Thursday, 18 August 2011

Busway Buts [2]

  "But why did it cost so much?"   

"The guideway cost was initially £54m, £65m, then £78m, then £86m, finally smashing the £100m mark to rest at £116m (March 2007). It was 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 by the promoters at the time and it was this figure that was submitted to public enquiry."

This quote comes from a Cambridge local paper.   
 £181,000,000 (say it quickly and it doesn't sound too bad) seems an awful lot of pennies for a few strips of concrete. And very nice they look, too.
But there are several civil engineering projects that have pushed the budget into the "whoops we didn't expect it to be as much as that" category. The St Ives branch line crossed the Great Ouse river on a simple girder bridge ...
... sadly not suitable for the busway and its ancillary access tracks. The new bridge, as well as being part of the pecuniary punch-up with the contractors, is a very significant bit of concrete indeed. Not a bridge but a lengthy viaduct to raise the track well above the flood plain.
A big bucks bonanza of a budget!

The section south of Cambridge Station has more heavy engineering. The route needed to cross under Hills Road, as below ...
... to the right of the exisiting railway. It is the height of this new bridge that means the southern section can only be used by single deckers, a decision which some commentators find short-sighted. Then at Long Road, near the Sixth Form College, a complete rebuild was necessary to provide a route for busway, footpath and cycleway.
Finally, to get the guided buses to Addenbrooke's Hospital, the spur guideway needed a bridge over the Cambridge to London electrified railway line.
What is absolutely amazing, to an outsider like fbb, is that this hugely expensive southern extension is only used by a 20 minute frequency service with nothing at all in the evenings and at any time on Sundays.
You might be forgiven for asking whether the expense can really be justified. The theory, of course, is that other services will be "attracted" to the busway but as the bus operators have to pay for the privilege of using it, you wonder jut a bit!

So it would appear that costs have spiraled out of control (what a surprise; that's never happened before with a major construction project, has it?)

In addition, both busway operators have invested in new vehicles; this from the Stagecoach group web site:-

"Stagecoach, one of two operators providing services on The Busway, is using a £3m fleet of 20 luxury buses that have been fitted with small rubber guide wheels. The greener Stagecoach buses run on 100% biofuel and produce up to 80% less carbon emissions than vehicles using conventional diesel. All of the specially-branded vehicles are equipped with leather seats, air chill, real time information, and wi-fi to enable passengers to access email and the internet on the move."

And they've been running round on "ordinary" services for two years!
Meanwhile Go-Whippet have bought three new vehicles, resplendent in the same livery as Stagecoach; a significant investment for a small company.
Everyone is agreed that the project has cost more than originally intended, so the final "Busway But" is ...

BUT, does it work?

Next blog : due Saturday August 20th
           Busway Buts 3            


  1. Could the Busway be better? today on Omnibuses

    Two first-hand reports may be found here and here

  2. "whoops we didn't expect it to be as much as that"

    The instances you mention seem to me (a non-engineer) to be issues that must have been well known right from the beginning of the project, so it seems inexcusable that they were not properly taken into account when costing the project. After all, building bridges is not exactly new technology. In the absence of more detailed information about the terms of the contracts, etc, I don't suppose it's possible to place the blame, and this is no doubt what the lawyers will argue at length over - at further cost to the taxpayer. It does seem like monumental incompetence, but sadly that is not uncommon, and nor is it confined to the UK. The story of the Siemens Combino trams is another instance where an oversight regarding engineering specifications resulted in huge additional costs - in that case, principally for Siemens themselves.

    As for the Hills Road bridge being too low for double deckers, that is just another example of the short sighted planning that seems to bedevil this project.

    Of course, the cost may be justifiable, if the system is well used - but the service offered at present really does not seem anywhere near intensive enough to justify the investment, and nor is it likely to attract very many motorists out of their cars.