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What is CAST.IRON?
CAST.IRON has consulted widely. This display is at Cambridge station.
The railway track has now been ripped up ready for 100000 tonnes of concrete to be laid.
CAST.IRON is a group of business people, including current and former employees of rail companies, chartered civil engineers and company directors, who have come together to offer a superior alternative to the Cambridgeshire County Council guided busway scheme.
Our fully costed plans have been independently reviewed by a respected rail company. We have rail industry support for our plans.
The Government has awarded £92.5 million to the Cambridgeshire Guided Bus scheme. Cambridgeshire County Council members have voted to
proceed with the construction of the guided busway and land is already being purchased with the compulsory purchase powers granted by the
TWA order. Less than half of the County Council members voted in favour of the scheme.
The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway remains deeply unpopular and when it fails, CAST.IRON does not intend to let the County Council forget
what they have done. Therefore, please make it clear to your current (and any prospective) County Councillors that their opinion on the
CGB will have a marked effect on their future votes.
Is there a future for guided buses?
On 26th October 2007 Tim Phillips was invited to speak at the Cambridge
University Railway Club. The subject for debate was 'The future of Bus
Rapid Transit in the UK'.
Here is the text of Tim's speech:
Some of you will know me by name as the Chairman of the Cambridge and
St Ives Railway Organisation, known as CAST.IRON. I was inspired to
form CAST.IRON in July 2003 after I had been on the inaugural service
on the Wensleydale Railway on 4th July that year. This
line was virtually unused and had not seen regular passenger services
for some years. The details and history are too complex for tonight’s
purposes; suffice it to say I saw some compelling parallels with the
Cambridge to St Ives line and the aspiration to extend to Huntingdon
on the East Coast Main Line.
My naïveté in expecting massive popular support for a
community railway (implying some volunteer involvement) was apparent
within a month, once it became clear how far advanced the plans for
the Cambridgeshire Guided Bus had advanced. This is where the story
really started and how, through a process of force majeur,
CAST.IRON had to become both professional railway experts and a
repository of information and criticism about guided bus systems
Guided bus systems of the nature of that now being built in
Cambridgeshire are very rare and there is little knowledge about them
outside of their promoters. For example, despite the nature of your
own august body, the fair-minded amongst us (which I am sure is
everyone) know and will happily argue the well-known relative merits
of rail over other transport modes – and accept the
circumstances where rail is at a disadvantage. However there are no
forums for similar debate regarding guided buses and, if such schemes
ever become commonplace, it will be many years before the public and
business communities have anything like the understanding that they
have for the railways.
My ‘executive summary’ of the Cambridgeshire scheme would
be that it has been promoted as a panacea for all transport ills
along the corridor whereas, as I hope to demonstrate tonight, in fact
it is likely to be the very worst of all worlds.
Bus Rapid Transit can take many forms, but the fundamental
characteristic is some mechanism for prioritisation and/or
segregation to give the bus a physical advantage over conventional
service buses as well as other road transport vehicles. Included
within this definition can be obvious and low-cost measures such as
priority lanes, bus-only streets and traffic light phasing. However
for our purposes we are clearly interested in the more substantial
notion of physically guided buses.
The system under construction uses kerb-guidance, in common with
Essen, Adelaide, Leeds, Bradford, Crawley, Ipswich and Edinburgh
(although the contexts and scales of these schemes vary widely). In
brief, the bus runs between two 170mm vertical kerbs, which are a
fixed distance apart. The bus itself is equipped with small
horizontal guidewheels connected to the steering mechanism. The
guidewheels protrude from the side of the bus at about 80mm from
ground level just in front of the forward, steering road wheels. In
practice, this means laying two L-shaped sections of concrete to
provide the road surface and kerb all-in-one, braced by cross-members
to fix the gauge. These sections can be laid on virgin ground;
alongside rail or tramways; or elevated. Alternatively the kerb
element can be fixed each side of a dedicated road lane in urban
Whilst within the guideway, the driver operates the bus almost
exactly as on conventional roads except that of course he or she does
not use the steering wheel. The vehicle is driven on line-of-sight
and there is no signalling required except at breaks or junctions in
the guideway, where conventional road signals are used.
