Highways England installs next generation motorway signs

Highways England has installed the first of a new generation of digital road signs on a stretch of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon.

Described as variable message signs, they have been developed in a collaboration between infrastructure company Costain, which is delivering the roadside controller, and Swarco, the manufacturer of the signs.

It is the first step in a deployment programme for the signs set to run into next year and cover the M20, M23 and M1 as part of Highways England’s Smart Motorways programme.

Costain and Swarco said the new signs use high resolution colour optical technology components that provide for clearer messages and graphics to be displayed in all weather conditions. They can also display live video pictures of congestion on the road ahead.

In addition, fewer materials and less cabling than usual have been used, which should minimise maintenance requirements.

The Smart Motorways programme is an element of Highways England’s business plan aimed at increasing road capacity more quickly and at a lower cost than road widening schemes. It involves the use of new technology to monitor traffic levels, regulate speed limits to smooth traffic flows, activate warning sign of congestion and hazards ahead, and close lanes when necessary.

It was first applied to the M42 in 2006. Highways England has said it has improved journey reliability by 22% and personally injury accidents by more than half. When the latter has occurred they have been less severe.


Telia toys with facial recognition for ice cream payments

In the ever-lasting search for 5G usecases, Telia has teamed-up with Finnish bank OP to trial facial recognition payment solutions.

While facial recognition technologies are taking a bit of a reputational beating at the moment, there are promising usecases in the pipeline. The issue which is not being discussed here, though certainly warrants more attention in the public domain, is the ethical, responsible and transparent application of the technology.

However, this example, authenticating payments, would appear to be a very logical application of the technology.

Firstly, biometrics are becoming increasingly normalised in payments and financial services authentication through fingerprints or vocal recognition, this is just one step further. Secondly, it is theoretically more secure than current identification and authentication techniques. And finally, banks already have trusted relationships with the consumer, and are yet to be caught up with a privacy scandal.

“Facial payment is a good example of a service that benefits from the capacity increase and lower latency of 5G,” said Janne Koistinen, Head of Telia Finland’s 5G programme. “5G will also take the security of mobile connections to the next level, which is interesting for example for payment and other financial services.”

Using the biometric template uploaded through a camera prior to the purchase with the customers bank, a connected device is used by the merchant to authenticate the individual. The customer then authorises the purchase with a simple click once their face has been recognised.

However, 5G would appear to be key here, largely thanks to the advances in lower latency which can be experienced. Slow service could certainly hinder experience and the commercial benefits promised.

“Besides security, a smooth user experience is important for customers,” said Kristian Luoma, Head of OP Lab. “5G makes the service faster and is therefore the perfect partner for Pivo Face Payment. We believe that the trial with Telia opens a new window to the future.”

Although fingerprints and vocal patterns are theoretically unique to each person, there are environmental factors which might hinder authentication. For example, dirt or grease stop the fingerprint reader from worker, or background noise could impact performance for vocal readers.

Facial recognition is also cheaper. Most smartphones or tablets already have a camera, so no specialist equipment needs to be built into the devices. The camera does not need to be high-end, just functional, therefore the expense is mainly on the software side. It is also a lot more accessible, in that everyone has a face and rarely covers it up when in a store.

For the moment, this trial has been limited to an ice-cream van in Vallila, though it is easy to see the wider applications in numerous different settings.

The challenge which such initiatives might face is the increasingly negative perception of facial recognition. This reputation the technology is working up is largely down to the unethical or secretive application in surveillance. This is a much larger topic which needs to be discussed in the public domain, however this initiative does demonstrate the benefits of facial recognition.


Yorkshire Water first in sector to eliminate chlorine gas

Yorkshire Water has announced that has become the first company in the water sector to eliminate all ageing chlorine and sulphur dioxide gas use from its water treatment works in a bid remove any risk of toxic gas escapes.

The £14 million project has taken two years to complete and involved replacement of dosing systems at 10 of its water treatment works.

The decision was taken on health and safety grounds to eradicate the risk of a worst-case scenario major toxic gas leak.

Yorkshire Water has replaced the gas disinfection system with a mix of sodium hypochlorite and sodium bisulphite chemical dosing systems, which contain only 15 per cent chlorine solution, posing significantly less risk.

Mark Broady, Yorkshire Water’s project manager, said: “There are no regulatory compliance orders requesting us to remove chlorine gas to treat water, but we have come to the conclusion that it is a hazardous system.

“Its removal was identified as a core element of our Safety Improvement Plan, which aims to make us a market leader when it comes to health and safety. Our new sodium-based liquid dosing systems deliver the same standard of treated water compliance, without any health and safety risks to our staff or the public that chlorine poses.”


