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Letters: Why video-conferencing won’t cut demand for high speed rail

Ewan Cappitt’s letter sadly seems to miss so many points.

Video conferencing may be an appropriate replacement for some personal travel, but its market penetration over the last 30 years, even with modern data speeds, certainly doesn’t suggest it to be the solution to ever increasing demand for the movement of people and goods.

The near future doesn’t look too optimistic in this context.

However, it seems most odd that an engineer should suggest that alternatives are not looked at and costed when proposing a project of such magnitude as HS2.

The very point that he raises - double decker trains - surfaces within the rail industry every time a new minister of transport is appointed and visits a country where they are in use.

Unfortunately, our country is equipped with platforms aimed at easing the access to trains but which present a major restriction to the loading gauge required by practicable double decked stock that would involve rebuilding every platform along a route (and incidentally preventing existing rolling stock from collecting or discharging passengers safely, let alone complying with reduced mobility aspirations).

Added to the cost of raising electrification, raising structures and lowering track within tunnels, this represents costs of an order of magnitude greater that the recent West Coast Main Line upgrade, itself a similar cost to building an entire high speed route but with greater disruption.

However, while double decked trains are viewed by many as the solution to our capacity woes, analysis demonstrates that the increased dwell time required for stopping negates any physical capacity benefits on much of our existing network which is highly sensitive to train stopping patterns.

Other options considered are increased train lengths which affect not only platform lengths but also signalling and power, and higher speed trains. Of course, any new high speed route will be built to European GB gauge, allowing the use of off-the-shelf double decked rolling stock.

  • Professor David M Johnson (F), City Collaborative Transport Hub, City University, Northampton Square, London, EC1V 0HB

Roger Bastin places those who object to HS2 in the same category as those who objected to railways in the days of the stage coach (NCE 17 March). There is, of course, no comparison.
The coach from London to Birmingham took a couple of days, to Glasgow three to five, “God willing”. In contrast HS2 may cut half an hour off an 82 minute journey to Birmingham and an hour off one to Glasgow.
It is not the Nimbys who are barking. Instead it is those who believe the laughable forecasts. The latest provides 240,000 passengers per day from Euston, should the network be extended to Leeds and Manchester. The 240,000 would require a completely full 500-seat train every 3.75 minutes for 15 hours in each direction.
That Philip Hammond can believe such a thing is bizarre. After all, he has High Speed One as guidance.
The forecasts for that were three times as high as arose. Perhaps those who are paid to promote this latest folly are aiming at a factor of five.

  • Paul Withrington, director, Transport-watch, 12 Redland Drive, Northampton,


European flood defence cash

Jo Stimpson misses a key source of ERDF funding provided by the Interreg IV programme (Analysis last week).
There are a number of flood risk and water management projects currently co-funded in the UK. The Pennine Water Group at the Universities of Sheffield and Bradford is involved in four of these, sharing a total value in excess of £35M (50% from ERDF), of which more than £8M is being provided to UK local authorities and universities.
The many other projects being undertaken, plus the earlier Interreg III programme, have allowed innovatory flood risk management projects to be designed and in some cases, 50% funded. In the current programme, material investments are discouraged and the work is about developing approaches to ensure that delivery of the EU flood directive produces resilient systems.

Disappointingly, UK government departments with an interest in the programme show little interest in “joining-up” these initiatives and duplication of effort is common.

Professor Richard Ashley, Pennine Water Group, department of civil and structural Engineering, University of Sheffield, Mappin Street. Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1 3JD


Minding their own business

So, Transport for London(TfL) is warning that the Channel Tunnel is an item of infrastructure that is most at risk from an undefined extreme combination of flood events (News last week). Setting aside the ignoble thought that TfL et al are acting in the same way as some climate change lobbyists in chasing lurid headlines, I wonder if the risk to the Thames Barrier has been similarly assessed to the same criteria? An item of infrastructure closer to home for them in many ways. It is to be hoped that, based on their “professional informed opinion”, TfL et al have passed on their detailed concerns to Eurotunnel marked “for immediate attention”.
Guy Lance (M), Eurotunnel tunnel design manager 1987 -1991,

Costing the cracks in cast iron

Your article “Belief Structure” on the temporary works at St Jude’s was very interesting but it is unclear as to whether the cast iron columns were left in tension whilst their bases were being excavated (NCE 24 March).
There is a cost associated with determining the presence and extent of cryptocrystalline cracking in cast iron and the expense of an investigation may outweigh the cost of measures to avoid that risk.
I would be interested to know the view of the designer in this instance.

Jacek Gabrielczyk, director, consulting civil & structural engineers, 3 Dufferin Avenue, London, EC1Y 8PQ

Subtle risk assessment

I wonder how many other engineers have noticed the significant difference in motor insurance depending on how you describe your occupation. In price-checking my car insurance, there was a £60 reduction if I was an “engineering consultant” rather than a “consulting engineer” as apparently consultants have a lower risk rating than engineers.

When I recently renewed my motorbike insurance it was 6% more expensive to be a “chartered engineer” rather than a “consulting engineer”. I was asked “Which one are you?”. When I replied that I was both,
I was asked to say whether I spent more time being a chartered engineer or a consulting engineer.
Of course, my answer was the latter, as it saved me 6% on my premium!

Bill Grose (F),

Digestable argument

Anaerobic digestion of food waste (Letters last week) is a better way of dealing with what is generally a rather wet material than thermal energy recovery.

In addition to the energy obtained directly from the biogas, energy is saved through the avoidance of chemical fertilizer production by using the nutrient-rich AD residue in agriculture. And there is at least anecdotal evidence that separate collection of food waste leads to a reduction in the quantity of food waste produced through raised consumer awareness.

On a different matter, HS2 is about encouraging people to travel by rail rather than other, more energy (and hence carbon) intensive means. It is needed to accommodate modal shift, even if the overall demand for internal UK travel decreases.

William Powrie, Southampton,


Forth replacement crossing’s twisted justification

Regarding the replacement Forth crossing, you report that the “new bridge is required following a loss of strength in the cables of the original bridge” (NCE 24 March).

That is the opinion and judgement of Transport Scotland but it is not yet a fact.

The need for a new crossing will only become a fact if and when the acoustic monitoring of cable strand fractures indicates that augmentation of the existing bridge cables is impossible in the period before it needs to be closed to heavy vehicles.

The first estimate was that this could be 2014, then it became 2017.

Now, with the initial results of the success of dehumidification available and real-time acoustic monitoring in place, the probability is more likely to be 2021 in the worst case.

The stated contract period is about five years and the Fairhurst feasibility study into repairing the cables estimated about nine years.

Which begs two questions: why has the Permanent Secretary given permission for the contract to be signed during the election period, thus depriving a possible change of administration the opportunity to reconsider the whole situation, and why did Transport Scotland not draw up a separate contract for cable augmentation in parallel with work on the new bridge contract so as to keep both options open.

The preferred bidder should only be given a conditional letter of intent at this stage.

John Duncan (M),

Readers' comments (1)

  • re letter from Professor David Johnston, I would be interested in his projected costs and time scale for the HS2 to arrive in Glasgow so we from up North can benefit from his projected one hour saving. I find it incredible that people are putting forward the benefits of HS2 as a link to London, the apparent hub, yet in Scotland we have questionable bus and train links and do not seem to be able to manage a simple tram network in Edinburgh. So explain the benefits of HS2 to the people up North and their daily commute to work.

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