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Guided bus

Extract from Better use of Railways Part 1

A bus lane or guided bus facility used by one vehicle every ten minutes or even two minutes is an affront to those who want to see the nation’s assets utilised.  Fixed track of any sort guarantees minimal use as evidenced by the railways and by tram.  Guided bus is no better.

The rationale behind the technology is that guidance systems allow relatively high-speed operation (60 mph is the target) on a narrow right of way.  However, this does not seem to be the case.  We have two examples, the Cambridge bus-way and the proposed Manchester system.

The Cambridgeshire busway is the longest such scheme in the world.  It has 16 miles of guided route.   It was converted from the disused track beds of the Cambridge and Huntingdon Railway, and the Varsity Line which linked Cambridge to Oxford. The target is up to 20 buses per hour in each direction, a vehicle flow so low it would be nearly invisible on an ordinary road.

The width of the guide-way is often quoted as “only” 6 metres.  However, the component dimensions, cited to us by the authority, are two 0.7m verge/emergency evacuation strips, two 2.6m guide-ways (kerb face to kerb face) and a 0.9m central reserve (just wide enough to allow the passing of wing mirrors).  That provides a total of 7.5 metres.  6 km of the route is on a railway embankment 8.5 metres wide at the top.  Elsewhere widths of 10 metres are common. There is also a service road often at the same level.

With regard to the embankment section, the authority said that a road without restraining walls would be dangerous.  We comment, that danger would be more apparent than real.  Probably as many buses will crash down the embankment over the years due to a failure of the guidance system as would arise if the drivers had control.  A road with kerbs standing 150mm to 300mm high would generally do the trick.  An operator told us that the currently the speed limit is 55 mph.

The cost was at least £150 million, roughly double that of a brand new, high-quality single carriageway trunk road of a similar length, and perhaps as much as six times the cost of a simple conversion scheme.  Worse still, the guide-way, or track, is made up of precast concrete units which have to be fitted with extraordinary precision, to the extent that the system seems to be in endemic failure due to settlement.

One reason given to us for the choice of busway, rather than a road, was “social equity”, for heavens sake.  Presumably those officials did not like to think of all those terrifically rich people actually using their cars.  This waste of resources, forced on the taxpayer by people acting in disregard of the market is, in our view, unforgivable. Today the scheme carries just 15 buses towards Cambridge in the morning peak hour. These pictures illustrate the scale of the £150 million folly.  It would be comic if were not true.











The Manchester system is under construction.  Quoting the busway team we have, “The guided busway is 6.4m in width. This includes two guide-ways of 3m and a 400mm central reserve.  There is then a 1.92m evacuation strip between the busway and a multi-user path. This is on one side of the busway only. The multi-user path is 4.5m in width and is used for necessary access (for maintenance activities etc), pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians”. Hence the overall width of the facility is 12.82 metres.  The speed limit, far from being 60 mph, is 40 mph.

The construction is to be by via “slip-form”.  The crucial distance between the inner faces of the kerbs will be cast ten centimetres (four inches) too narrow and then ground to tolerances of plus or minus one millimetre, for heavens sake!!  We are bound to ask the rhetorical question, why go to all that trouble when bus drivers have been steering buses on roads narrower than 6.7 metres since bus life began – and for how long will the track remain in such tight tolerance?

Again we can only shake our heads at the choice.  Left to market forces an ordinary road would have been provided.  It would have cost less, been less expensive to operate and would have enabled all classes of vehicle to use the route.  Similarly in Luton and Bristol.



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