New train station part of £218m Chelmsford regeneration

As part of a major £218m regeneration of Chelmsford, a new train station is set to be constructed to improve transport infrastructure in the area.

The new station is set to be built at the Beaulieu Park estate, providing access to the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML), running to and from London.

Construction of the new Beaulieu railway station would improve reliability on the whole line, as it would allow trains to pass each other at the new station, as well as relieve crowding at Chelmsford station.

Currently, the railway station at Chelmsford is the busiest two-platform station in the UK outside of London, with it reaching full capacity during peak periods. An estimated 8.5 million passenger trips are completed at the station per year – more than the likes of Nottingham or Oxford railway stations.

The new station at Beaulieu would ease this congestion, providing at least four trains per hour towards London.

Building the new station fits into the wider regeneration project for the region, with new road infrastructure and more than 10,000 homes also being build as part of the project.


Artist’s impression of the new station set to be built at the Beaulieu Park estate, as part of the Chelmsford regeneration project

Having been submitted as part of a Housing Infrastructure Funds (IHF) bid, Essex County Council confirmed that funding for the project had been approved by the Government. The bid had been supported by Essex County Council, as well as City, Borough and District Councils and local MPs.

More than half of the national £600m will be directed towards Essex following the Government approval; £218m being set out for Chelmsford, and a further £99m for nearby Colchester.

In advocating for the funding, Essex County Council described Chelmsford as the driver of the regional economy and stated it required a transport network to match if it was to properly facilitate future growth.


BT streamlining continues with reported £100m Dutch infrastructure sale

UK telco group BT is reportedly flogging £100 million of infrastructure assets in The Netherlands as its new CEO strives to make it a leaner operation.

BT doesn’t seem to have said anything official yet, but the Sunday Times got the scoop regardless. Apparently this is part of an attempt to streamline the struggling Global Services business, as BT currently uses its own infrastructure, such as towers and cables, to connect its Dutch business customers.

There’s not much more to the report other than a claim that, while BT is also looking to streamline its Global Services operations in other regions, including Ireland, Spain and Latin America, it doesn’t plan to completely abandon specific countries.

The report also refers to a previous Sunday Times scoop that BT is also flogging a legal software service called Tikit. It’s reasonable to ask what the hell BT was doing in the legal software business in the first place and if this is indicative of the kind of wild tangents the Global Services business has gone off on in the past, we can expect many more such disposals.

This news comes just days after it was revealed that BT was forced to hand over a bunch of cash to Ofcom due to its historical accounting incompetence. In addition BT announced last week that it was delisting from the New York stock exchange and earlier in the month decided to flog BT Fleet Solutions. Sadly for CEO Philip Jansen, none of this tweaking seems to have won over investors, with BT’s share price down by over 30% since he took over at the start of the year.


Welsh Water names contractors on renewable energy programme

Welsh Water has named HBS New Energies, Absolute Solar and Wind, Centrica and Anesco as the principal PV contractors to deliver phase 2 of its Glas Advantage Renewable Energy Programme.

The framework will see a combination of ground-mounted, floating and rooftop solar PV systems developed across 21 water and wastewater treatment sites, enabling the company to take a major step towards becoming a world-class, resilient and sustainable water service.

Welsh Water already boasts more than 6MW of solar assets across its portfolio of water treatment facilities but, with an annual energy consumption of 460GWh, its operations require vast amounts of electricity to provide critical water and wastewater services to its service network.

This second phase of solar projects is set to help Welsh Water press ahead with its ambitions to harness more solar power, providing significant inroads to achieving its 30 per cent onsite renewable energy generation target by the end of 2019.

HBS New Energies has been successful in securing two lots from a possible four on the two-year framework. With a total capacity of more than 3.4MWp, the roof- and ground-mounted solar projects will vary in size from 50 kWp up to 1MWp.

Earlier this year, HBS New Energies kickstarted Welsh Water’s latest solar programme, successfully completing phase 1 against tight deadlines and challenging weather conditions.

By retro-fitting a range of roof-integrated and fixed framework PV systems, HBS unlocked the value of unused roof space at five water and wastewater treatment sites. The solar panels are now helping to power the Welsh water utility’s operations with reliable and cost effective zero-carbon electricity.

Its team is now in the process of conducting in-depth feasibility, surveys and coordinating final system designs ready for submission. HBS will be managing every aspect of design, development, supply, construction and operation and maintenance of the solar PV installations.

James Bull, managing director at HBS New Energies, said: “Being appointed as one of Welsh Water’s strategic solar delivery partners is a great achievement for HBS and continues our strategy of working alongside forward-thinking UK water utilities.

“With firm aims to become more self-sufficient in its energy generation, this significant deployment of on-site solar projects will play a key role in helping Welsh Water take control of energy costs and move closer to achieving its carbon reduction target.

