Follow us on Twitter:

Travelling the Busway blog

Site maintained for archival purposes

The Cambridge And St. Ives Railway Organisation

Proposed CAST.IRON rail map
For more information, click here

For clarity not all railway lines are shown.
Latest news articles on the web - Archive
29/2/24Cambridgeshire County Council expecting £1.6m legal costs in prosecution over guided busway deaths
2/8/23Two people injured after car and bus crash at Cambs busway junction
23/6/23Cambridgeshire busway's true legal costs remain a secret
12/6/23Cambridgeshire guided busway dispute settled
13/5/23HSE to prosecute Cambridgeshire County Council over busway deaths
Latest printed news articles
19/1/11Cambridge News - Council's £14m loan to plug Northstowe gap - 0.0 MB PDF
10/6/10Cambridge News - More anger after latest report into busway delay - 1.0 MB PDF
4/6/10Cambridge News - Guided busway boss will deliver conference speech - 0.5 MB PDF
26/5/10Cambridge News - Latest broadside fired as busway contractor - 1.1 MB PDF
Latest photos
27/2/10 Very deep flooding of service track
Latest press releases
15/3/10 CAST.IRON submits proposal for Milton Road station
16/11/09 Chairman's statement responding to latest delay
6/11/09 'Misguided, Bust' - a summary of The Busway as it prepares to open

What is this about?

An existing railway line, from the north of Cambridge to Huntingdon, was ripped up by Cambridgeshire County Council and replaced with 70 acres of concrete (over 100,000 tonnes) through the open countryside on which to run buses. Formed in 2003, CAST.IRON planned to re-open the railway and produced a fully-costed business case for this scheme. The council chose not only to ignore CAST.IRON, but also to ignore the 2741 people who wrote letters of objection to the Department for Transport. They then spent £2.25 million arguing their case at a public inquiry. CAST.IRON presented a lengthy and detailed case revealing significant flaws in the council's own analysis and assumptions. Despite this and hundreds of other well-presented objections, the inspector found in favour of the guided bus scheme, casting all opposition aside.

Work started on the scheme in February 2007 and many promised opening dates came and went. The initial opening date after construction had begun was early in the second quarter of 2009. Next, the Council said it would definitely be open by "late-summer 2009". Many more "definite" dates passed until eventually the council would not be drawn on committing to further dates. Much of the delay was down to a stand-off between the council and contractor. The council refused to accept the busway from the contractor until a list of perceived faults was rectified; the contractor did not accept they were faults. The cost rose hugely and the council hoped to claim back the overspend from the contractor. This was only partially successful. As early as March 2010, council reports stated that legal action would be inevitable and that the issue of costs might not be resolved until 2014/2015.

The busway was handed over been handed over to the council in July 2011 who appointed a new contractor to rectify the faults. The busway opened in August 2011 and initial timetables were published. The timetables make interesting reading compared with historical records and current alternative methods.

Huntingdon to Cambridge
YearJourney timeSource
1800150 mins by horseRough calculation
184955 mins by railFacsimile timetable in Branch Lines Around Huntingdon, Mitchell/Smith/Awdry/Mott, Middleton Press 1991
Railway Station was then located across the river in Godmanchester
186938 mins by railAs above
194439 mins by railAs above (emergency wartime timetable)
195936 mins by railAs above
200255 mins by busHunts & District (later Stagecoach)
201167 mins by Guided BusTraveline website
201166 mins by regular BusTraveline website

Click here for more detailed journey comparisions before and after the Busway opening

What is a guided bus?

Buses are fitted with small guidewheels on the front which enable them to run in a concrete trough. This allows vehicles to pass closely and so, if running in a town centre, means that the busways take up significantly less room compared with conventional bus lanes. The buses are standard vehicles that still require a driver; the only difference is that the guideway does the steering (the driver controls everything else as usual). When not on the guideway, the buses are no different from a normal bus.

In the Cambridgeshire scheme, the buses are ONLY be guided in the uncongested open country section between Milton Road, Cambridge and the outskirts of St. Ives (plus south of Cambridge Station to Trumpington and Addenbrookes). They run as standard unguided buses in (and between) Huntingdon and St. Ives and, crucially, they will be unguided within Cambridge itself, where there is no room for guideways on the narrow streets. This completely defeats the object of guiding the buses in the first place, compared with conventional buses on ordinary roads with bus priority measures.

How do the bus and rail compare?