The logic behind kerb guidance in non-urban settings appears to be
the ability to run vehicles in opposite directions closer together
and at higher speed, thereby reducing the width of the formation
required to a minimum and, to an extent, increasing capacity.
The Cambridgeshire scheme is characterised by two lengths of
non-urban guideway: one is from the outskirts of St Ives adjacent to
the road bypass (ironically, the very bypass that first severed the
original rail link) to a flat junction with Milton Road, Cambridge
adjacent to the Science Park. The second starts at the south end of
Cambridge Station and follows the old Sandy and Bedford railway line
as far as Trumpington. This section also has a spur back across the
fields and over the main Cambridge-London railway line into
The full and advertised route of the Cambridgeshire Guided Bus is
from Hinchinbrooke Hospital to the north west of Huntingdon, through
Huntingdon itself and on to St Ives and Swavesey, then serving the
new town of Northstowe followed by villages including Histon and
Impington, the Regional College and Science Park then through the
City Centre to the Railway Station and on to Trumpington and/or
It can be seen, therefore, that the sections between Huntingdon and
St Ives, and from Milton Road in the far north of Cambridge City to
the station are entirely unguided and the notion of Bus Rapid Transit
will be no better for un-guided guided buses than for conventional
Let’s get this quite clear: in these sections, there will be
absolutely no difference between guided and conventional buses in
terms of ride quality, prioritisation, speed of service, potential
congestion, pollution or service level. Of course, the new fleet
of vehicles for the scheme will probably outshine their conventional
cousins, but the fact that they are nominally guided buses is
entirely irrelevant – the guidewheels will perform no function.
And this is where I believe the Cambridgeshire scheme is totally
back-to-front and why, in the final analysis, it will be seen to have
been entirely politically motivated, with little regard to wider
planning considerations. There may well be locations where bus
guideways are entirely suitable – there are not enough
examples and it is too early to say – but to destroy for the
foreseeable future a rail route which, with all the development
planned for this region and further afield, has the potential to
shift huge numbers of passengers and large volumes of freight away
from the crowded road network for local, regional, national and
international journeys, is completely short-sighted.
So how have we come to this position? The key is
in this statement from the Transport Select Committee report of June
2000, and I quote:
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
This was closely followed by CHUMMS
(Cambridge-HUntingdon MultiModal Study), the conclusion of which
presented a number transport "packages" between Cambridge
and Huntingdon. All but one of them replaced the railway with a
guided bus route; only the final ‘choice’ featured rail,
but this package combined it with a politically unacceptable new road
option cutting a swathe across the fens. Ironically, given the
current cost of the guided bus at over £116 million, this
package was also rejected because the CHUMMS estimate of the rail
element was considered to be grossly excessive at £109m just
five years ago!
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 wholly behind the
scheme from the beginning whilst the Liberal Democrats (the next
biggest group) were consistently wholly against. The small Labour
group eventually fell in with the Conservatives despite their City
Council colleagues formally objecting to the scheme.
Given the timescales, it is also abundantly clear
that much development work had been carried
out well before the CHUMMS outcome was known. Cynics have suggested
that the Public Inquiry was a foregone conclusion, but that the
promoters were caught out by the scale and quality of the objections.
I am sure you all know that the scheme is already
under construction and, if you accept my line of argument,
Cambridgeshire is simply being subjected to a massive transport
experiment, gleefully funded by the government to establish if, in
the long run, it might save millions of pounds developing bus rapid
transit over rail-based forms. If so, it is hardly surprising that
the costs – which started out at £54 million and were
allegedly ‘fixed’ at £84 million by the time we got
to the Public Inquiry – have not been the most important factor
in deciding whether or not to go ahead.
So, to find out that the government is prepared to
put in more even than the total cost debated
at the Public Inquiry (because part of the total cost was always to
have been paid by contributions from developers) also loses the
element of surprise.
On the latest information available to me, the
whole scheme is now costed at £116.5 million pounds with £92.5
million being contributed by government.
