Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Letters: Time to saddle for safety

Get out of your car and onto your bike

I agree wholeheartedly with Katja Leyendecker (Letters 19 September), where she calls for the ICE to join growing calls for improvements in safety for cyclists. There is much that ICE members can do in their everyday work.

Action: ICE members involved in highway design should approach their work as if they were cyclists

Action: ICE members involved in highway design should approach their work as if they were cyclists

It is time for the approach to design of cycle lanes on our roads to be improved and for ICE members to take the initiative.

My home city, York, is rightly considered one of the safer places for cycling, but even here, the design of cycle lanes is woefully poor.

For example, the white lines defining cycle lanes usually stop at narrow spots, ie just at the point when cyclists most need protection, thus giving priority to vehicles over cycle safety.

There are also many pinch-points where the kerb juts into the road to slow vehicles and allow safer crossing for pedestrians, but the poor old cyclist has to compete for space through this chicane. I often have to stop to let speeding vehicles through rather than risk being squashed dead.

ICE members designing these schemes should urgently change their approach. Rather than maintaining the width of the vehicle lanes through narrow stretches, designers should make sure that cycle lanes are continuous where road width is limited and the vehicle space reduced instead.

This would change a driver’s perception of priority in a limited space, as it would be clear that they should hang back behind a cyclist rather than try to squeeze their way past.

Come on ICE highway designers, get out of your car and onto your bike. Ride with your children and friends and on an ordinary bike, not swathed in lycra on a speed machine. Then you may begin to understand what needs to be done to persuade more people to dig their old bikes out of the shed and take to the road again for those short everyday trips they currently do by car because they currently feel too scared on a bike.

  • Christopher Rainger (F), 11 Grange Street, York YO10 4BH



Assessing the probability of dam failure

After concerns about implementation of the Flood & Water Management Act 2010 amendments to the Reservoirs Act (NCE 5 September), the Environment Agency circulated guidance in September.

I was pleased to see the guidance respond to my promptings in NCE about risk being the product of probability and consequences, but disappointed that the annual probability of failure that applied for the emergency flood plans, from which the number of fatalities will be assessed, is stated to be one.

This is wrong; the emergency flood maps were produced by assuming that the dams failed when overtopped by 500mm during the passage of extreme floods.

Hydrological analysis could provide an estimate of the probability of such floods.

For dams with 1 in 10,000 spillways it would be very low, say 1 in 10,000,000.

However, such floods exaggerate the width and depth of the dambreak flood, exaggerating the number of fatalities and misleading the emergency services about access routes and numbers of people to be evacuated.

For reservoirs with 1 in 1,000 or 1 in 150 spillways, the probability of a flood causing 500mm of overtopping would be high, say 1 in 2,000 or 1 in 300.

If the emergency flood at such reservoirs did not cause the single fatality required to qualify as “high risk” there could be people outside the emergency flood zone not protected to the 1 in 10,000 standard that good practice requires.

Another aspect is that reservoirs of small volume compared to the flood volume do not need large spillways because in a large flood the volume of water from the reservoir would barely contribute to the fatalities and damage that the “large” natural flood would cause.

These complications will be particularly important around the borderline “high risk”, not high risk reservoirs, where failure may or may not cause one fatality.

They will need to be resolved by complete quantitative risk assessments if the ­designations are to be taken seriously.

They also require that the acceptable probability of causing the one fatality to be agreed.

Such serious matters and the need to get them right again confirm the need for the expertise of the Health and Safety Executive to be applied to reservoir safety.

  • Rod Bridle (F),



One Great George St not open all hours

Congratulations to all those involved with Open House London last Weekend - it was an amazing opportunity to access normally closed sites across the capital, made such by the excellent support of many organisations across the city.

Not only was it very enjoyable for myself as a student, but it surely provided the thousands of visitors with a real insight into the world of civil engineering, and can only have provided inspiration for the next generation.

However, I was surprised to notice that, despite the ICE’s status as a partner of the event, One Great George Street was only open on the Friday of the event, when few other buildings were.

