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The case for HS2
Sean Davies's interview with Professor Andrew McNaughton (May 2013, http://bit.ly/13AJYPj) was very revealing. As chief engineer and technical director, Professor McNaughton is responsible for the HS2 project engineering, a responsibility he describes with admirable detachment and gravitas. We, the readers and taxpayers, should have confidence in his ability to meet the defining principles of the project, i.e. to increase the capacity of routes into London and to assist in the development of connectivity between the major cities of the Midlands and the North.
Unfortunately, it looks to me as though there has been a substandard analysis of how to satisfy these defining principles and he has been handed a route and a business model drawn up by those currently in government. As a consequence, he has had to adopt some dubious justifications for the proposed network route and timescale.
For example, he cites the Japanese network as being closer to the UK model than that adopted by the French, since their major cities are lined up in a row. And yet the busiest and earliest TGV line built in France connects the three principal cities; Paris, Lyon and Marseille. How is that different from a line connecting London, Birmingham and Manchester?
Secondly, Professor McNaughton claims that the extended timeline of HS2 construction works to everyone's advantage because the technology available in 2026 can be selected for the first phase of the project. It must be an engineering manager's dream to have a project schedule reaching so far into the future and no need to take decisions on technology for over a decade. Why not wait a generation and see what will be available then?
No. Rather than trying to outdo other countries' transport systems, surely what Britain needs is something adequate that can be achieved in the shortest time possible. There is a lot to be done. One only has to travel on the extensive network on the European continent to see what can be achieved and started to be achieved 30 years ago.
John Jaques CEng
Don't blame Beeching
It is a common fallacy that the railway closures of the 1960s were entirely a result of Richard Beeching's 1963 report, and the article 'Fifty years on' in the May 2013 issue of E&T (http://bit.ly/14b7KR6) does little to refute this view. Indeed, the maps entitled before and after Beeching and dated 1963 and 1984 would appear to support this claim.
Closures were taking place before the report was issued. In the area around Cheltenham, the lines from Andoversford to Marlborough and Andover, and from Tewkesbury to Upton-on-Severn, were closed in 1961, followed by Cheltenham to Kingham in 1962. Nevertheless, the map dated 1963 still includes all these lines, and in reality shows the state of the network certainly no later than mid-1961.
These early closures appear to have been done on a fairly random basis. What Beeching did was to provide an overall plan for slimming down the entire rail network to the point where it had a chance of paying its way.
It is not too surprising that more lines were closed down during the first two years of the Labour administration than in 1963, as closing a railway could be a long drawn-out process. The Andoversford to Andover line was proposed for closure in November 1959, but the need for detailed costings, meetings with the trade unions and the Transport Users' Consultative Committee, determination of alternative facilities, and settling of agreements for the War Office and a private siding delayed confirmation until June 1961. After due notice, closure was finally achieved on 11 September 1961. Thus many of the lines earmarked for closure in the report issued on 27 March 1963 would not have closed until after the general election on 15'October 1964, because not all the necessary procedures had been completed in time.
Mike Barnsley MIET
Space solar and TV
If solar power beamed from space is used to meet our energy demands ('Beam it Down', May 2013, http://bit.ly/17E0Yr3), TV can improve its economics. The frequency used to beam down the power could be modulated with TV broadcast signals to cover some of the Earth's surface that has a line-of-sight view of the space power satellite.
Although most of the RF will be concentrated into a narrow beam, the inevitable diffraction will cause sufficient RF power to spill over into surrounding areas to provide TV coverage. It may also be possible to supplement GPS coverage in this way. These services would offer revenue streams in addition to power generation. In fact, carrying TV signals would help frequency allocation because solar-power satellites could transmit on frequencies presently allocated to satellite TV.
'Getting a purchase on AR' (May 2013, http://bit.ly/Z0LUAV) highlights some interesting ways that retailers will be able to promote their products using augmented reality. On the basis of their past behaviour, however, it seems very likely that they will use the new technology to continue presenting half-truths and hyperbolic misinformation in an even more compelling way than ever before.
Technology is a tool, and as its use becomes ever more pervasive the opportunities for businesses to put pressure on people to buy things that are either unhealthy or inappropriate for their needs will increase.
As retailers make more effective use of increasingly pervasive and engaging media, the battles fought by our public health professionals over diet choices and food quality will continue to be lost. They should by now have wised up and used similar tactics with a much more aggressive stance towards companies that use misleading hyperbole to secure business success at the expense of public health.
Dr Peter Grossi CEng MIET
A man who sold fake bomb detectors to Iraq and other countries has been convicted of fraud. The news reports say he did not try to sell the devices in Britain, but presumably the Ministry of Defence takes a close interest in bomb-detection technology. Did the devices need an export licence? Did British or American troops notice the thousands that were in use at checkpoints in Iraq? Yes they did, a brigadier gave evidence. So did anybody ask about them, thinking what a useful bit of kit that would be for our troops? Did nobody have enough technical knowledge to suspect that they were useless?
Richard Riggs MIET
The photo accompanying a description of the BlackBerry Z10 handset in the Gadgets section of the May 2013 issue of E&T actually shows a BlackBerry Q10. Our reviews of both are online at www.eandtmagazine.com.