Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Exclusive: My First Ride on Guided Busway

Huge excitement today as I was allowed to ride on a section of the County Council's Guided Busway. The brand new Stagecoach bus, complete with small guide wheel picked us up from the County Council's new park and ride site on Butt Lane, Milton, and we had a couple of runs from Cambridge Regional College on Kings Hedges Road to Park Lane, Histon and back.

So what were the first impressions? Uneventful would be one way of describing it - like a bus only better. The ride was very smooth, and fast. The top speed is around 55mph, which we reached on the journey. It took just under 5 minutes from Park Lane (just past Histon) to Cambridge Regional College on Kings Hedges Road (even after slowing down to avoid some children playing on the line that probably weren't expecting a bus to be running!)

The tracks were complete, but there is clearly still some work to be done on the stops and other areas like CCTV, bike racks and landscaping - and obviously it is still early days in terms of knowing how much of a success the Guided Busway will be. One thing is for sure, the Guided Busway will open, and Cambridgeshire will have a significant addition to its public transport infrastructure. Making any significant public transport project happen is always difficult and always controversial, the County will deserve the credit when the Guided Bus proves to be a great success.

And a final treat - a video of the journey from Park Lane, Histon to CRC:


Anonymous said...

And that Mr Howell is exactly why you WONT get my vote. Take the rose spectacles off and get out of cloud cuckoo land and represent your majority electorates feelings on this hugely unpopular white elephant !

Chris Howell said...

Hi Anonymous,

I am very aware that many people are sceptics of the benefits of the Guided Busway! I supported the Guided Busway prior to the decision being taken as based on the evidence available, it was the only option likely to get funding, because it was the only choice that made any financial sense at all (mainly because there will be little or no operating subsidy required). Rail, by contrast, would have been less flexible in many ways, much more expensive to build and ruinously expensive to run with the ongoing operating subsidy required). As such, it was a choice of Guided Bus or lose the opportunity of signficant improvements to public transport infrastructure.

Now so much public funding has been irretrievably committed and the route is nearly ready to open, I think it would be grossly irresponsible for anyone in public office not to do all they can to make the project a success, regardless of their original views, it remains to be seen the extent to which that will happen.

I don't think I am looking at the project with rose tinted spectacles - it isn't going to change the world, or provide anything other than a small part of the solution to Cambridgeshire transport problems (the massively more expensive A14 upgrade is clearly essential as well), but having ridden on it, like a bus journey only better is a fair summary - I think when it is fully operational a large number of people will find it very useful.


Richard Ward said...

To show how out of touch you are the many/majority people are not sceptics they just plain did not want it as you are fully aware.The busway has very little benefit and in fact has BCR of now less than 1% and any other scheme would of been thrown out on this figure ? I wonder why it was not ? You talk about basing your support on the evidence being available, well you would of course because it was a Tory monopolised county council providing this so called hyped up 'evidence'. How in the hell can a guided busway with a benefit to cost ratio of less than 1% costing £140m+ make any financial sense compared to railway quotes from industry experts quoting £50m ???
Yes, there was only funding for a guided bus because the government wanted an experiment and Cambridge was to be the one and the county sucked up to them rather than standing their ground and demanding funding for the far more beneficial rail option so I'm sorry but you are talking nonsense and dare say if it had been Labour driven you would of condemned it.As for your figures about the cost of rail and silly presumptions did you ever write to the railway promoters to get the figures quoted by the industry and also the TOCs supporting this venture-no you didn't so how do you know ? This evidence was all submitted at the decision all ready made so called independent inquiry that we all know was a predicted fix and whitewash. You bring up the old chestnut of the bus being more flexible than the train. How ? The only place the train would not of served was the city centre which is already served by buses from the station. People will not be able to get off the bus at Milton Rd or get on it so that does not sound very flexible to me. It was only a choice of guided bus or lose the opportunity because the county council did not even consider the railway to be an option as proved in their well documented consultation with the famous question ' Do you want a rapid transport system down the st ives to Cambridge line ' - guess what everybody ticked yes not knowing they were endorsing a 'bus'. I personally think it would be grossly irresponsible for anyone in 'public office' who is responsible for this scandalous waste of public money against the electorates wishes to get away with it and I sincerely hope it will be a dead duck and will lay money it will be and hope to see the time when the Johnstones, Menzies,and all the councillors who pushed it against the publics wishes are brought to account. So summing it up we have a very smooth 'bus'on a very very expensive guideway that defeats the object by coming off a concrete sewer onto congested bumpy roads and joining the rest of the chaos providing a service to the city centre and Addenbrookes already served by adequate existing services ? I think you'll find the amount of people who will find this service useful will not be enough to make it financially viable and the day will come when your electorate will be paying for the shortfall.More so when the people realise how exaggerated the county councils figures for times and patronage are/were and find out its just as quick using your car or existing bus services.

Richard Ward.

Chris Howell said...


Rail is more complicated than the guided busway and subject to an entirely more bureaucratic operating environment, so I would have taken a lot of convincing that a comparable rail system between St Ives and the Science park and between Trumpington P+R and the station would have cost less than the busway, and unfortunately the evidence presented by Cast Iron ranged from the blatantly ridiculous to merely suspect and unsupported by credible evidence, and therefore never came close to being believable which was actually a real shame as a would have liked to have seen a better case made for rail.

For example, If you recall, Cast Iron started by estimating that it would cost £2m to open a useful railway, and then increased in increments their assessment up to about £50m as they learnt more about the real costs, but each time managed to portray their latest estimate as being a professional estimate by an industry expert, and claiming anyone who disagreed with whatever their current estimate was was being deluded, not listening to the facts/Cast Iron experts etc. When Cast Iron claimed support from independent experts or unconnected bodies like the Strategic Rail Authority, evidence (like a letter of support) never seemed to be available.