So, as the scheme is going ahead and as the
subject for tonight is in respect of the future of Bus Rapid Transit
in the UK, the best we can do is look at numerous aspects and issues
that have arisen from the work of CAST.IRON and others and, as
objectively as possible, decide whether or not they bode well for the
future here and further afield.
First, if you will pardon the pun, let’s
look at the driver behind the Cambridgeshire scheme. It is hardly a
secret that this is the new development at Northstowe, a community of
about 20,000 to be built on the hinterland
between Longstanton and Oakington. Effectively, the guided bus was a
planning condition to mitigate what would otherwise have been an
increase in road traffic pressure on the most busy and accident-prone
section of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon.
Much has been made of the flexibility of the
guided bus system to deliver the new residents of Northstowe to the
places they allegedly want to go in and around Cambridge. I also
understand that there is an ulterior motive
to discourage new residents where the principal income is from a
London employment, as the policy is to keep earnings within the local
It is certainly true that in Cambridge itself, no
rail-based system has much chance of being able to provide the
flexibility of a bus-style service,
although modern lightweight developments mean this is not necessarily
as true as it has been in the past – this is something we might
However this is also ironically the reason why the
guided bus cannot be guided in the city. It is, to use transport
planners parlance, a ‘horse-and-cart’
town, with narrow streets and 90-degree junctions (and worse).
The original innovators of kerb-guided busways –
one of whom is a member of CAST.IRON – developed their concept
in the 1960s, when New Towns were being built with broad, boulevard
type street systems in waffle-iron or grid patterns. This does not
apply to Northstowe, to Cambridge or to the rural route in between.
Indeed, part of the planned service for Northstowe
is the distinction between ‘expressway’ approach, with
the bus on the guideway skirting the new
development; and local services coming off the guideway and serving
the inner part of the settlement with associated slower journey
So, not guided when it is serving the residential
areas of Northstowe and not guided in the centre of Cambridge. Where,
then, is the advantage of the guidance?
This is apparently in the rural section between the settlements; that
is, on the old railway line.
CAST.IRON’s calculations have shown quite
clearly that, because the railway route by
definition skirts the north of Cambridge to get to the railway
station located to the south, it takes the guided bus away from the
more logical road-based route and not only are many journeys no
faster than on the conventional bus route, many actually take longer.
For example, with
relatively modest, low-cost measures, conventional Oakington bus
services could be extended back to start from Northstowe, entering
Cambridge much more logically along the Huntingdon Road, itself a
broad road ripe for bus priority.
Such a service would potentially
be faster than using the guideway; but even if took the same time, it
wouldn’t need £116 million-worth of construction to allow
it to do so!
So, for little cost, we can get Northstowe
residents to where they want to go in Cambridge in the same time as
on the guideway; and, if new
air-conditioned, low emission, low floor buses are to be built for
the guideway, they can be built just the same for conventional road
use and at less cost in the absence of the guiding mechanism.
Where else might Northstowe residents want to go?
I would suggest three important destinations:
Cambridge Regional College, Cambridge Science Park and Cambridge
Station – or rather to places further afield on the railway
network, in particular London, Stansted
airport and Stratford for continental services.
The college and science park are plum on the route
of the guided bus…but of course that also means they are plum
on the route of the railway. Even if we
ignore a possible perception problem that Europe’s largest
science park warrants no more than a bus stop, in reality there would
be little to choose between guided bus and rail between these places
It’s when the journey is to the station and
beyond that you realise the guided bus becomes at
best a clumsy use of a rail route.
Remember, from Milton Road – that is, the
Science Park – to Cambridge station, the guided bus will not be
guided. It’s just a bus just like any
other. So, by blocking the old rail route, residents of Northstowe
are condemned to a Cambridge City tour every time they want to go to
the station or, by extension, anywhere else on the rail network.
(As an aside, I do of course recognise that they
could instead travel to Huntingdon – but again this can be done
as quickly by conventional bus with
During our campaign in the run-up to the Public
Inquiry, we held two all-day exhibitions at Cambridge station. Much
fascinating anecdotal evidence was obtained but two comments stick in
First, a major company squashed into Station Road
that would not relocate to the Science Park
because of the time and distance from the station.
