National Archives 2003-05-15

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Arrived at PRO much as usual. Files requested include MT 89/217 (UK and the Euroroutes), MT 120/51 (road design—general), and MT 100/12 (ultimate carriageway widths of trunk roads). This selection reflects an intent to scope, and not take notes actively, until the digital camera arrives and is available for photoreproduction work.

MT 89/217

Covering dates 1966-1972 apparently with some extracts from earlier, eg 1950, when Alfred Barnes (MinT) was being grilled as to his dept’s position WRT Euroroutes. Sticker indicates opening date of 2003 but stamp indicates “accelerated opening” so not clear when this file actually became open. This file covers an initiative sponsored by Nigel Despicht, a senior MOT civil servant, to radically expand the UK network of Euroroutes, which started in 1966. At the time Despicht and the working party he organized drew up their proposals, the UK had just two Euroroutes of significant length—loosely following the M6 and A1 north of B’ham latitude, with connections between London and Southampton/Dover—and it was felt that the UK, as possibly the most advanced industrial country in Europe, should have an Euroroute network comparable to the very dense one in the Low Countries, the Ruhr, Northern Italy, etc. Large numbers of entirely domestic E-routes were proposed within England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland in particular made ambitious Euroroute proposals. These were submitted to the European Conference on Ministers of Transport (which in those cold-war days had become the main deciding body for Euroroute proposals, with UNECE becoming just a rubber stamp), where the Euroroute proposals covering the M4 and a M4-M50 connector were thrown out because they were not felt to be of European importance, nearly all of Scotland’s proposals were rejected (in their protests over this, the SDD said that the Highlands were now becoming touristically important and that overlength Italian motorcoaches were getting bogged down on the single-track road between Fort William and Mallaig, which however was not on an Euroroute although a parallel corridor had been proposed as an Euroroute), and only some of Northern Ireland’s proposals made it through, because many of them depended on links with the Irish Republic which had not yet acceded to the Declaration on an European route network.

In 1950, when the Declaration covering Euroroutes was formulated, Britain held back from ambitious Euroroute proposals because several other countries, including France, were trying to develop the Euroroute network into a system of safe routes for abnormal loads. Britain did not want to expose itself to efforts to harmonize with European weight/dimension standards which might cost a lot and not have much effect on international trade. Thus, Britain acquiesced in the development of a relatively small Euroroute network, and kept itself out of the conferences designed to make the Euroroutes a HGV route network. It was considered beneficial that although the Euroroutes came with signing requirements and minimum geometric design standards, it was envisaged that the signing and improvement to minimum standards would occur within the framework of national road improvement programmes with no fixed timespan, and that international finance might be made available for some cross-border improvements.

But by 1966 there had been an explosion of RORO ferry development, and cross-border finance had been used to plan and construct some motorways (eg Brenner motorway). Hence, Despicht’s group wanted an expanded UK Euroroute network for a number of reasons—

• Convince potential business partners abroad that Britain had a sophisticated industrial base comparable to that of the Low Countries, Ruhr, Northern Italy etc. The general idea was that since the Euroroutes were political designations, in the PR sense, and didn’t carry any time-limited obligations or support, Britain should push them for explicitly political reasons. Specifically, it was felt that it should take an inset on a single-sheet map to show all the Euroroutes in a major British industrial center, like Newcastle, in much the same way that insets were necessary for the Low Countries, and thus inflate Britain’s prominence in this way; • Create a rationale/possible framework for cross-border road improvements connecting the UK with other countries having Euroroutes, such as Ireland via routes crossing the land border, or France via some form of fixed link.