“We are looking forward to be partnering once again with Welsh Water and drive forward the next phase of this exciting solar programme.”



Drivers have been fined almost £1m for stopping in this yellow box junction near Piccadilly Circus

An ordinary-looking yellow-box junction in front of the world-famous Ritz Hotel has been revealed as a huge cash cow for motoring fines.

Covering three lanes of traffic in Piccadilly’s junction with Berkeley Street, it has single-handedly raised millions of pounds for Westminster Council in recent years.

And sitting about 600 yards from Piccadilly Circus, it is the only yellow-box junction in the whole borough where fines, or Penalty Charge Notices, are handed out.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request, the council council said the junction raised £902,980 from 6,946 PCNs in 2016/17 ― the equivalent of £2,473 every day.

However the number of fines issued at the junction ― where drivers are penalised for stopping in the yellow grid ― has been falling each year.

In 2017/18, there were 6,416 PCNs issued to motorists at the junction, raising £834,080.

Then in 2018/19, it fell to 4,595 fines, providing £597,350 for the council’s coffers.

The council argues that the junction often suffers from “inconsiderate drivers” who block the turning, and that the yellow-box has helped ease congestion.

Last month it was revealed that Westminster Council made £16.5 million from 313,000 PCNs in the 2018 calendar year, earning more than every local authority up and down the country.

Bad parking, using bus lanes, stopping in yellow-box junctions, and turning right and no-turn junctions, are all common offences that millions of motorists caught out by councils’ security cameras.

The council also named Oxendon Street, a side road adjacent to the Prince of Wales Theatre, as the location where more PCNs (5,030) were issued than anywhere else in the borough in 2018/19.

Many London councils justify the huge figures by using the cash for road maintenance. Unlike councils in the rest of England, they do not receive Government funding to spend on fixing the capital’s highways – 95 per cent of which are looked after by London’s 32 councils.

Last month, a report by the London Councils group said: “In 2018/19 alone, London authorities spent £96.8 million on carriageways, £83.6 million on structures, £76.3 million on footways, and £67.3 million on lighting.”

Westminster council deputy leader Tim Mitchell, said: “Inconsiderate drivers blocking this junction cause congestion which disrupts the lives of people travelilng through the city.

“Since we started enforcement action in the area we have seen a significant reduction in those breaking the rules – easing congestion on Piccadilly, one of London’s busiest roads.

“The camera will be moved to another location when the number of driving offences on the junction falls to an acceptable level.

“With over a million daily visitors and many of the country’s biggest attractions it would be a surprise if Westminster wasn’t at the top of the list for PCNs. All of the money we raise through parking is reinvested in transport schemes including green schemes like our schools clean air fund and our diesel surcharge – which has led to a 16 per cent reduction in older diesel vehicles entering the city.”


North of England leaders demand ‘Northern Budget’ to boost region

Key leaders from across the North of England have called for Government commitment to a ‘Northern Budget’ which could be used to deliver a boost to the region’s infrastructure.

The call has been backed by board members of Transport for the North (TfN), and asks the new Government to deliver on commitments previously promised to the region’s more than 15 million people as part of the Northern Powerhouse agenda.

Northern leaders have suggested that this budget could help the North’s economic fortunes flourish.

Chancellor Sajid Javid announced just days ago a fast-tracked spending round for Government departments for the next year.

As part of the call, leaders from the North have asked for a commitment to three core ‘asks’ in order to get the bare essential in better transport infrastructure in the short, medium and long-term.

Those core commitments included:

  • A £7bn Northern Infrastructure Pipeline – a list of shovel-ready road and rail projects to be delivered by the mid-2020s.
  • Building the full £39bn Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) network by 2040.
  • A £1bn for TfN over the next three years to deliver on its vision, including funding for the development of Northern Powerhouse Rail and other road and rail schemes.

New Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already pledged to boost infrastructure in the North by delivering a new high-speed rail line between Manchester and Leeds.

Barry White, chief executive of Transport for the North, said: “The North is now at the top of the national political agenda, with promises to balance out the UK’s economy and unleash our potential by better connecting our towns and cities.

“We now need a Northern Budget to make both the shovel-ready projects and the ambitious longer-term programmes like Northern Powerhouse Rail a reality.

“Closing the productivity gap between North and South is essential if we’re to compete on a global stage – but the North’s constrained by creaking infrastructure.

“Whilst the Government is planning for a one-year spending round for its departments against a Brexit backdrop, there is no reason why we can’t see real commitment and recognition of the ambitious pipeline of infrastructure investments the North so badly needs.”

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, added: “Government may look different, but our ‘asks’ are not.

“We’re consistent and focussed in our plan for what infrastructure the north needs to unlock its full potential, not just for its own benefit, but for the whole UK.