Second, the general principle that Science Park
workers and visitors have to allow a total of 1 hour between there
and the station, to allow contingency for the bus frequency,
contingency for the timetabled 25-minute journey and time to catch
the train itself.
Give or take marginal improvements through
priority measures, this will not change with the opening of the
guided bus system because…yes, I think you’ve guessed
it…IT WON’T BE GUIDED for any part of that journey.
Indeed, all priority improvements will apply in exactly the same way
to guided and conventional buses.
Let’s be generous and allow
45 minutes for the door-to-door station/Science Park journey by bus
once new priority measures are in place; a distance of about four
miles. How, then, does that compare with the rest of the journey?
Add 30 minutes for the 30
miles to Stansted Airport and, yes, 45 minutes for the 54 miles to
London King’s Cross.
Had the railway been reopened, even as far as the
east side of Milton Road to avoid crossing it, the journey time from
Cambridge Station to the Science Park would
have been six minutes or less. That’s less than an hour King’s
Cross to the Science Park compared with the best part of two now and
for the foreseeable future.
But wait a minute. Didn’t I say that the driver for the guided
bus is Northstowe? Surely the greater good in terms of passenger
numbers is done by giving them what they want?
In fact, if you think back to what I have just
said, it can be seen that Northstowe residents would get the best of
both worlds through reopening the rail link through to Huntingdon AND
making relatively low-cost improvements to conventional bus services.
Remember, too, that many of those improvements would arise in order
to provide a high quality bus service anyway, irrespective of whether
or not they are guided.
Conversely, under the current scheme, Northstowe
residents get the very worst of both worlds: a sub-optimal,
higher-cost bus route into Cambridge, no faster than a conventional
service, plus the worst imaginable way of getting to the station; and
their gateway to the national rail network blocked forever.
Broadening this argument and combining it with the
apparent desire to employ Northstowe residents locally, a
socio-economic micro-model seems to have been completely overlooked
in the arguments: the nuclear family where yes indeed one partner
works in Cambridge or at the Science Park and the children are
educated locally; but the other partner (and probably the principal
wage-earner) works in London
For many, many other users, the opportunity to
make their journeys much faster (and the opportunity to create new
journeys, so often trumpeted as a key to economic growth)
has also been blocked. Royston to the Regional College; St Ives to
the station; Bishops Stortford to the Science Park; Whittlesford
Parkway to Histon Vision Park.
Let us now consider the wider transport picture,
in particular the perennial problem of the A14 between Girton
Interchange and Alconbury. Whilst I have
little sympathy in respect of most of the road accidents that occur –
invariably caused by selfish and/or idiotic driving – the
physical fact is that this section effectively forms the crossroads
of a major east-west route and a major north-south route.
The east-west route is
of course the A14 itself running from Felixtowe and Ipswich docks
through to the east Midlands at the M1/M6 junction. The north-south
route is the M11 through to the A1(M), a route that is indeed
advertised as ‘for the North’ to anti-clockwise drivers
on the M25 as soon as they cross the Thames at Dartford.
The section of A14 between Bar Hill and the
Alconbury interchange at Huntingdon is two lanes in each direction,
which means that two lanes each from the east and south are
effectively halved and by definition the A14 in this area is
potentially carrying twice the design load of the A14 and M11
When it comes to the guided bus there has been
much political double-speak. Some politicians have trumpeted the
guided bus as part of a package to relieve congestion on the A14,
insisting apart from anything else that it is at least better than
However the engineers and analysts, rather less
vocally, have been fairly consistent in stating that the guided bus
scheme will reduce traffic on the A14 by as
little as 2%. This, of course, will be imperceptible to users and
observers alike. But look yet deeper: a reduction of 2% of what?
By definition, the reduction can only occur in
non-freight vehicles because the guided
busway cannot take freight of any description. Here we have a road
hopelessly over-congested with freight and a £116.5 million
novel transport scheme to do precisely nothing about it whilst at the
same time obstructing a railway route that could have made a serious
contribution to easing HGV use of the A14.