However, the UK’s success at obtaining rapid expansion of Euroroute network in the British Isles was only partially successful. Signing was a running controversy as well. UK Euroroutes’ connections with mainland continuations were (without exception?) via RORO ferry ports. Although most of the inland portions of Euroroutes were trunk roads, the Euroroutes (or feasible routings thereof) in the vicinity of RORO ferry ports were local-authority-maintained. There was no machinery for the MOT to require local authorities to put up Euroroute signs or to fund them for doing that. Meanwhile, it was generally agreed that the Euroroute signs were most necessary at port facilities, and that it might not even be necessary to sign Euroroutes inland on any very significant scale. Although some MOT civil servants were gung-ho for providing signs (or at least studying the problem in more detail, given that the addition of Euroroute signs would not be a change on as great a scale as conversion to the Worboys signs, and might be do-able out of Maintenance & Major Improvement funds), others were less enthusiastic. By the time of closure of this file, a general consensus had developed that it was acceptable not to sign Euroroutes, in much the same way trunk roads were identified by A, M, etc. rather than by their Trunk Route administrative designations. In 1969-70, it took an inexcusably long time (four months) for the civil servants to get around to answering a letter from the German Embassy (signed Miss M Paltzmann) asking how Euroroutes were being signed in the UK. (The letter had not been written in very clear English and apparently misled some civil servants looking at it into thinking that the Germans, who had made unspecified proposals which were deemed contrary to British interests at a 1968 conference, were digging for information on prospective Euroroute signing in Britain, with a view toward obtaining an admission that the routes would not be signed, and so gaining leverage if they wanted to oppose future British Euroroute proposals such as the addition of more Euroroutes. In the end a higher-up decided that it was inexcusable to let the letter go unanswered for so long, especially after the German embassy started prodding them for an answer, and especially also given that the Germans could very well go around and examine the state of signing in their own cars, so a reply was sent with apologies.)

This file is actually worth photoreproducing. But there isn’t anything in it which needs to be typed up now (other than this brain dump, which doesn’t go into Euroroute routing specifics). (There ought to be other files on the Euroroute issue, especially since this file was turned up by a search on term “road design” and there may well be other files which wouldn’t have been turned up because that search string didn’t appear.)

MT 120/51

The entirety of this file is taken up with MOT civil servants’ response to a suggestion in 1958 by the then MinT, Harold Watkinson, that flyovers and underpasses should be provided on a more ambitious scale in cities to alleviate traffic congestion. It came down to a disagreement between the traffic engineers and the civil engineers: the former said that flyovers without slip roads generally did not work very well because of the high turning volumes at intersections where flyover solutions tended to be proposed, that there generally wasn’t enough room to put in slip roads, and that if indirect turns were to be encouraged, the surrounding street system might have to be widened, with consequent need to put in service roads etc. Plus, the traffic remodelling following construction of a flyover was thought (not quite correctly, IMO) to be abruptly and heavily toward the new flyover, with the result that it might not be possible to avoid providing only 2 lanes for each of the crossing roads—4 might be necessary. The civil engineers were more gung-ho though, feeling that three lanes could be provided rather than 4, to cater for possible breakdowns, and that substandard headrooms could be used at such flyovers to reduce amenity objections, as they had seen done in Paris and thought was successful.

Long and short of it: these files are mislabelled.

MT 100/12

Covering dates appear to be almost exclusively 1956. File scheduled for opening in 1994. These concern attempts by a civil servant committee, variously described as the “575 Committee” as its main responsibility seems to be to prepare a revision of Memorandum 575 which was subsequently called “Design of Roads in Rural Areas,” to get a grip on ultimate carriageway widths to be provided on motorways and trunk roads. This was done under a working hypothesis which had several elements.

• 9000 PCU/day design volume is the threshold separating improvement to three-lane SC (2 through lanes + 1 passing lane in a total carriageway width of 33”) and improvement to D2 with each carriageway being 24” wide. • Design volumes were apparently calculated by dividing 1938 traffic figures into 1954 traffic figures to obtain an annual compound rate of traffic growth. This rate of traffic growth was then applied to the 1954 traffic figure to obtain an estimated 1959 traffic figure. This was then increased by 150% to obtain the estimated increase in traffic volume in the design year 20 years after 1959. And then these figures were used to make the decisions as to ultimate carriageway widths. It appears that the DREs submitted figures to MOT HQ at St Christopher’s House, MOT HQ plugged the figures into its slide rulers and came up with proposed widths, then DREs looked at the suggested widths and suggested changes based on their knowledge of traffic conditions, O&D studies, diversion possibilities etc.

