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Letters: Will the overseas high-speed rail model work for the UK?

The main point:

High speed

High speed: Shouldn’t we be doing it our way?

I was astonished to read that UK cities are too closely spaced for high speed rail (NCE last week). Presumably they’ll have to dig themselves up and move if they want a station on the line?

Ridiculous, of course, but this is the fatuous level to which the UK high speed rail debate has sunk. Rather than propose a model of high speed operation fit for purpose in the UK, the experts say that their preferred French or Japanese model doesn’t fit UK geography and our cities are in the wrong place.

This is a challenge that engineers must take up. We have to work out why we need it and, above all, we have to demystify it. It’s only a new intercity railway where the trains go faster and the slower freight and commuter traffic is excluded. It doesn’t need to slavishly follow existing main lines.

We should rejoice that it is possible to fit most UK provincial cities on to a single route and cater for the remainder with short spurs and loops − a vastly cheaper and better network than current transport planners’ proposals.

  • Colin Elliff (M), 20 Hartley Road, Harrogate HG2 9DQ

Is not the announcement of the high speed line linking London, the Midlands and Scotland to the west of the Pennines (NCE 3 September) a political decision on route selection?

Since the conversion of the politicians to high speed rail in recent months, there has not been adequate time to undertake a proper economic assessment into alternative systems.

In addition to the Network Rail proposal, assessment should be made of a route beyond Tamworth via Nottingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and on to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

I think this route would provide a better economic case, with larger tranches of the UK population covered, hence more journeys, and being less expensive in not having to go through the Lake District nor over Beattock.

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

Faster rail trips from town centre to town centre may chop some time off a journey, but in the sum of daily movements of traffic it would be only a marginal improvement in the convenience of travellers.

If public funds have to be employed then the optimisation required is in public benefit for the investment. I would be looking for an upgrade of the total transport scene. This means long, fast unencumbered runs to regional hubs on greenfield sites from which to link towns, international airports and east to west links by road, rail, trams or whatever.

The car takes us door to door with our baggage and, unless the outcome competes in cost and time, I wouldn’t want to fund it. There is nothing in the proposal for Wales, the south west, Yorkshire and the north east, for a start.

  • WB Jepson, Westwood House, 241 Hagley Road, Pedmore, Stourbridge, West Midlands DY8 2JP


Best option for London’s stormwater overflow


Source: PA Archive/PA Photos

Thames: Where should the water go?

The head of the London Tideway Tunnels (NCE 30 July) considers that it is “totally unacceptable” for stormwater overflows from the combined sewerage system in London to discharge into the tidal Thames.

But the present situation, which has been going on for many years, does not greatly affect most citizens who may be more concerned with any likely increase in sewerage charges.

The introduction of mobile ship-mounted oxygen-generating plant has to some extent already reduced the risk of creating a sag curve in the oxygen level in the river. It is suggested that the provision of further oxygenating plant and or separators at storm outfalls should probably constitute a lower cost option.

  • WJF Ray, Abbeydale, 33 Alma Road, Reigate RH2 0DH


No loophole

I would like to offer a note of reassurance about the article by Bernadette Redfern quoting Alex Stephenson’s concern about the apparent “where practicable” Suds loophole (NCE last week).

Under statute law relating to health and safety, it is well established that “reasonably practicable” infers a consideration of risk balanced against resources necessary to implement appropriate controls, while “practicable” infers that, if a control is technically possible, it must be implemented irrespective of the associated resources, be they time, trouble or cost. So I would suggest that the Bill is appropriately worded and does not offer the loophole suggested.

  • Ken Paxman (M),

Quality in doubt

As one who uses Birmingham International Airport on a regular basis, I was interested to read the article “Ready for take off” (NCE 10 September). My own experience is, however, somewhat jaded.

One reason is the apparent lack of staff in the security/screening halls. Unfortunately, I have found this to be the norm and it has resulted in queuing for more than an hour. Too much time spent in security obviously leaves less time in departure, which reduces the pre-flight commercial potential of the airport.

May I suggest to Bimingham International operations director Will Heynes that while I am grateful for the infrastructure, there is a lot more to do “to produce something of high quality”.

  • Peter Barnett (M),

ICE Relic of the past

So, One Great George Street gets gold (NCE last week). Wow! Well done. But I wonder what that news really means for me, far away in Aberdeen and in these tough economic times?

I’m thinking: just who owns One Great George Street? And that leads to other questions. If it is owned by the membership, then does it provide the best return to us for its market value? And just what is the market value of One Great George Street?

Do we really need this very grand building in Westminster in 2009? Could we sell it? What effect would selling, and acquiring less-grand out of town premises, have on funding the profession into the future and on subscription fees?

What would be lost by selling? Is it not just a fond relic of the past, not consistent with today’s realities? Haven’t many large and cost-conscious organisations such as the BBC and BP partially moved out of London?

So just what are the benefits to the membership of owning One Great George Street − has sale of it ever been considered?

There again, if it is not owned by the membership, then the obvious query is can we really afford the cost of leasing what must be a high-cost building? What would be lost if we move out of town and what would be the cost/benefits?

  • Graham R Sharp (M), Townhead Steading AB41 8PX

Defining ourselves

I was interested to read Tom Foulkes’ comment on fair access to the professions and civil engineering in particular (NCE 20/27 August). It seems from what he said that civil engineering is giving fair access to all sections of the community, which is good.

But it would be interesting to know the proportions from the different levels of society coming into civil engineering. For example, is the proportion of young people from social group AB similar for civil engineering as for architecture, law or medicine? If it is different, why is that and what is the ICE proposing to do about it?

Personally I don’t think that CEng is a professional qualification because there is no reserved body of work, no legal recognition and no protected title.

Professions in the 21st century − such as law, accountancy, medicine, architecture, teaching and pharmacy − all display one or more of these characteristics.

If we were living in 1800 then engineering may count as a profession, but things have moved on since then. The public and politicians expect professions to look after themselves. Most have done, but not engineering.

I would consider myself an engineer or technical specialist, not really a professional. It certainly doesn’t rank alongside the above mentioned professions.

  • Bruce Latimer [M],

More innovation

The comments of Screwfast’s Duncan McGregor about the difficulty of small firms supplying innovative and cost-saving products to large enterprises, public or private (NCE last week), has a familiar ring.

Bids require “proven product, satisfied customers and four years trading accounts”, making innovation impossible.

It’s a good job that Charles Vignoles in 1843 did not wait around for Britain’s railways to adopt the flat-bottom rail in 1951 and, thank goodness, that overseas railways were more enterprising.

  • Lewis Lesley, technical director,

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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