Re-open railwayGuided busway
Public support38004
avoiding city centre
Unguided on busy roads,
through city centre
Journey time
from Science Park to Station
Max. 4 min
Min. 30 minutes
Dependent on congestion
  • CAST.IRON has fully-costed, independently scrutinised plans supporting its figures
  • The guideway cost was initially £54m, £65m, then £78m, then £86m, finally smashing the £100m mark to rest at £116m (March 2007). It is reported (Oct 09) that the final cost will be near £150m. The council's own recent figures show a cost of £181m (Dec 2010). The headline figure of £86.4m was stated widely (Listen to a radio interview) by the promoters at the time and it was this figure that was submitted to public enquiry. The councillor currently in charge of the project has attempted to re-write history by claiming the original estimate was £116.27m.
  • There were 2700 objections to the busway sent to the Secretary of State for Transport, plus nearly 4000 signatures on our petition
  • Four people wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport in favour
  • Many of the 'selling points' of the Guided Bus have been quietly dropped as the building costs increased and the project overran. e.g. 'kiss-and-ride' facility at Swavesey, through running to Hinchingbrooke Hospital, cross-operator ticketing

So why did we get the guided bus and not a railway?

The key is in this statement from the Transport Select Committee report of June 2000.

"While stated preference surveys tend to indicate a strong preference for light rail above other modes, the PTE Group felt that it would be difficult to obtain meaningful market research data until there are more extensive bus-based systems. The establishment of a number of demonstration projects would enable the actual performance of alternative forms of transport in service to be measured, and would enable the costs and abilities to alter travel habits to be compared with existing light rail schemes."

This was closely followed by CHUMMS (Cambridge-HUntingdon MultiModal Study), which presented 4 transport "packages" between Cambridge and Huntingdon. Three of them replaced the railway with a guided bus; only the fourth featured rail, but this package combined rail with a politically unacceptable road option. Ironically, given the current cost of the guided bus, this package was also rejected because the CHUMMS estimate of the rail element was considered to be excessive at £109m!

It became clear soon after CAST.IRON was formed that a great deal of work and political capital had already been invested in the guided bus project. The council was divided on clear party lines with the majority Conservative group behind the scheme from the beginning whilst the Liberal Democrats (the next biggest group) were consistently against. The small Labour group eventually fell in with the Conservatives despite their City Council colleagues formally objecting to the scheme.

At the deciding meeting of the full County Council in July 2006, a number of members who had taken part in the debate left before the final vote. As a result, only a minority of the members put their names to the scheme, even though it is the biggest single project ever undertaken by the council and therefore the most important decision likely to be taken during their terms of office.

So why is CAST.IRON still here? Was CAST.IRON wrong after all?

We remain utterly unconvinced that this scheme has made any noticeable difference to traffic levels on the A14. Moreover, our predictions of long-term maintenance problems due to the fundamental design error of laying large, inflexible concrete on soft fen land and a number of accidents and other incidents due to safety standards only being based on standard roads (rather than the exceptionally high standards of a railway) have come true. Even ongoing legal costs have been costly.

We still do not believe there is any tangible evidence of the 'success' of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway scheme in terms of it being a proven, better alternative than coordinated train and bus services appropriate to any given area. The constant stream of passenger number statistics doesn't tell us anything because it doesn't analyse journeys not made on the guided sections. The statistics cover Peterborough to Trumpington but between Cambridge station and Milton road, and north of St Ives, the buses are the same as any other.

In short, we don't accept that the guideway is what is driving the passenger numbers, just the new frequent bus routes; and we believe much wider benefits would have come with reinstatement of the railway.

The problem with the Cambridgeshire scheme is that it obliterated a viable rail route on an alignment that makes geographical sense as a railway, not as a bus route; for buses to derive benefits from the segregation of the guideway they have to travel well over a mile along congested streets in the wrong direction. Meanwhile a route that could be part of the local, regional, national and international rail network is lost.

The minimum journey time from Cambridge station to St Ives on the busway is 42 minutes subject to congestion in Cambridge. The same route by railway would have been less than 20 minutes.

CAST.IRON does not have a particular view on the viability of guided busways elsewhere although we did do some detailed work on the construction side of things and showed that the volume and mass of material required (for the guideways) is many times greater than for a railway with a much lower potential for maximum passengers carried. This is one of the reasons why there have been such serious construction and maintenance problems on the Cambridgeshire scheme.

We believe guided busways generally offer poor value for money compared with integrated rail and bus schemes. Unfortunately for Cambridgeshire, the only money on the table was for an exclusive busway.

CAST.IRON Contact Details
Please note our revised contact details. There is no longer an office at Newmarket Road, Cambridge, which is occupied by a private family unconnected to CAST.IRON. Please do NOT call or hand deliver post to that address.

Site last modified July 2024