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Your View | Driverless cars

04 crossrail western tunnels 35507

Outlaw human controlled vehicles

In the light of recent terrorism I would like to suggest that human controlled vehicles should be made illegal.

As we move inexorably towards the transportation revolution of autonomous, driverless vehicles the debate often centres on the technology and liability issues, and progress to date demonstrates that solving these issues is clearly within our grasp as engineers and legislators.

In this rapidly evolving paradigm shift that will transform our everyday lives, perhaps the focus should now be on the imperative for driverless cars to give people an alternative to traditional public transport.

When cars are fully autonomous they will become part of the transport system, available to the public via transportation network companies, for use on an as needed basis to those who subscribe to the service. We can appreciate the environmental benefits of efficient public transport but public transport systems become essential when we wake up to the fact that humans are too unreliable to be allowed to drive cars in public places.

I think all would agree that people should not be allowed to use lethal weapons such as guns in public places. People are allowed to use guns in the controlled environments of a firing range but not in public areas. Vehicles are equally lethal weapons as has been so starkly demonstrated in the terror attacks of the past year.

Why then are people allowed to drive vehicles in public areas? Mass murders by terrorists driving vehicles into pedestrians hit the headlines, but every day people are killed by unreliable and sometimes reckless human drivers on our roads.

Civil engineers will be central to the introduction of a fully driverless car system so that human driving in public can be made illegal to prevent further deliberate and accidental killing of innocent people.

  • Jason Le Masurier (M) jasonlemasurier@googlemail.com

 

Some Costs perspective needed

Sam Price does the High Speed 2 project team and the profession no favours (Your View, last month). But perhaps that was his intention. His letter implies that the project team has been going along unsupervised and that suddenly Lord Berkeley and Michael Byng have discovered that the project will be twice the price.

The amount of oversight and review of a project of this nature and size is huge – government departments, project associations, hybrid bill committee, local authorities, environmental lobbies etcetera have all had their say.

To imply that review has not happened is disingenuous.

Let’s have a bit more balance with the facts and processes please.

  • Pete Ansell, ansell.pete@tiscali.co.uk

Point of order

I have observed that on several occasions recently, our director general and secretary has used the following postnominal letters after his signature: MA CEng FInstRE FICE. I believe this is incorrect because the Insitution of Civil Engineers (Established 1818, Royal Charter 1828) is senior to the Institution of Royal Engineers (Established 1875, Royal Charter 1923).

I should be pleased to hear from anyone who agrees/disagrees with my view and in the meantime, until I hear to the contrary, I shall persist with EurIng Alan Rees BSc BSc(Eng) CEng FICE MinstRE.

  • Alan Rees (M) alanmeirees@gmail.com

 

Controlling contingencies

The report of a round table discussion in your June edition touched on two issues which need more emphasis: planning time and the initial project budget.

04 crossrail western tunnels 35507

04 crossrail western tunnels 35507

Crossrail: Less rush, better outcome

Sir Peter Hendy, addressing TravelWatch SouthWest earlier in the year, drew a contrast between Great Western electrification and Crossrail. The first was decreed by politicians for an immediate start. Consequently there was minimal planning and no proper budget. We know the consequences and we should recognise where the responsibility lies. By contrast Crossrail required so long to get the funding together that there was ample time for design and planning, and the job has gone like clockwork. We need to get clients to acknowledge the need for planning time.

The Treasury traditionally refused to allow contingency allowances on the basis that they always get used. But there are always unknowns on a project of any size and the result was consistent overspending. Latterly, the Treasury has seen the light and introduced the concept of optimism bias. We can welcome their conversion. The provision can of course be refined down through the planning period.

  • Mike Keatinge (M Retd), Highbank, Marston Road, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 4BL

Getting a grip on High SPeed 2 Cost estimates

Your May issue of New Civil Engineer contains plenty of evidence of the difficulty of costing railway works.  Another example, of a different order of magnitude to those that you describe, is High Speed 2 (HS2).

The government maintains that the cost of the first Phase to Birmingham is about £24bn and for the whole railway £55.7bn. Lord Berkeley, who is very experienced in railway work, doubted these figures and commissioned an independent cost analysis from Michael Byng, who is the author of the RMM suite of railway cost measurement commissioned by Network Rail. Byng estimates that the cost of the first phase will be about £54bn and the cost of the whole railway over £100bn. Both figures are about twice the government’s figures. 

The government has so far been unwilling to agree to an independent assessment of the difference in these costs.

The first stages of work of the HS2 scheme are due to happen shortly, when fine trees will be cut down and buildings demolished. None of this should go ahead until the whole project has been reviewed. The independent assessment of costs is urgently needed, before more money is wasted on this ludicrous scheme.

