Wednesday 1 June 2011

Histon Histrionics : Busted Busway

Some Day my Prince Busway will Come ...
Snow White has waited for over 2 years now for her much heralded shiny new busway between Cambridge and St Ives.  And still she languishes in her sad and deprived loneliness.  Although the vilified construction company has handed over the infrastructure to the County Council, there is still no date for opening.  August? September? Like Billy Bunter's postal order, successful delivery seems a little distant! 
The busway uses the former railway line from Cambridge via Histon (seen above in 1959) to St Ives; there is street running through Cambridge itself and another bit of busway to Trumpington and Addenbrooke's Hospital to the south of the city.   It is (will be?) the longest guided busway in UK.
This is Histon with the new track under construction.

The first guided bus "experiment" was in Birmingham ...
... where a 600m section of track at Short Heath on Streetly Road was used by service 65 from 1985.  The project came to an abrupt end in 1987 but some signage was still in place when the Google Streetview Noddy Car trundled past only a year or so ago!   The plate on the left hand No Entry sign says "Except Guided Buses".
Further guided bus sections of road have been introduced in Leeds (successful), Crawley (successful) and Edinburgh (now unused and immersed in the Great Tram Crisis).  The techincal side is quite simple. Ordinary buses with ordinary drivers have guide wheels fitted to the front steering.  The buses are separated from other traffic on their special track, the driver does not have to steer and speeds can be higher.  The Birmingham experiment claimed a 27% increase in ridership!
The slightly tired Scott Hall Road (Leeds) scheme has recently been "upgraded" with swish shiny silvery new double decker buses in a decidedly non-First livery and a new series of route numbers, "the 7 series". A blog on this particular scheme is due in a few days.

But as for Cambridge?
Stagecoach bought the buses in 2009 and they ran around with "Will I be using the busway soon?" vinyls; as here passing the blocked off track.  The answer was, it would appear, a resounding "No!", and still is. Possibly the finest comment on this appallingly mishandled project is on the pic below ...
'Nuff said!

Whilst Cantabrigian Commuters yearn for their sophisticated super-duper service, omnibologists are apt to forget the first and finest attempt at bus priority infrastructure in the UK, viz. the Runcorn Busway. This is a segregated loop road through housing and shopping centre. A scheme is afoot to improve and extend the system ...
... seen here in Croswille / NBC days.

The political environment at the moment means that almost any new capital projects are, at best, "moved to the right", a euphemism for a "quietly parked and hope it will go away" policy.  Some experts suggest that an easier future is "ftr" with trendy bendy buses that look a bit like trams ...
... but the York scheme, at least, seems to be unravelling. Meanwhile, our continental cousins in Rouen are experimenting with optical bus guidance using dotted lines on the road,
which, if universally workable, would make expensive infrastructure less necessary. 

But listen.   What do we hear?  Cambridge campaigners who sought to have the St Ives branch re-opened as a "proper" railway joyfully jeering "we told you so".
Their "CASTIRON" (Cambridge And ST Ives Railway Ope Ning) group suggests that a renewed railway would have been cheaper; would be more popular with the public; would reduce congestion in the City and would offer faster journeys.
If they are right, then where do we go from here? 

Next blog : due Friday June 3rd  

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