I am fully aware of the arguments that the main
East Coast to the Midlands rail routes are via
the North London Line thence north to the west of the Cambridge area;
or via Bury St Edmunds, Ely and Peterborough. I am also aware that
the Liverpool Street line is fairly congested while the Newmarket
Tunnel would have to be significantly re-engineered for freight to be
able to continue logically along the St Ives line; and there is the
question of totally new construction between St Ives and Huntingdon.
However, there are already plans to increase the
Liverpool Street line’s capacity and Ipswich Tunnel was given
the treatment a couple of years ago. There
is serious talk of increasing capacity at the Welwyn North bottleneck
and to create a grade-separated junction at Hitchin. No one would
dream of doing anything to jeopardise these schemes, as it is
recognised that they will have to be addressed sooner or later.
Taking this a little further, I am sure you all
know that the serious freight derailment on the railway just outside
Ely on the Ipswich line has led to a total
blockade of through services for two or three months while an entire
road is built to get the heavy cranes in to remove the wagons before
the complete replacement of the bridge itself. This means that almost
all freight must have been diverted along the North London line but
worse still; much freight has no doubt been put back on the road for
the time being.
How valuable would a diversionary route via
Newmarket with a reversal at Cambridge have
been, to join the East Coast Main Line at Huntingdon? Or even just to
relieve the North London line further east by coming up the Liverpool
Looking at the future even a little further, there still seems to be
a strong possibility that the major Alconbury freight exchange
facility to the north and west of Huntingdon will become
rail-connected while another facility at Daventry handles a great
deal of freight traffic from the East Coast.
Indeed, the Ely blockade has no doubt led to many
more unnecessary car journeys. I made one of them.
At a recent family celebration in Aldeburgh on the East Coast –
nearest station Saxmundham – my son’s rail journey from
Leeds on the Friday night was via London, as the ‘direct’
route would have included a bus and that journey was not in fact
offered as being viable in terms of time. So far so good - just.
However, due to
engineering elsewhere, the only return journey offered to get him
back to Leeds by 11am on the Monday was to leave on the Sunday and
spend over seven hours travelling, because the bus replacement
between Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds alone would take
Our decision was to leave Aldeburgh by
car at 5am on the Monday and take the A14/A1 all the way to
Peterborough station thence by train. We completed the journey to
Peterborough in two hours door-to-door.
By the way, this aspect also opens the much wider
question of the East-West rail link and the perennial problem of
travelling due west from Cambridge by rail.
This is not a matter for discussion on the relative merits of bus
rapid transit per se,
but the Cambridgeshire scheme cuts off one of the options probably
forever, which raises the more general and pertinent question of
whether or not a potential rail route or more particularly a
potential re-opening for medium and long distance travel should ever
be blocked for a local transport scheme unless it is compatible with,
or readily convertible to, rail.
At which juncture, I will pause and take this rare
opportunity to express my utter disappointment and disgust at the
complete failure of the UK railway industry to defend its own corner
in the matter of the Cambridgeshire Guided
Bus and the destruction of the St Ives line.
My colleagues and I spent many hours pursuing the
labyrinthine world of the nation’s
railways; from meetings with senior officers of train operating
companies (or ‘TOC’s) to letters to the then Strategic
Railway Authority and the Rail Regulator; telephone calls and emails
to Network Rail and meetings with what is now called Passenger Focus.
The TOCs – some of
them in the middle of the bidding process when we met them –
were always happy to pay lip service; indeed we were wined and dined
as long as we could get ourselves to their offices or presentations.
Yes, they virtually all said they would run trains on our line if it
was there ready to be used but no, they would not say so publicly and
nor would they include the mention in their bids.
We put our plans to a well-known railway
construction and operations group who declared them
viable subject to certain minor adjustments and most importantly,
broadly agreed with our costings for both construction and
running…but in order to obtain this support we were obliged to
sign a confidentiality clause, rendering their input politically
Network Rail effectively slammed the gates to the
line in our face, having re-activated the
dormant closure procedure as soon as they heard of us and we had
offered to purchase or lease the line.