The lineaments of the organizational framework used for this work are not altogether clear. Some of the DREs’ comments suggest that this attempt to get a hold on ultimate carriageway widths was carried out in parallel with a series of Trunk Road Appreciations, designed to come up with improvement plans on an individual trunk-road basis and including ideas for motorways, DC schemes, etc., as well as HQ’s program plan (looked at in a previous file and annotated), which confusingly seems to span several levels of detail and plan development: strategic network plans down to “what we are going to spend our money on next” fiscal programming.

Interesting ref. In this file to Charlesworth and Beesley’s studies into economics of motorway construction. Frustratingly these are only alluded to, with no actual material being provided. However, the main details: preliminary reports appear on file HP 140/07 (should be able to do a PRO search on this as the original file code) (current file was apparently HP 149/5/01). The really interesting thing is that this work was being carried out by RRL et al in 1956, long before the first pubs appeared in 1959/60. Here’s the quote in full:

In Mr Adam’s absence, Mr Baron and I looked into the present position of the investigation being carried out by Birmingham University and Road Research Laboratory.

Two interim progress reports have been made officially (Docs 36 & 37), which are concerned only with traffic studies. In his memo of 7th December, Mr Baron mentions that Dr Charlesworth expects to publish a further progress report in a week or so.

There is therefore little calculation to show the economic return of the motorway. A preview is given by Michael Bessley in his article in Britain Transport Review (pp 18-31) at Doc 38A, which tends to play down the London-Birmingham Motorway.

He makes a number of interting general points and quotes some useful references which we could follow up.

The author is taking part in the study of the London-Birmingham Motorway (see footnote 1 on p. 22). He points out many of the difficulties of assessment without suggesting the solutions. He applies the “economist’s acid test” (p 27) and suggests that perhaps an improved 3-lane road carrying 2,000 vehicles per hour would do the job. On p. 28 he refers to straining the capacity of a 3-lane road, which, in my experience results in a disproportionate rise in accident rate due to imprudent overtaking.

The article, however, is very general and it is plainly premature to draw any inference from it as to the outcome of the studies Birmingham University are conducting.

Having decided to dual Trunk Road 11 (A45) and Trunk Road 14 from Dunchurch Spur to Birmingham, the London-Birmingham Motorway would be complete and it is unlikely that there would ever be a need to provide the proposed Ashby St Leger-North of Birmingham Motorway.

My examination of the 1954 census for revision of future deign widths, showed that without regard to any additional burden of traffic from the Motorway, Trunk Road 11 would be overloaded 100% to 119% between Sutton Coldfield and Brownhills because it is not physically possible to provide more than a single 33 ft carriageway continuously.

I therefore suggested that there mightbe a case for constructing part of the Ashby ST Legers-North of Birmingham Motorway to provide a link between the London-Yorkshire and the Birmingham-Preston Motorways in continuation of A45 from Meriden. See attached quarter-inch map.

Mr Skinner and Mr Jeffery, however, advised me to sound DRE on the possibility of improving Trunk Roads 48 & 11 (A5) to motorway standard between Ashby St Legers and the Preston Motorway at Gailey Reservoir on A5.

We await DRE’s comments.

At present, traffic between Coventry and Stoke-on-Trent either follows TR 11 and TR 13 via Sutton Coldfield-Brownhills-Stafford or A446 and A51 via Coleshill-Lichfield-Rugeley-Stone. The latter route is not a trunk road but it undoubtedly carries the genuinely by-passable traffic.

A full O&D survey might easily show that a high proportion of traffic through Sutton Coldfield and Brownhills makes calls in that area and this might not be attracted to an improved alternative route. This may well be why DRE has advocated improving A446 and A51 to dual carriageways and providing a bypass at Sutton Coldfield.

