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Letters: Keeping our roads safe and the gritting dilemma

Letters to the editor for Thursday 21 January 2010 feature snow, gritting, rail freight and the struggle to buy British

The main point:

Snow street

Snow street: Westminster has 1.1M daily visitors

Your article Freezing weather grips (NCE 7 January) attributes a quote to the Local Government Association which is not accurate of the true extent of the amount of gritting councils do.

Rather than 40% of roads being gritted as a maximum and 25% as a norm it varies quite widely depending on local road networks.

A central London council with very high pedestrian flows will need to salt its footways and be able to grit a far higher proportion of its roads compared to a rural council.

With 400,000km of road network, it is not possible for councils to grit every single street, so they prioritise routes for treatment to keep the road network operational and maintain essential services.

Councils publish this information so that people know which roads get treated routinely.

  • Caroline Green, policy consultant on transport, Local Government Association, Smith Square, London SW1P 3HZ

Contrary to your report Freezing weather grips (NCE 7 January) where the Local GovernmentAssociation is quoted as stating that “no council can ever grit more than about 40% of roads, and 20% to 25% is the norm”, I must point out that due to the demands of a busy urban area like Westminster, with 1.1M daily visitors and 600,000 vehicle journeys, we aim to treat as much of our 335km of carriageway and 676km of footway as our priorities allow.

To put this into perspective,this is greater than the distance of London to Newcastle and back.

We treated 95% of our roads and 70% of our footways in the first few days before the national Salt Cell was formed.

Nobody expects rural counties to grit to such high levels, but busy urban areas with such a high volume of visitors and traffic need to grit to much higher levels with in order to safeguard the economy.

Westminster is the largest employment centre in the UK, with the West End alone supporting 300,000 jobs, a £5bn retail industry, £1bn theatre industry and more businesses than anywhere else. Salt supplies need to be reassessed during times of shortage to ensure areas like central London and other major cities are given due priority.

  • Martin Low, City Commissioner of Transportation, Westminster City Council, 17th Floor, City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QP

Royal engineering appreciation from the grave

Artists impression main hall Royal Museum

Looking back: Edinburgh’s Royal Museum was opened in 1866

The project history on Edinburgh’s Royal Museum (NCE 7 January) mentions the original opening by Prince Albert in 1866, but also notes his last public act was in 1861 (the year he died of typhoid).

No doubt the last royal to show a real interest in engineering was there in spirit.

  • Peter Mason,

Editor’s note: Apologies for this confusion. Prince Albert laid the foundation stone for the museum in 1861 as hislast public act. The museum opened in 1866.


Freight fright

I note some disquiet recently concerning the viability of the proposed high speed rail link between London, the Midlands and Scotland and this is a sign of healthy debate.

However, as we wait with bated breath for the proposed route to be published, most discussion seems to focus on the location of a Birmingham station, how to serve the northern cities and how to include Heathrow airport.

But are we missing some part of the big picture? The long processions of HGVs on our motorways is evident to all and a large proportion have come all the way from the continent.

The thought of mixing high speed rail and goods traffic is anathema to most planners but there could be a way of making it work, creating a better cost benefit ratio for High Speed 2.

If a railhead were located to the north of the proposed Birmingham Parkway Station then a link to the continent via the Channel Tunnel could be achieved and a lot of long haul container freight could be diverted to rail.

How to avoid the problem of mixed traffic on the high speed line? There are two possible solutions − either develop new faster freight trains or simply move the freight by night.

  • Peter Styles, Kingsbury, Warwickshire,

Noble engineers?

I read with interest Brian Pope’s letter Should we follow in the footsteps of the medical profession? recommending negotiating with the government and the ICE (NCE last week).

There is an additional way in which engineers might follow those in the medical profession.

Members of the medical profession formed the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1985.

The ICE is one of the greatest creative organisations of our culture. It would be entirely fitting if its members were to form a group dedicated to mobilising the influence of the profession against the most destructive force on the planet.

The Noble Peace prize for the civil engineering profession would be a worthy goal.

