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Letters to the editor

Marinair revisited

The opening of Chek Lap Kok Airport brings to mind the Marinair scheme proposed in the early 1990s. This proposal for a large airport on reclaimed land in the Thames Estuary was virtually ignored by the Government, despite considerable lobbying of ministers, MPs and the Ministry of Transport. It had the obvious advantages of:

No additional land-take or noise nuisance;

Minimal adverse effect on the environment;

No additional danger over land due to increased take-offs, landings and larger aircraft;

Scope for further development;

Compatibility with, and encouragement of, the East Thames Corridor proposals;

Compatibility with the Channel Tunnel development and Rail Link;

Private sector funds were said to be available;

Implementation would assist in overcoming the unemployment situation, during construction and when operational.

It must now be clear that, had the Maplin scheme been proceeded with, much of the present and future noise nuisance and loss of amenity would have been avoided. Marinair, I suggest, would not be subject to the objections which sank Maplin.

One wonders whether a Marinair-type scheme could be revived using the expertise now available, and benefiting from experience gained at Chek Lap Kok. What a project to mark the commencement of the next century, and continue the impetus resulting from numerous Millennium schemes!

SF Thorne (F), Crossways, Milland Lane, Milland, Liphook, Hants GU30 7JP

More fun volunteering

The experience of voluntary work bears no comparison with lazing on a beach sipping a cool beer, and is far more interesting.

As a teenager in the mid 1970s, I went to work on the Festiniog railway's deviation project in North Wales. This involved the construction of two miles of narrow gauge railway on a new alignment. By the age of 20 I had acquired first-hand experience in rock drilling, blasting, cut to fill, tunnelling, concrete production and tracklaying. Everybody got the opportunity to use and be familiar with small plant, such as compressed air tools, concrete mixers, compactors and vibrators. The regular volunteers operated larger plant, such as excavators, dumpers and locomotives. Without doubt, the experience was instrumental in determining a future career in civil engineering.

More recently, my voluntary work has continued with the preparation of surveys and bridge designs for the Transport & Works Act application for the Welsh Highland railway, the most ambitious such project yet (NCE 4/11 January 1996). Far from being a busman's holiday, the voluntary work can be entirely complimentary to one's professional employment, and has created hands-on skills that would not otherwise occur.

The entire heritage railway movement, quite a few canals, and numerous historic, conservation or environmental sites simply would not exist if it were not for volunteer input. It is not all back-breaking hard work, but jolly good fun, and very rewarding.

John C Sreeves (M), Badger's Close, Wanborough, Swindon SN4 0EN

CROSS lines

Congratulations on your CROSS survey and report. I first proposed such a system for the UK water industry in a paper at the 'Water 2000' forward- looking conference in 1987. Time is running out if we are to have anything in place before the millennium.

Regarding access, the 'British way' seems to be to starve us of information. The 'American way' is to drown us. To see what I mean, take a quick peek at http://olias.arc.nasa.gov/asrs/repsets/fatigue.rtf and its sister sites - a fully public confessional of what can go wrong in aviation. Its caveats and structure fuel thought about how CROSS might work. The ASRS reports represent the huge number of minor warning events at the bottom of the 'cause-effect pyramid'. Some of these, in combination with others, occasionally lead to a major incident.

Would such an approach help or hinder construction safety in the UK? The Internet now makes access for participants fast and easy, but any system must be guided, managed, interpreted and adequately funded if it is to be useful. The sewer collapse reporting system which I described at the 1981 ICE conference was one of the first steps towards defining a cost-effective sewerage rehabilitation policy which is still an essential element of UK water management. It has thus probably paid for itself.

Neil Cullen (M), Swindon, neil_cullen@compuserve.com

Speed trap

I note that in Commentary on recently published AA research (NCE 2 July) you support the myth that lower speed limits would be the best way of reducing road casualties. The fact that the roads with the highest average speeds (motorways) have the lowest accident rates, and the majority of accidents occur in built-up areas where speed limits are already low, should dispel the simplistic view that 'Speed kills'. Inappropriate speed in specific locations or circumstances undoubtedly contributes to accidents, but the speed aspect in these cases is the consequence of either a lack of attention, or inadequate hazard perception on the part of the driver. It is the latter failures that are the real causes of such accidents, and it is these aspects of the driving task that should be receiving attention.

Attempts to enforce blanket, lower speeds over the entire highway network, regardless of the degree of risk, will not reduce accidents. Experience from Suffolk, where 450 new 30mph speed limits have been introduced, indicates no significant change in casualties and a sharp increase in fatalities, though only one year's data is available so far. Nationally, there is no evidence that the proliferation of speed cameras in recent years has made any impact on casualty figures. This may well be because most of them are sited at locations where the speed limit is unrealistically low and can safely be exceeded for much of the time, rather than at high risk accident sites.

The appropriate speed at which to negotiate a hazard is just one of many judgements which drivers have to make continually. It is illogical to single out that particular task for external control, just because speed can be measured easily. The key to casualty reduction must lie in improving all aspects of driver skill and judgement, not by the 'dumbing down' of the driving population.

Malcolm Heymer (M), MHeymer@compuserve.com

Codes of conduct

It is ironic that it takes a lawyer to remind us of some of the reasons why we became engineers.

Philip Capper (NCE 2 July) may proclaim the supremacy of criminal law and contract commitment above ethical obligation (which of course normally recognises compliance with law and contract), but this is no more than an assertion of one code of values above another. On the assumption that Capper was correctly quoted, let me as an engineer lead the way in rejecting his philosophy. In matters of engineering safety, whatever the difficulties of process or relationship, ignoring the issue is not an option.

For most of the past 2,000 years, the concept of passing by on the other side, as exemplified by the priest and the Levite, and recommended by Capper, has had a pretty bad press.

It will not do now as a new code of ethics for the profession.

Roger Sainsbury, Senior Vice President, The Institution of Civil Engineers, One Great George Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3AA

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