It strikes me that given it’s prime location this would have been an amazing opportunity to show off both the ICE and the industry at its best.
Perhaps the Institution could learn lessons from other similar organisations, where members were present to show visitors around, with an opportunity to donate to an appropriate charity given at the doors.

  • Richard Jenkins, (S), Woking, Surrey,


The merits of a childish approach to engineering

Right qualities: A vivid imagination is key to a fruitful career

Right qualities: A vivid imagination is key to a fruitful career

While trying to answer what seemed like a 101 questions from my five year old over the “Pushing the design envelope” article in this week’s NCE, it struck me that there are some elements of a child’s mind that are key qualities for an engineer: questioning everything in order to fully understand; an open mind that is willing to adapt ideas to work out the best solution; a vivid imagination; and enthusiasm; the ability to shout about how wonderful their ideas and end products are.

The list goes on but what I have been reminded of this morning is how much we all do as engineers that sometimes gets lost in the day-to-day.
Will my children become engineers? Who knows? Whatever they do I will be proud, but perhaps a bit more so, if they choose the same ­profession as I did.

Nicola Cooke,

Far North and Scotland need HS2 too…

It is good to see the momentum for High Speed 2 (HS2) growing in NCE for all the right reasons, including removing bottlenecks, providing more freight routes and developing Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, but recent letters from Stuart Porter and Mike Hodgkinson have confirmed my view that Euston is the wrong London terminal.

Living in Windermere, if I want to visit my son in Brussels, I have to buy effectively four different tickets from different companies - from Windermere to Oxenholme, from Oxenholme to Euston, from Euston to St Pancras and from St Pancras to Brussels.

Joined up tickets are available but the worst part of the whole journey is the short stretch of Tube from Euston to St Pancras. Having tried it once, my wife has vowed never to do it again!

If it is feasible now to run West Coast Main Line trains to St Pancras, why is it not being done?

Furthermore, whatever happened to the direct Eurostar services to Edinburgh and Glasgow that were promised when we built HS1?

After a few abortive trials, nothing has happened since.

The biggest long-term benefit of any high speed line is to reduce air travel and this should be the main objective of direct services from Scotland to Paris, Brussels and beyond to stations all over Europe.

Benefits to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds are all very well, but aren’t we forgetting about Scotland?

  • Donald Holliday (M ret), Windermere, Cumbria LA23 2DW



…and what about UK’s other regions?

A large part of NCE’s 19 September issue is devoted to the promotion of HS2. Is this because it is good for the profession, or good for the nation?

For those of us living in the South West and Wales, HS2 will offer no significant benefit. We would be far better served by improvement of the woefully inadequate intercity services from our regions. This could be achieved at a tiny fraction of the cost of HS2.

  • Anthony Bates,



HS2 is not a patch on ­Transrapid

Your recent edition (NCE 19 September) had a front cover about how the transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin “leads fierce defence of HS2”, an editorial that HS2 “can put UK engineering back on the world map” and numerous other articles within the magazine extolling the virtues of HS2.

This big gravy train will feed our industry for years to come and keep chief executives of vested interest groups on the public speaking circuit for years to come sprouting political hot air.

This is all fine because these people are politicians and hot air is their speciality, just a shame the taxpayer has to pick up the bill. Does our industry need McLoughlin the Enforcer, whose engineering knowledge would not fill a postage stamp, to come and speak on behalf of our institution? I expect Brunel and Stephenson are turning in their graves.

The disturbing thing for me, and no doubt many other engineers and members of the ICE, is that our UK profession, which is meant to be a world leader, is settling for 30-year-old French and German know-how.

The Germans are implementing Transrapid while we use their discarded ideas.

If we are truly at the cutting edge of engineering and innovation on the world stage why are we not implementing Transrapid systems, or coming up with more intelligent solutions on signalling that allows us to double our capacity from a slightly expanded existing network for one tenth of the cost of HS2?

Where is the engineering innovation and ingenuity in HS2?

Is our institution just another political lobby voice for bland ideas as long as they pump money into half-baked projects?

  • Stephen Tanno,

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.