not learned from the previous recession.

Companies must not let a skills shortage occur again. While understanding that the current market cannot support a full intake of graduates I feel that companies must operate a more unconventional form of graduate recruitment.

Why not operate a retainer policy, graduates could be offered a signing on fee and be employed on a contract basis as and when required.

This could allow them to be signed onto a training agreement, participate in group training days/seminars of mandatory courses and then when the work picks up start on a full time contract already up to speed with company QES procedures and management systems without losing a year’s experience.

While not ideal it would allow future engineers to earn money in another temporary profession and not fall behind in terms of engineering skills.

  • Drew Fawcett

Not the soft option

NCE has recently discussed the merits of speed cushions in general to control speeding and to reduce accident rates. The fact is that councils seem transfixed with speed cushions as the only solution.

In my neighbourhood of south London the council has placed over 50 speed cushions near homes with devastating effect. The homes already suffer from a degree subsidence because of the clay based foundations.

What is interesting is that the councils only refer to one source of engineering data on ground roll-vibration to structures from research body TRL. It’s time that further testing is carried out using the experience of homeowners who have been subjected to the speed cushion vibration.

HGVs are the worst offenders as they often fail to straddle the speed cushion and become airborne. Tyre damage is also reported except on rubberised speed cushions.

The engineering community needs to provide further research on speed cushions. To many people they are counterproductive and dangerous for road users and homeowners.

  • Richard Bond

Off his trolley?

David Smith in his letter (NCE 20-27 August) suggests converting busy urban bus routes to trolleybus operation.

He is right. The trolleybus should be the mode of choice in many of our towns and cities, just as it is in almost 350 cities across the world. Modern trolleybuses bear no resemblance to historical operations in the UK, other than drawing their motive power from an overhead source.

Whilst accepting that rail-based tramways are an efficient means of moving large passenger volumes, they require a significant investment of money and prolonged street disruption to deliver. The trolleybus can provide similar benefits of high passenger volumes and environmental friendliness, in a lower cost and less disruptive way.

The new system at Castellón in Spain shows how new generation trolleybuses can be considered as trams on rubber tyres. Auxiliary batteries mean the trolleybus can divert offroute altogether to divert around road works or accidents. Some consultants already recognise the benefits of trolleybus systems, with plans for Leeds and possibilities for Glasgow.

Let us see other consultants, and their clients, becoming similarly conscious of the opportunities offered by the trolleybus to help improve the quality of life in our urban areas.

  • Bryan stead (m)

Your views & opinion

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

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

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