Guided busway is the right way for the lo­ca­tion

Rail (UK) - - Letters - Dan Tan­cock, Ware

As a sup­porter of ‘horses for cour­ses’ in pub­lic trans­port, I am of­ten en­ter­tained how ‘ri­val’ modes are cov­ered in trans­port publi­ca­tions… and the ar­ti­cle on the Cam­bridge Busway ( RAIL 855) didn’t dis­ap­point!

Are there re­ally peo­ple out there still push­ing for the rail­way to be re­in­stated be­tween Cam­bridge and St Ives? I will try to give you a few rea­sons why such ide­ol­ogy can work against the pub­lic in­ter­est.

Firstly, Howard John­ston de­serves credit for ac­knowl­edg­ing that the Busway is un­doubt­edly pop­u­lar with the trav­el­ling pub­lic, and that 20 mil­lion peo­ple have trav­elled on it since it opened - this is not sur­pris­ing, given that it pro­vides much of the ben­e­fit of a seg­re­gated track with the flex­i­bil­ity of the bus. He also cor­rectly men­tions that the buses are equipped with air-con­di­tion­ing and WiFi, lux­u­ries not yet af­forded to me on my Greater Anglia lo­cal line!

But in the new timetable change, nine buses an hour off-peak will op­er­ate on the St Ives to Cam­bridge sec­tion. Can a rail ser­vice on what would be a ru­ral branch line ever ex­pect to match this ‘turn up and go’ fre­quency? I sus­pect two or three trains an hour in each di­rec­tion would be more likely.

Of course, in terms of seats per hour you need fewer trains than buses, but fre­quency of ser­vice is highly-prized.

Then there is the in­escapable ge­o­graph­i­cal fact that St Ives is north of Cam­bridge, and the lat­ter’s main rail sta­tion is lo­cated one mile southeast of the city cen­tre. A rail line may in­deed open up op­por­tu­ni­ties for travel to Lon­don (as­sum­ing there is the ca­pac­ity), but any­one liv­ing in St Ives and work­ing in Cam­bridge city cen­tre is faced with a long walk or a bus ‘back on them­selves’ to get to the cen­tre once they reach Cam­bridge sta­tion. If you are go­ing to get a bus any­way (and cy­cling’s not for every­one, even if they are al­lowed on these peak-hour trains) then why not get one for the full jour­ney?

Where there is jus­ti­fi­able crit­i­cism of the busway, it is in the cost in de­liv­er­ing the scheme, but this is the cost (both fi­nan­cially and rep­u­ta­tion­ally) of be­ing a pi­o­neer, and tech­niques have changed on sub­se­quent busway projects.

We live in a time where a new sin­gle sta­tion in War­wick­shire (Ke­nil­worth) costs around £13 mil­lion to con­struct, and yet £91m buys you 13-or-so miles of busway be­tween Lu­ton and Dun­sta­ble, to­gether with as­so­ci­ated in­fra­struc­ture.

Fun­da­men­tally, how­ever, cost com­par­isons be­tween modes are fraught with dan­ger. Both rail and guided bus have not in­con­sid­er­able in­fra­struc­ture costs, but to my knowl­edge buses op­er­ate on the Cam­bridge to St Ives busway with­out re­course to the pub­lic purse. Would a re­place­ment rail ser­vice achieve this?

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