  • Jim McCluskey, 3 St Margarets Road, Twickenham, Middlesex TW1 2LN

Supporting UK

As an elderly engineer I am growing increasingly frustrated at how difficult it is these days to buy anything made in Britain. Even something as simple as three inch seamless tube has to be imported as it is no longer manufactured here.

The great industries of ship building, steelmaking, coal, aerospace, pottery, glass, cotton, vehicle manufacture etc are just a shadow of what they were when I was a boy.

If you go shopping for goods or clothes in John Lewis or Marks & Spencer you’ll be lucky to find anything made here.

Why is this? It’s because successive governments largely run by lawyers and white collar company executives have placed services and banking above engineering and manufacturing. Our politicians are prepared to bail out failing banks but unprepared to support manufacturing and industry.

Now, in 2010, it is time to change. Politicians of all persuasions need to realise the importance of engineering and manufacturing to our economy and wake up and understand that all home grown industry needs political supportnot just banking.

With such a low percentage of engineers and manufacturers sitting in Parliament our voice will never be heard.

Wake up all of you engineers and manufacturers. Get involved in politics. Address the issues and turn the tide.

  • Richard Lucas, (M), director, Pipeline Dynamics, East Molesey, Surrey KT8 9BJ

Getting the facts straight

Your article on the Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) report into renewable power rightly identifies criticism of its objectivity (NCE 17 December).

To excuse adopting only one dubious source of information on wind power, the report author Paul Willson claims there is a dearth of information about wind power. He didn’t look far.

National Grid, in June 2009, issued a policy briefing stating that: “Under a scenario with much more wind (32GW) and larger nuclear generating units than is currently connected to the transmission system, our Short Term Operating Reserve Requirement could increase levels of approximately 4GW to possibly 8GW in 2020.”

That’s an extra 4GW for all intermittency, not just wind, against the PB figure of 10 GW for wind alone. Personally, I would trust the grid operators to know their system.

In addition a paper issued by the Environmental Change Institute found that between 1970 and 2003, there was not a single hour where there was no wind across the UK.

If PB wants to retain some credibility in the energy industry they should withdraw this report and return to the truly objective analysis which all sides need in the development of sustainable energy sources.

  • Peter Hinson(M), EMP2 Consultants,

Tall storeys

I am staggered and embarrassed to read that the original ICE budget for refurbishing 8 Storey’s Gate turns out to be only 50% of the cheap option and about 35% of the expensive selected option (NCE last week).

Where were our experts? Does the Institution actually have this money available or will it be borrowed?

  • Adrian Judge,

The good times

Allan Chambers’ letter (NCE last week) recalling his bridge building days with the Royal Engineers (RE) in 1959 reminded me of similar experiences at about the same time as one of the last National Servicemen.

I recall being offered a 48 hour pass which could start as soon as we had completed the task of erecting, dismantling and returning to stores a Bailey Bridge on the engineering site.

In 1997 I was among over 2,000 ex-RE National Servicemen who paraded at Brompton Barracks, Chatham, to celebrate the RE’s 50th anniversary of the start of National Service and we were able to view the latest kit used by the RE. The most impressive for me was the bridging equipment.

This was carried on three enormous vehicles which, having parked line abreast, an access platform was raised from the rear of the central vehicle and then a telescopic gantry beam was extended to cantilever out over the gap to be bridged.

This beam provided the track from which the various bridge parts were sent across the gap. The whole process was highly automated and mechanised − a far cry from the days of six and eight man lifts and a lot faster than even a bribed sapper could attain.

  • John Lawless (M), 42 Epping Road, Toot Hill, Ongar, Essex, CM5 9SQ

Where the rain falls

I see Thames Water is persisting with its £400M plan to build the Abingdon Reservoir (NCE 7 January). Would the money not be better spent on the short pipeline/pumping station system to link the River Severn to the River Thames?

This would be a substantial first part of a national water grid using existing Welsh reservoirs and so tap an area of significantly higher rainfall.

It would also save flooding valuable farm land which we are told will be needed in the future to combat food shortages.

  • John Franklin (F), 11 The Ridings, East Horsley, Surrey KT24 5BN

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