The public enquiry Inspectors Report looked in detail at the claims made by Cast Iron and was pretty scathing. The following are the conclusions of the inspector - The County Council explained in its submissions in even more robust terms why Cast Iron had got its figures so wrong.

"Regarding a restored connection to Huntingdon, as proposed by CAST.IRON, that would involve, effectively, a new line going westwards from St Ives and crossing an extensive flood plain. There would then be the challenge of connecting the new link to the ECML. That would entail costly grade separated junctions across the tracks, while any plans for a connection going north would face the complications posed by the A14 flyover. While this might be technically feasible, the costs would undoubtedly be high. The total cost of completing the rail link from Cambridge through to the ECML was estimated by CCC at £354.8 million [4.152] although this and CCC's other estimates were strongly challenged by CAST.IRON [6.75-6.77].

As always, such estimates depend on the specification. In this case, that provided would bring the line up to a standard that would be suitable for all freight traffic. Clearly, it is a preliminary estimate but I have no reason to doubt that it gives a reasonable idea of the order of expenditure required for the whole route."

"Having heard the evidence, I was left in some considerable doubt about the realism and viability of these proposals and about the ability of heavy rail in general to provide a truly effective service on this particular local route. Moreover, the forecasts of patronage produced for the Inquiry suggest that a heavy rail service would carry significantly fewer passengers than would the CGB, indeed less than half at the peak hour [4.160, 4.161]. This finding is in line with the earlier CHUMMS work [4.162] and I regard it as a robust conclusion as to the likely comparative performance of heavy rail. It has to do with the flexibility of guided bus compared with that of rail and with the more attractive frequencies that the CGB would be able to offer."

"Business case for heavy rail CCC's business case analysis shows a continuing and very considerable deficit on operating costs against revenue (B164). Even if, against every expectation, capital funding could be secured, the prospect would be of a system requiring continuing public subsidy for what would be, on the face of CAST.IRON'S own appraisal, reduced public benefit.

Little weight should be attached to the business case that was submitted during the closing days of the Inquiry (CI/19). In it, CAST.IRON has sought to go back on evidence previously given as to patronage on the southern section of the route. Also, unjustified inflation factors for cyclist patronage and for trips from the northern fringe and northern villages to Cambridge railway station were inserted, and three stops were now proposed for Northstowe, even though no adjustment was made for the implications of this.

Much reduced operating costs are then put forward without any supporting evidence. Essential items such as infrastructure maintenance are omitted. In any event, even on CAST.IRON's own approach, the proposal for heavy rail is shown not to be viable. The only sound assessment of financial viability remains that in B164 which was the subject of evidence and cross-examination. CI/19 is rebutted in CCC/CI/REB3."

Now it could be that CCC fabricated all its evidence and despite the changing story and lack of credible supporting evidence from Cast Iron, and the basic principles argument that more complex systems cost more, the Inspector and the public enquiry were part of some huge conspiracy and rail was the right answer, but personally I'm going to stick to my original conclusion.

However this is all water under the bridge - if the anti Guided Bus movement believes its own propaganda nothing will save it from being an obvious disaster, so there is no need to wish it badly and hope for the worst - the only sensible approach now is to make sure the project is given as much support as possible and evaluate with the benefit of hindsight when their is significant operational experience to review.

richard ward said...

Oh dear oh dear Chris I stick to my original coclusion, that you like your fellow cllrs, have well and truly had the wool pulled over your eyes.So you think that cast irons plans were that ridiculous that the county spent £2-3m on legal fees? That sounds like to me a council who were taking them very seriously? Was their ridiculing as ridiculous as the estimations of approaching £400m for the cost of the same stretch of rail ?

Nothing will make you see until the day comes when 'we told you so' the amount of people objecting from all fields quite simply cannot all be wrong. Alot of things have already come to light just as predicted and sadly there will be more.

Now the truth:

Talking of credible evidence were you at the inquiry ? No i dont think you were. Do you know anything of the credible evidence provided by the TRL the independent laboratory used by the government that made some quite scathing statements of the CGB that was kept quiet by the county ? I doubt it and if the inquiry had know this, that was obtained by the FOI act post inquiry, the inspector would of been forced into a different ball game.

Yes, it is conveniently water under the bridge, i mean what else would you be expected to say ? i can assure you though thats not the thought process of most people and of course you would like it to succeed, youre a Tory councillor with 'brothers' on the county !

Propoganda Chris is bred and thrived on by cllrs and politicians FACT. Truth is bred by people who actually care and are not out for personal gain and career enhancement and ego trips like your friends and instigators on the county. If they did care they would of listened to and stood firm by their electorate rather than listening to spin, real propoganda and damn right dishonesty and untruths.

Richard W

Chris Howell said...


I don't really have much to say in reply that I haven't already said - you haven't addressed any of the key points made in conclusion at the public enquiry by the inspector except by suggesting it is all a conspiracy of dishonesty by the self-interested.

What I did observe throughout the whole process is that Cast Iron's story changed every 10 minutes and anyone who pointed out the obvious problems in their arguments at any stage was accused of being blinded by propaganda - and this is where my problem was in taking the rail option seriously - its main proponent was simply and obviously not believable, and if they couldn't come up with arguments in favour of rail with objective and rational merit rather than being merely emotional, its hard to expect policy makers to take them seriously.


Anonymous said...

No rail company has ever been financially successful, they always require Government bailouts, and seeing as our current do-nothing Government and it's unelected PM
have again screwed the economy I doubt there would be any money to
do this. I was initially against the Guided Bus, but having to commute from St Ives to Cambridge on the A14 I am now completely for it. I doubt many of the peole making comments here even know were the A14 is!