  • Sam Price sam price samprice@tengc.net

Highway Maintenance

I found the Round Table debate on highways maintenance very thought provoking as a former county bridge engineer and, of course, therefore, a manager of a complex assets – bridges.

Those who manage bridges invariably have extensive detailed knowledge of their stock; however, they often lack the engineering resources to analyse data, to develop a management strategy, to present and articulate the case for investment to fund-holders and, eventually, to implement their plans. We need to foster and invest in our engineer talent and to share knowledge across the industry.

The UK bridge stock is a huge investment. We must invest now in whole of life thinking, life-cycle planning, preventative maintenance and building information modelling of new bridges (to provide the foundation of future asset management).

The Victorian engineers left us a heritage of robust structures. We must not hand on a heritage of life-expired or tired structures – the result of the coincidence of road development of the 1950s to 1990s and the parallel development of supporting materials science.

 Mend the roof before the ceiling gets wet!

Absolutely last thing I want to do after a  12 hour flight from Singapore or a ten hour flight from Atlanta is to drag my weary body and bags across town to a train station for another three hours of travel before I reach my final destination.

I strongly suspect that most of the 75M passengers who travel through Heathrow each year with the London area as their destination have similar views.

As evidence, I have on occasion used “local” UK airports for my convenience when then offered by United States airlines, including an excellent service from Bristol to Newark by Continental (before it was absorbed by United) and a short lived direct Edinburgh service from Atlanta by Delta.

Even one of my more favorite UK destination airports (despite its truly dreadful rental car service operation), Manchester, is now only served from Atlanta by Delta’s partner airline, Virgin Atlantic. All of these service reductions have been for one reason only – insufficient passenger interest for the local airport destination.

Other than the exciting concept of an entirely new airport (as Dallas and Denver have most successfully done in the past forty or so years) in the Thames Estuary, which may have failed for a political reason because of who dreamed it up, there really was only one viable alternative to the horrendously  complex and costly expansion to Heathrow and that was to do a similar exercise at Gatwick.

This would surely be a less costly and disruptive solution, requiring only modifications to existing road traffic routes, an improvement to the Victoria train service, the construction of the so-very-long overdue second runway and, in the perhaps longer term, a direct rail link to Heathrow.

While the Nimby and Greenie crowds would have screamed possibly even louder than they are now over Heathrow at the suggestion of another runway and a rail link, this could be placated by designating Gatwick the only short haul and charter route airport allowed for London; this would limit most passenger traffic to narrow body aircraft, leaving Heathrow to handle the larger unit volumes provided by the twin aisle long range aircraft.

It would be nice to know if anyone realistically studied such a concept.

We will always need human input

It is missing the point of history to think that robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will make things better for us. It will make things better for the corporations that employ us perhaps, but instead of gaining the time saved for creative thinking, us designers will be pressurised to run more projects and run them faster.

We will lose the ability to be involved and creative and become functionaries to the machine. After all the headline story will be “it’s all done by robots” and the shareholders will demand the maximisation of short term profits.

Look at the introduction of CAD, email, word processing and the like. All it means is that we spend less time doing engineering and more time typing, and all the admin and typing staff have gone. So the time gained is not available for thinking but helping increase profit.

It is inevitable. I am not, of course, saying ignore AI, but we at the ICE should be demanding it is used to inform not replace engineering and that an engineer who is given time to engineer is at the heart of the process. This I think is why the thrust of your article is wrong. We shouldn’t embrace AI but demand it is used wisely instead of just to boost profits by reducing intuative human thinking.

  • Michael Hann Posted online on article headed “Robots help us do more, better”

HS2 needs independent cost assessment

Your May issue of New Civil Engineer contains plenty of evidence of the difficulty of costing railway works.  Another example, of a different order of magnitude to those that you describe, is High Speed 2 (HS2). The government maintains that the cost of the first Phase to Birmingham is about £24bn and for the whole railway £55.7bn.

Lord Berkeley, who is very experienced in railway work, doubted these figures and commissioned an independent cost analysis from Michael Byng, who is the author of the RMM suite of railway cost measurement commissioned by Network Rail. Byng estimates that the cost of the first phase will be about £54bn and the cost of the whole railway over £100bn. Both figures are about twice the government’s figures. 

The government has so far been unwilling to agree to an independent assessment of the difference in these costs.

The first stages of work of the HS2 scheme are due to happen shortly, when fine trees will be cut down and buildings demolished. None of this should go ahead until the whole project has been reviewed. The independent assessment of costs is urgently needed, before more money is wasted on this ludicrous scheme.

  • Sam Price sam price samprice@tengc.net

 

 

 

 

 

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