Perhaps most devastatingly, the Strategic Rail
Authority actually wrote a letter of
support for the Guided Bus, an act demonstrating neither strategy nor
authority over the railway system. They were disbanded soon after.
We did, however, receive considerable support from
individual construction contractors
including railway specialists where appropriate and, whilst this
might be expected on the grounds of potential contracts, nonetheless
they were able to provide real and realistic estimates and quotes for
their work. From this we can certainly say that our costings were
Therefore perhaps the biggest irony in this
respect is that part of our brief was to construct the railway at
less cost than the then £74 million estimate for the guided
bus, meaning we sought low-cost solutions where possible. This made
our plans look a little less than state-of-the-art in places
(although always on a fully professional basis) and not as ‘glossy’
as the guided bus scheme.
If only we had known at that stage that the guided
bus scheme would exceed £100 million – which we
subsequently correctly claimed at the Inquiry after more
and more evidence came to light – we would perhaps have costed
our scheme at, say, £80 million, with all the extra bells and
whistles the extra money could provide.
Despite that, and despite the fact that we sent
plans to the relevant government
departments and, of course, for consideration by the County Council
promoters, no one was prepared to spend any time considering them. In
summary, in the face of a potential £50 million pound saving
but without visible support from the mainstream railway players, the
political die was cast. It is bizarre to note that less expensive
tram systems have been abandoned by the government in the past.
The proof of that particular pudding is, of
course, in the 12-week long Public Inquiry
where our arguments were batted down by the Council’s agents in
a series of rebuttals, many of them obfuscatory and mostly handed in
at the very last minute to allow minimum time for counter rebuttal.
closing statement is a pithy and eloquent summary not only of why the
guided bus is wrong for this route but also of how the £2
million available to the County Council to pursue the Inquiry was
more than enough to out-argue perfectly valid points through frankly
dishonest means. Nevertheless, having lost the majority of his report
which then apparently had to be completely re-written in the absence
of any form of backup, the inspector’s conclusions amazingly
found nothing at all to criticise.
That statement can be
found in full on our website along with much other background
information on our battle to save a railway line and NOT just to
object to guided buses on their own merits, please note.
Most of what I have spoken about so far relates to
why this particular guided bus scheme is
not suitable for this particular location. However in the course of
our research we have of course encountered other aspects that apply
to all kerb-guided bus systems and others that may apply depending on
local conditions. Thanks to the World Wide Web, many individuals and
organisations have provided information; and discussion groups etc
from other areas make for interesting reading, since they carry
opinions from all sides.
Let us consider some of the physical characteristics of a guided bus
The guideway is constructed as a series of
concrete L-shaped beams, which for the
Cambridgeshire scheme are being manufactured at a
specially-constructed depot at Longtstanton. Concrete is, of course,
one of the most environmentally-damaging building materials and you
may like to reflect on the fact that this scheme will involve no less
than 100,000 tonnes of it. Later on, we could perhaps discuss the
relative merits of equivalent railway construction in terms of mass,
materials and cost.
The guiding ‘roadway’ is, by
definition, just over the width of a bus inside
the kerbs, which form an unbroken 170mm upright each side, which is
itself perhaps 100mm to 150mm or 4 to 6 inches wide. For a two-way
guideway this means a total formation width of about 8 metres or 26
feet, to allow central clearance for wing mirrors etc., with four
kerbs – two for each direction.
The horizontal surfaces are generous enough to
accommodate the road wheels leaving a gap
in the middle, which is braced at regular intervals below the level
of the roadwheel surface. In essence, the guideway does the same job
as a railway line but the horizontal control occurs on different
levels: on a train the flange on the vehicle wheel runs below the
level of the rail head whereas on the guideway the same job is done
above the rolling surface by the kerbs.
It is essential to understand how this
fundamentally affects the physical characteristics of a guideway
compared with a railway and as an aside at this stage, I would
mention numerous reports we have received describing the horizontally
oscillating nature of the ride of a kerb-guided bus and its potential
for inducing nausea. This in turn has resulted in excessive tyre wear
on both the road and the guide wheels and the French have abandoned
further development of their rubber-tyred metro lines.
