UK government looks towards railway modernisation

Jason Ford

News editor

More than £9bn worth of railway upgrades across England and Wales are to be discussed later today at a cabinet meeting held outside London.

Announced earlier today in a written statement from transport secretary Justine Greening, the High Level Output Specification (HLOS) programme for 2014–19 represents £4.2bn of new schemes that include the creation of a so-called ‘electric spine’ running from Yorkshire and the West Midlands to south-coast ports. This would include completing the full electrification of the Midland Main Line out of London St Pancras.

Other proposals — hailed by UK prime minister David Cameron as ‘the biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian era’ — include fully electrifying the Great Western Mainline out of London Paddington, extending beyond Cardiff to Swansea; and completing the Northern Hub cluster of rail enhancements around Liverpool, Manchester and York.

The Department for Transport says the HLOS package will be funded in part from fare rises previously announced in 2010, plus ‘efficiency savings which projects [such as] electrification will have on the long-term operating costs of the railways’.

In her written statement, Greening said: ‘Previous governments have underinvested in rail. We will not repeat those mistakes. This is a government with a long-term vision for a modern and efficient rail system that supports growth and improves competitiveness.’

Ofgem too has announced proposals that would lead to the upgrading and renewal of Britain’s electricity and gas networks.

According to the regulator, the majority of the proposed £15bn investment would include the upgrade and renewal of the high-voltage electricity network in England and Wales, and the high-pressure gas networks across Britain; networks that are operated by National Grid.

The package would fund projects such as new sub-sea electricity cables linking England/Wales and Scotland.

The regulator adds that an estimated £7bn would help to ensure that low-pressure gas networks — supplying homes and businesses — remain safe and reliable. The money would fund the continued maintenance across Britain of the gas distribution network, in particular, the gas mains-replacement programme.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology has been in touch with a reminder that there’s still time to enter the organisation’s Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards (YWE).

IET says the awards are designed to ‘honour the most dynamic and inspiring young female engineers in the UK, highlighting their achievements while encouraging others to enter the profession’.

In publicity material, Linda Deleay, IET awards and prizes manager, said: ‘The recognition of the best young female engineers who have entered the industry through a variety of routes and secured a strong future for themselves will hopefully inspire other young women to strive for more and consider engineering as a worthwhile career.’

IET says the deadline for entries is Monday 30 July. The awards ceremony takes place on 6 December in central London and the winner will receive a trophy and cheque for £2,500.

The Nanotechnology Knowledge Transfer Network is holding a one-day event this week entitled Nanotechnology — Partnership for Progress.

Hosted by the NanoKTN, BIS, Defra and SAFENANO, the event, taking place tomorrow at the BIS Conference Centre in London, will see David Willetts, minister of state for universities and science, and Lord Taylor of Holbeach, parliamentary under-secretary of state in Defra, talk about the government’s plans regarding nanotechnology.

Lord Taylor will open the event with his keynote presentation looking at the new governance arrangements for nanotechnologies, and how the government is working together with industry to set a strategic direction for nanotechnology in the UK.

David Willetts will deliver the second keynote talk focusing on how nanotechnologies will contribute to Britain’s future. There will also be opportunities for delegates to ask questions following talks from the ministers.

This Sunday sees IET Gloucestershire Network planning a visit to the Vulcan XM655 Maintenance and Preservation Society in Warwickshire, which is home to a restored Vulcan XM655 .

The 655 Maintenance and Preservation Society’s website informs us: ‘Avro Vulcan XM655 was third from last of the Vulcan bombers produced for the Royal Air Force, being delivered in late 1964, and was part of the UK’s nuclear deterrent force throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

‘It is now owned by Wellesbourne Airfield and is looked after by 655 Maintenance and Preservation Society (655MaPS), which is a volunteer organisation of Vulcan enthusiasts.’

In civilian hands, XM655 has had to endure certain indignities, such as being broken into and vandalised. The perpetrators damaged cockpit instruments and made off with the co-pilot’s control column.

The dedicated team of Vulcan restoration enthusiasts has, however, got the aircraft into a condition where it can be powered up and ‘exercised regularly’.

Now then, Briefing is supposed to be a look ahead to events taking place around the UK and sometimes beyond.

However, a gentleman called last Friday afternoon asking if I’d like to receive some news about an event that saw engineers give so-called City Boys a bit of a hiding.

Organised by Randstad, the event pitted sector professionals against one another to see who could rack up the fastest lap time in an F1 simulator.

Randstad, a partner of the Williams F1 team, tells us that as a sector, engineers managed the fastest average laptime of 1.57.482, beating the 1.59.678 set by the manufacturing sector, with construction employees finishing third. Bankers finished second bottom with a time of 2.17.528.

In a statement, Owen Goodhead, managing director of Randstad CPE, said: ‘The lap times threw up some surprising results and confounded some of the stereotypes labelled to certain City jobs.

‘We all know bankers work at a high-octane pace, but they couldn’t translate that speed and intensity into a winning lap time.

‘It was engineers whose skills proved the most relevant and who were able to clock the fastest time.’