Wednesday 17 August 2011

Busway Buts [1]

  "But it should have been a re-opened railway"  

The 1950 editon of Bradshaw's guide showed nine trains a day between Cambridge and St Ives. We may look longingly into the rosy-hued past, but a "proper" railway would never have been able to offer a 10 minute frequency.
Surely, the operating costs alone of heavy rail would blow the finances out of the water? CASTIRON would, of course, profoundly disagree. [Cambridge And ST Ives Re-OpenNing]. Also, rail on an existing alignment would not serve the city centre. Cambridge Station and its associated lines are some distance from where local folk would want to go. The station is bottom right of this 1940s map extract.
A tram, maybe; but the implications of shoe-horning a tram into the already chaotic traffic in the City Centre are horrendous.
At least buses stand a chance of avoiding obstacles. Then there is the southern section to Addenbrooke's Hospital and Trumpington Park and Ride. This has been largely overlooked by bloggers and commentators, but from Cambridge Station southwards it uses the trackbed of the former Cambridge to Bedford line ...
... seen here at the Shelford Road bridge as undergrowth was being cleared. There has long been a so far fruitless campaign to reopen this line as an important cross-country link.

There never was a station at Trumpington; the first stop west of Cambridge being at Lords Bridge ...
... just south west of Barton on the A603, now part of the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory. The old station buildings are now a small visitor centre and a lecture room.
So, this "stub" would be an even less likely candidate for a big train set. Serving Addenbrooke's would have been impractical by rail and, as a minimum, would have involved a long walk from a possible Hospital Halt.
So, the argument leads inexorably to the busway solution; a Route A bus seen here approaching Cambridge Station from the south.
This bus will run under Hills Road bridge, call at the station and trundle into the city via Station Road, seen here with a Stagecoach Citi City service coming from the station.
As an innocent and outside observer, fbb proffers the view that a real big big railway re-opening would have been an answer, but to a somewhat different set of questions. The bus is potentially good for shoppers, hospital visitors and commuters, whereas the train would have offered better long distance travel opportunities onward by rail. You pays your money and you takes your choice, as always.

Alan, our Northampton correspondent opines, "Of course it should have been a train. It would be like coupling several buses together and only needing one driver." Would that it were so simple!

BUT, why did it cost so much? Coming Next!

Next blog : due Thursday August 18th  


  1. '...but a "proper" railway would never have been able to offer a 10 minute frequency.'

    I'm not sure why you say that - there are plenty of "proper" railway lines that offer high frequency services. It all depends on the track layout and signalling. I suppose we have become used to "rationalised" arrangements that undoubtedly restrict the frequency of service that can be offered, but it does not have to be so.

    'A tram, maybe; but the implications of shoe-horning a tram into the already chaotic traffic in the City Centre are horrendous.'

    As I mentioned elsewhere, if it can be done in historic city centres like Freiburg or Heidelberg, then I'm sure a solution for Cambridge could have been devised as well. You mention Switzerland sometimes in your blog posts, and there are also examples there where trams penetrate old city centres effectively. The thinking is that trams are in fact preferable to buses in narrow streets due to their guidance (rails). The obstacle problem is one of traffic management.

    '..fbb proffers the view that a real big big railway re-opening would have been an answer, but to a somewhat different set of questions.'

    Not only an answer to a different set of questions, but also to the local passenger transport needs. Light rail vehicles can co-exist happily on main line railways - e.g. Karlsruhe. The line could also have included additional stations (as proposed by CASTIRON), and/or diversion of local passenger LRVs to the city centre a la Karlsruhe and Saaarbrücken.

    The justification for the busway is supposedly congestion on the A14 - yet the A14 carries a mix of long distance and local traffic, both goods and passenger. A rail solution could also have catered for all of those different types of traffic - with the appropriate equipment and investment. The busway only caters for local passenger traffic (and, having been built, now excludes the possibility of a solution for the other types of traffic). Of course a rail solution of this nature would have been expensive, but the costs could have been borne by a much wider range of traffic. I wonder how much train operators would save by avoiding the journey via March to travel between Peterborough and Cambridge?

    I cannot help but see this busway as a missed opportunity - it could have been, and potentially achieved, so much more.

  2. Thanks RC169, useful comments as usual. I was thinking my response was more realistic in today's economic and political environment. I REALLY can't see any government adopting your "continental" plans in the forseeable future because here in GB we are obsessed with low taxation. This is not the case in many "furrin" countries where the populace seems to accept a higher tax burden in return for good public transport.

  3. To be fair, Karlsruhe, which is widely seen as the model for this type of operation, had the advantage of an existing local rail network and a street tramway, so that the actual new track that was needed to create the system was very little - principally the short connecting spurs between the DB rail network and the street tramway. There have been some extensions, and widespread refurbishment of stations, plus additional stops, but I would think that, relatively, these would not have been as expensive as the investment that would have been required to reinstate the Cambridge-St Ives line with links to the city centre, as I envisaged earlier. There is no doubt that a full 'main line' standard railway would have been expensive, particularly if any new alignment would have been required to link to the ECML.

    Superficially, I would agree with you about there being no prospect of such a scheme being approved in the current political and economic climate... and yet, even the present government talks about building HS2 between London and Birmingham. My impression is that HS2 is extremely controversial, and some experts suggest that more benefit would be obtained from more, but smaller schemes. Such smaller schemes may not achieve the dramatic time savings of HS2, but they can be implemented more quickly, and by virtue of there being more such schemes, more people may actually benefit - rather than concentrating a vast proportion of the available resources on one particular market segment. Cambridge - Huntingdon would almost certainly count as such a 'smaller scheme', and whilst it might perhaps only knock 10 minutes off the Cambridge-Peterborough time, even that might be quite a worthwhile saving. Less mileage = reduced fuel consumption and maintenance costs, and these benefits would be obtained by a variety of traffic travelling between the Midlands and East Anglia. This is in addition to the scope for a new local rail service; plus any traffic (long distance or loval) that might be encouraged to transfer from road to rail.

    I suspect that the problem lies in an unsatisfactory method of cost-benefit analysis, which does not properly calculate the true benefits - even those which have relatively easily calculable financial effects. The other problem is the political desire for a 'grand gesture'. For a national politician, a project like HS2 has far more kudos (as well as risk!) than a reinstated line from Cambridge to Huntingdon would.

    When I lived in the UK I might have shared your view about taxation, but after 10 years in Germany, I don't think it's as simple as that. I suspect that the general level of taxation is not so different in the two countries, although some aspects work in a different way, and I have little doubt that the German system is rather less 'fair' than the UK system. Germans do complain about taxation, and other public services seem to be more expensive than in the UK - notably health and medication. It's also worth remembering that one country often praised for having a good public transport system - Switzerland - also has very low taxation, such that wealthy Germans take large sums of money in cash in suitcases to be deposited in numbered Swiss bank accounts to avoid German tax rates. This is an hot topic at the moment as the German finance ministry has recently agreed a deal with Switzerland whereby the tax on such deposits will be collected by the Swiss and paid to Germany, but at a lower rate than if the money had been held on deposit in a German bank. A deal that resolves a political argument between the countries, but hardly a fair deal for those Germans not wealthy enough or devious enough to resort to such methods. The 'acceptance of a higher tax burden' is perhaps not quite so great as it might appear.

    Apologies for the length of the comment, but I hope it's of interest!