As we all know, creating
a railway crossing is a matter of filling in the gaps between the
rails, between each track and to the edges of the formation (that is,
the four-foot, the six-foot and the cess) so that the road or path
surface is at the same level as the railhead, leaving the relatively
narrow gap required at each rail for the steel wheel flange.
The same is impossible on
a guided busway because the guidance is above the road surface. This
means that any crossing must be either over the kerbs –
effectively, for able-bodied humans and mammals of reasonable size
only – or it must involve a complete break in the guideway.
In practice, the Cambridgeshire scheme therefore
has these practical disadvantages:
Despite the grass
infill, drainage on the guideway is much more restricted than for a
railway. The guideway goes across low, fen-edge land and will
therefore be prone to flooding, heavy rainfall and, perhaps most
worryingly, snow. Whilst snow is rare in this area, should the worst
happen it would ‘jack up’ the buses such that the
guidewheels no longer engage on the kerbs.
The Adelaide system is immune from any such
likelihood as it is mostly elevated and the braced area between the
two L-sections is not filled in (and they see little snow!).
However, the Essen system has been affected and is occasionally
closed, especially where it dives under roads alongside the tramway.
The absence of drainage
in the Cambridgeshire scheme has required the provision of large
balancing ponds to accommodate the run-off and general impermeability
of the construction.
The guideway is effectively a barrier to people
with disabilities, wheelchairs, prams,
pushchairs or even perhaps those with more than one small child to
look after. On a railway this can be overcome relatively cheaply
with small pedestrian crossings but such provision on the guideway
is highly undesirable as the clean break means the buses have to
slow to exit and re-enter. The kerbs have to be funneled at the
entrances to ‘catch’ the guidewheels. For this reason,
the very minimum number of pedestrian crossings is being provided
and long diversions made to paths and tracks to run alongside the
guideway until the next crossing is reached.
Smaller creatures such as hedgehogs will be
particularly vulnerable to becoming trapped between the kerbs or
attracted to the central grassed area, becoming prone to strikes if
they stray onto the horizontal sections.
This does not apply to the elevated Adelaide
system and much of the Essen system is
segregated alongside tramlines and in urban areas where footbridges
and foot tunnels are provided.
By the way, the four
other UK systems are all relatively short, urban stretches that are
to an extent self-policing and where there is an adjacent road
The Cambridgeshire scheme boasts a parallel foot
and cycle and horse path, which has been
heavily promoted as an added amenity provision. In fact, the service
road is a design requirement because it is not possible to rescue a
broken down bus from the guideway itself and specially designed
rescue vehicles have to be able to access the guideway from this
service road. This raises the following points:
If the advertised maximum frequency of one every
three minutes is ever achieved, it opens
up the intriguing possibility of one or more buses becoming trapped
behind a broken down vehicle in an unbroken section of guideway,
since reversing is not possible.
surface of the service road is to be of cinder-type material, which
may not be very cycle-friendly.
As the service vehicles on
the service road must have direct access to the guideway, users of
this service road will be unseparated from, and within inches of,
the passing buses – which of course have been advertised as
low noise vehicles. There are serious concerns about horse riders in
particular. Bear in mind that part of the raison d’être
for the guideway in the first place is to permit greater speed at
closer proximity than for an equivalent road.
The addition of the service road increases the
overall width of the formation to over 12
metres or 40 feet. This is significantly wider than the existing
railway formation so the claim that the scheme simply ‘uses
the old railway corridor’ is to be treated with scepticism.