“A ‘Northern Budget’ would be the ultimate demonstration of commitment.”


5G devices pass 100 mark – GSA

The number of devices now available to 5G enthusiasts has now passed the 100 milestone, demonstrating how quickly 5G is being thrust onto the world.

The hype surrounding 5G cannot be under-played currently. Not only do you have numerous telcos bragging about the speeds available directly below one of the very few 5G cell sites around the country, the devices manufacturers are starting to join the race.

According to the Global mobile Suppliers Association, GSA, as of August 1 there are 100 identifiable devices which are compatible with the 5G connectivity euphoria. In comparison to 4G, not only are 5G networks being deployed much quicker, the devices are much more readily available. For those who suggest consumer and enterprise adoption will be quicker as well, such reports from the GSA will add a lot of credibility.

Looking at the list, 26 smartphones have been identified, nine of which are now commercially available, while eight hotspots (three commercially available) have been clocked and 26 CPE devices (eight commercially available). The commercially available devices might be expensive for the moment, however when more hit the market we suspect a price war might start to emerge as well as more mid-range devices.

Outside of the devices mentioned above, 28 modules are ready, two snap-on dongles, two routers, two IOT routers, two drones, one laptop, one switch, one USB terminal and one robot. There certainly is a wide variety of products available for everyone and anyone looking to get their 5G fix.

What is worth noting is this is only the beginning. 100 devices before a scaled rollout might seem like a lot, but consider the IOT promise in the 5G world, there will soon enough be thousands of different devices for all the different, ridiculous and unimaginable use cases which will be presented.


Highways England teams weigh in with one tonne donation for food banks

Food banks coping with the increasing number of families in crisis over the school holidays have been given more than one tonne of food and essential items by teams working on Highways England schemes.

Almost 1000kg of items was collected by the teams taking care of motorways and main A roads across the East Midlands while workers carrying out the widening of the A500 in Staffordshire delivered 37kg of goods to help people in need and are continuing to collect.

From tinned goods to pasta and rice, to tea bags and toilet rolls, a shopping list of foods desperately needed by food banks for the emergency parcels was collected.

The donations came as the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank provider, revealed a 20 per cent increase in the number of food parcels going to children over the summer holidays last year.

Recent figures from the trust showed that 87,496 food parcels went to children in the UK during the summer break in 2018, 20 per cent up on the same period in 2017.

And the Trussell Trust expects demand this year to be as high as families who are entitled to free school meals during term time feel the extra financial pressure over the summer break.

To help those in local communities who risk going hungry this summer, staff from Highways England and the East Midlands Asset Delivery (EMAD) partnership organised collections at offices across the region – covering Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire.

The huge collection weighing almost one tonne included 156 tins of baked beans, 170 tins of tuna, 90 bags of pasta, 139 jars of cooking sauces, 155 tins of vegetables, 40 boxes of tea bags, 79 toilet rolls and over 300 nappies. The collections were divided up to go to three food banks in the region.

Highways England Assistant Contract Collaboration Manager Nicola Tomlinson said:

“This fantastic contribution from all of our suppliers really does take working collaboratively to the next level. I’m astounded by the generosity of the workforces and hope our donation will make a big difference to families in communities across our region.”

Kay Fleming, Framework Manager for nmcn, said “I’ve never seen so many tins of beans and I used to work in a shop! I’m so proud of the East Midlands’ Customer and People team who promoted this worthwhile cause.”

Meanwhile in Staffordshire, members of the Highways England and Osborne A500 Etruria Widening Team recently dropped off a delivery of food to the Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank, part of the Trussell Trust network.

The A500 is being widened from two to three lanes in both directions between Porthill (A5271) and Wolstanton (A527) as part of a £17.5 million upgrade.

A collection box has been set up at the site office for food donations and the first delivery was made just before the schools broke up for summer. Collections will now continue over the duration of the scheme, due to finish autumn 2020.

Kimberley Wild, Osborne Performance Manager, said:

“We continue to try to find opportunities to engage and help local communities where possible, particularly when we are effectively part of the community for a period of time, through our work. We hope that the food bank will be successful and help support the community.”

Nigel Webster, from the Bulwell and Bestwood Foodbank in Nottingham, thanked EMAD for their donation and told how stocks were running low this time of year while Gareth Duffield, the Trussell Trust’s Area Manager for Birmingham and Northern Counties, added:

“We’re so glad food banks in our network could benefit from the collection organised by Highways England to help support people facing crisis. We have seen a record demand in food bank use in the past decade, with more and more people struggling to afford the basics. This isn’t right.

“We’re continually blown away by people’s support to provide emergency help, and ultimately work towards a future without hunger and poverty.”