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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 worldwide.

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 locations.

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 Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

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 Addenbrooke’s.

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 buses.

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:

"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), 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 economy.

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 debate later.

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 times.

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 and Northstowe.

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 priorities).

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 my mind:

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 separately.

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 nothing.

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 Street line?

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 three-and-three-quarter hours!

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 useless.

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 indeed robust.

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.

CAST.IRON’s 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 system.

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.

  • The rural, at-grade situation on the Cambridgeshire wil leave it particularly prone to joy riding and other acts of vandalism.

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 alternative.



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.

  • The 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 figures:

The 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.

Of those non-user benefits, 40% related to reducing road traffic queueing in four specific places.

One 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.

The 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.

Further, 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.

Such 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.

This means that the likely net waste is 35% of the total costs – that's £40 million of public money.

A 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.

Despite 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 years.

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 been changed:

“What a mistake this is. We are the only ones in the world to have this. What were we thinking?”

“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.”

And, tellingly:

“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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