A more clinical analysis of the Cambridgeshire
scheme reveals that, for example, the benefit-cost ratio has been
announced to have fallen to just under 2 on the present
cost of £116 million, compared with the claim of nearly 5 made
when the original application was made to government at a cost of £54
million. That’s a doubling of the price for half the benefit,
which is bad enough; but let’s look at the detail below these
modelling process was subject to a formal, independent audit
procedure by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), but criticism
in that audit has been overlooked. In particular, TRL highlighted
flaws in the 'inputs' (which can give huge variations to the outputs,
i.e. what will actually happen) and said it was 'abnormal' for
non-user benefits – at 66% – to dominate the
justification for this type of transport scheme. That’s an
assessment of the benefits of the scheme to those who will not
be using it.
those non-user benefits, 40% related to reducing road traffic
queueing in four specific places.
of those places is Longstanton, where the new roundabout and by-pass
have already neutralised the traffic problems that form part of the
CGB cost justification.
proportion of overall benefits in the CGB scheme for this location
works out at £9 million. However, the road scheme already in
place was completed for less than £1 million.
the biggest 'queue buster' claim was based on fictitious queue
reduction times for traffic at a single, badly timed traffic light at
the as-yet-unbuilt Arbury Camps development.
details undermine the whole case for CGB, as so many of the
'benefits' can be achieved in other ways at a fraction of the cost.
Many of the benefit claims are dubious at best, particularly the
non-user benefits. This may not have seemed important when the
benefit/cost claim was nearly 5, but if you strip out the doubtful
elements now it is under 2, the ratio drops to 0.656; anything less
than 1 is, of course, an overall dis-benefit.
means that the likely net waste is 35% of the total costs –
that's £40 million of public money.
broader summary of the benefit/cost ratio reveals that the majority
of the benefits actually derive directly or indirectly from the
provision of park & ride car parks at Longstanton and St Ives,
because of the positive effect on congestion. Build those at a cost
of about £4 million, spend a few million on new buses and
priority measures and hey presto! You’ve got all the benefits
of the Cambridgeshire Guided Bus at a fraction of the cost.
the age of kerb-guidance systems in Adelaide and Essen, application
of the technology is effectively in its extreme infancy and
Cambridgeshire will only be the third or fourth large-scale scheme in
the world. Indeed, it is fascinating that the total guideway mileage
of about 15 miles is being so enthusiastically promoted as the
longest in the world when surely it indicates clearly that the reason
for this is that no one else has so far wanted such a scheme over 25
So, as the use of the technology is
novel and the number of schemes worldwide so small, the vehicles for
each are unique fleets. In Adelaide, the government is struggling to
find suppliers to replace life-expired vehicles, which in this
context is 25 years or less, since quite simply no one makes them. In
a fascinating web discussion group, comments are being made that I
predict will be replicated over here in rather less than 25 years’
time. I have paraphrased where necessary, but the meaning hasn’t
“What a mistake this is. We are the only
ones in the world to have this. What were
“I have never understood the logic behind it when a normal
busway would do the same job much cheaper”
“It is ironic that the tramway extension is
about to open when the government is struggling to find replacement
buses for the orphaned busway which no one
else around the world has been foolish enough to adopt.”
“The busway is not a good solution to a
knotty problem, but it was politically acceptable at the time it was
constructed – a rushed job, if you like. The fact that we are
now paying heavily seems to be irrelevant to the planners. You could
be kind and say that the politicians ‘did something’, as
in ‘this is something, therefore we will do this’.
However, something is not always the right thing.”
In conclusion, the Cambridgeshire scheme can be
seen to be a very expensive experiment that simply would not have
gone ahead without the political imperative and, to be fair, the
failure of the dis-integrated UK railway
industry to fight its corner – which of course is the result of
political meddling in the first place.
In my view, it will truly be a white elephant for
Cambridgeshire and I believe the application of the many criticisms I
have highlighted tonight will eventually
lead to the abandonment of the technology worldwide.
Unfortunately, the Cambridgeshire scheme probably
cannot be declared a failure until Northstowe is built and full of
residents by about 2016. Who knows what
subsidy will be required in the meantime. Only then will the year
2000 Select Committee get their answer – by which time I
suspect all of its members and, indeed, all of the misguided
promoters of the Cambridgeshire scheme, will be long gone and local
and national taxpayers will once again be left to pick up the bill
for an unforgivable political lack of vision.
I am happy to take questions now but this has been
a long presentation. I suggest we might better repair elsewhere and
provide the tax man with a little extra
towards that subsidy!
Copyright: Tim Phillips 2007
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