TK Burdess 12 December, 1956

Mr Paisley Mr Skinner

We discussed. Mr Jeffery after discussing this question with the Chief Engineer is writing DRE to ask him to consider the possibility of utilizing and improving A446 to take the bypassable traffic as mentioned above.

JBA Skinner 12 December, 1956

Mr Burdess

MT 95/384

This deals with traffic signs to be provided on the M1. The correspondence in the file was skimmed only briefly, but it included a letter from the Bucks CS suggesting ways in which advance signing for motorways could be integrated into existing pre-Worboys direction signing at junctions, so as to avoid providing multiple direction signs (some of which would inevitably hang in front of each other) at junctions. He included several conceptual drawings, all showing an adaptation of the black-and-white pre-Worboys town and road number cartouche which had been modified to have all-blue background with “Motorway M1” in Transport Medium/Motorway Permanent. The suggestion does not appear to have been taken up by MOT for junctions, but the envelope of plans, photos, and sign mock-ups at the back includes many mock-ups of the typical pre-Worboys route confirmatory sign with a bottom panel added—blue background, “Motorway M1,” Transport Medium/Motorway Permanent.

There are also plans drawn up by Owen Williams, of rather later date, showing final ADSes for a M1-M6-M5 itinerary and for a M1-M18-A1(M) itinerary. Both of these were designed to identify all the ahead and off destinations which should be signposted, and so come to some sort of agreement on rational grounds which could be defended to outsiders (including CSes and BRF correspondents) complaining about “their” town not being listed, or continuous signing not being provided for a destination already signed on the surface street system the logical route for which lay on the motorway. Don’t recall date for M1-M6-M5, but M1 to A1(M) was dated sometime in 1966. Both drawings were done by the same hand and showed junction numbers for the signs.

There is also correspondence with the BRF about a gore sign which was felt to be confusing. To rephrase it in today’s terminology, it appears the MOT was using a typical exit direction sign (EDS) as a supplementary EDS on the gore at a left-hand curve. The BRF person seemed to feel that the gore-mounted supplementary EDS would fool a driver into thinking that he was just approaching the exit when in fact he was driving past the gore, and would cause him to steer onto the hard shoulder at speed. (This concern appears to have been addressed by the Anderson committee’s recommendation to use a pointed sign—the kind later called a “flag sign”—at the gore, and by present practice of using a stack-type sign with arrow rather than a map-type sign with stub arms.)

Note: the person who wrote the defense of Kinneir’s signs for the Anderson committee in a MT 95 file looked at in one of the first two or three visits to the PRO this spring was Cobbe.

This file has much stuff which is worth photographing—especially the sign mock-ups, which are plentiful.

Signing the M1 was an Owen Williams project, it appears.

MT 95/831

This file covers signing for the portion of M1 known as the Hendon Urban Motorway—broadly speaking, the portion between the southern terminus of the St Albans BP and the M1’s present southern terminus at the North Circular Road. This was a WS Atkins project. Important issues discussed in this file include:

• At one point, the M1 had a temporary northern terminus which required high-speed traffic to exit onto a slip road of tight radius terminating at an urban AP road. Ergo, there is a press release from the Road Research Laboratory announcing an experiment with what eventually became the reduced advisory speed sign (diagram 500+whatever it is) in some locations in the South West. The RRL plan was to change the old pre-Worboys “BEND” signs to the Worboys design (without experimental supplementary plate), and see if that produced a reduction in crashes. (As full conversion to Worboys signs was an accepted principle, it appears that this work really belonged to the surveys carried out in the mid-1960’s to see if Worboys signs were widely comprehended.) Then the RRL would add the advisory speed plate at the persistent problem locations, to see if that worked. The RRL mentioned that the practice had already been tried in the US, Australia, and New Zealand, and that transport authorities in those countries had observed reductions in crashes. The press notice was dated 2/8/1966. The MOT wanted WS Atkins to specify that the advisory speed signs be used for the temporary slip roads on the Hendon urban motorway. In particular they wanted 40 MPH for a fairly tight slip road on a stretch of it signed at 50 MPH. They also wanted 25 and 30 MPH signs for tight slip roads on the 70 MPH portion. Interestingly, WS Atkins (at MOT’s request) furnished drawings for 70 MPH signs it proposed to install, although strictly speaking these should not have been necessary as the 70 MPH national motorway speed limit had gone through in the very early 1960’s (perhaps as late as 1965?) and most of this correspondence and work on the Hendon motorway appears to have been taking place around 1966-67. As part of the correspondence, the Ministry furnishes a very large (scale) drawing of the RRL’s experimental sign. This has exactly the same format as the MOT’s current A4 working drawings for traffic signs. However, on the sign itself, only the tile outlines of the letters are shown, with the corresponding letter for each tile written in small handwriting in the lower RH corner of each tile. The letters were not reproduced in the actual fonts required to be used. • There was also some discussion WRT junction numbers, specifically MOT telling WS Atkins that motorway junctions are to be numbered. Didn’t look at the correspondence too closely, so I didn’t get to check out any possible anomalies in assignment of junction numbers. • The file includes lots of single-sheet drawings of signs (similar to the A4 sign detail sheets I got from the M25 J25 Westbound Improvement people). Very few of these were pattern-accurate. • There are very few sign mock-ups. • Other than the advisory speed signs, signs used on the Hendon project apparently included primitive VMS with neon or flashers. Not sure about the specifics (or indeed whether I am confusing this with the older portion of the M1 in MT 95/384), but in at least one of the two M1 files (fractionally more probably the Hendon one), the MOT observes the neon variable speed limit signs used on the NJTP, and asks whether this might profitably be used in the UK.

MT 95/900

This file deals with a section of the M4 motorway which apparently lies between the Chiswick-Langley flyover and the Slough/Maidenhead bypass. I deduce this from the fact that the only boroughs mentioned are Slough, Hounslow, Hillingdon, that a lot of the signing deals with “Airport [Airport symbol],” an obvious reference to Heathrow, and none of the correspondence deals with viaducts or bypassing concerns. Much of the correspondence deals with signs to be provided at junctions. One junction of particular concern is a roundabout junction where signposted destinations/road numbers include Staines B379, Slough A408, Airport etc.

The envelope at back contains mainly photographs of signs with defects requiring remedy. In the case of direction signs, these typically had to do with spacing—too little space being left between characters, or between lines where one line consisted of a named destination (placename) and the next consisted of a route designation in Motorway Permanent. Apparently Gibb & Partners were not leaving a shim space between the two; this judgment I make by comparing their original drawings, which butt the tile outlines together vertically, with their corrected drawings, which do have the shim space. Re. Gibb’s drafting standards, the tiles containing Motorway Permanent characters do have character outlines, but enlarged handprinting is used for the Transport Medium legend instead of letter outlines. Another problem with some installed signs was running differently-colored panels out to the edge of the sign so that their borders coincided with the sign edge, as was done in the Slough A408/Staines B379 example (I think) (I think Reading A4 was also signposted, but why wouldn’t Slough be there too?—I thought it was also on the A4). Also, a “Road Narrows” triangle main sign/worded supplementary plate combination (against gray backing board) had the triangle corner radii too small, and “Road Narrows” in Transport Medium rather than Heavy. Gibb also designed an unusual sign looking like this

[right-justified] Offside lanes

[panel border]

Reading [M4?] [arrow up right] [arrow up right]

[panel border]

Get in lane

Which MOT criticized as being too confusing. Apparently the aim was to warn of a lane drop which (I think) otherwise led to the A4, where the motorway went from D3 to D2.

As with the other signing files, did not look at the correspondence closely. MUCH material in here which is worth photographing at some future point.