Tuesday 25th January 2022
A one and a third mile section of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway will close next Monday due to safety concerns. It follows two fatal accidents, one in September 2018 and another in October last year.
Following October’s incident an independent safety review was established and after consultations with the Health & Safety Executive the County Council has decided to close the relevant section of busway pending the report’s outcome which is expected by the end of next month. This does beg the question why close the busway now rather than wait for the report to be published in a few weeks, or if risks and dangers are perceived to be so great, why wasn’t it closed immediately after that second accident. Even more concerning is if the report recommends extensive remedial actions which take time to implement, the busway could potentially be closed for some considerable time causing inconvenience to thousands of passengers.
The closure was due to start yesterday but Stagecoach’s service update page on its website advises “due to delays in changes to infrastructure, the busway track closure will be postponed to Monday 31st January”. It makes you wonder why the risks are acceptable this week, whereas next week they’re not and bus passengers are set for an uncertain few weeks, if not months.
I’m not sure what the “changes to infrastructure” are (presumably temporary closure signs and barriers) but the busway section concerned is the northbound ‘track’ between Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Cambridge railway station. Southbound buses will continue as normal but northbound buses will divert on to the busy Hills Road to the east of the busway adding to journey times for passengers from Trumpington Park & Ride and Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
Stagecoach had planned to introduce a raft of reductions to service frequencies in both Cambridge and Bedford from Sunday just gone “in response to the continuing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on staffing and passenger levels and to ensure we can continue to give customers a reliable service while the pandemic continues to affect employees and businesses across the region”. This included a reduction in frequency on the busway with revised schedules to allow for increased journey times on route A as a consequence of the busway closure. Although the closure has been postponed Stagecoach explain the “frequency changes on the A and B services will continue to be introduced from Sunday 23rd January”.
The reduced timetable provides for a 15 minute frequency on the busway (rather than every 10 minutes) with extra peak hour journeys on the northern main section between St Ives and Cambridge. On Saturdays the section between Cambridge and Addenbrooke’s and Trumpington is reduced to just half hourly, which isn’t particularly attractive for Park & Ride users. Whippet also operate on the about-to-close section of busway with a fifteen minute frequency on route U (for Universal) between the Biomedical Campus at Addenbrooke’s to the railway station before continuing to the Madingley Road Park & Ride site and Eddington. Whippet haven’t announced whether their frequency will reduce when the busway closes.
The two fatal accidents which have led to this closure were tragic. The circumstances surrounding the death of pedestrian Kathleen Pitts in October are not clear but in September 2018 cyclist Steve Moir steered to avoid pedestrians and as he did so clipped the kerb between the cycleway-come-footpath and the adjacent busway and sadly fell off his cycle into the path of a passing bus.
As reported at the inquest in May 2019, police attach no blame to the bus driver who did all he could to immediately stop the bus when he saw what was happening.
The speed limit on this section of busway was cut from 50mph down to 30mph in 2019 as a result of that fatality and was again reduced to 15mph in November last year as an immediate reaction to the latest fatality.
I took a ride out to see the situation for myself on Saturday with northbound buses still operating on the busway and had planned to take another look yesterday at the newly introduced temporary arrangements to see the impact of the closure, but this will have to now wait until next week, but I thought I’d provide you with ‘the story so far’ with part 2 following next week.
As I walked south from the station alongside the northbound ‘track’ of the busway on Saturday’s bright sunny morning it was immediately clear how well used the footpath/cycleway is. I was constantly being passed by joggers and cyclists and passing others heading towards me all enjoying the January sunshine.
There are no markings on the footpath as it’s not really wide enough to designate separate sections and allow room for both northbound and southbound cyclists and pedestrians walking in groups so at times when multiple groups – either or both walkers and cyclists in both directions – cross each other it can be a bit of a melee.
It doesn’t take much imagination to play out those awful moments in your mind when poor Steve clipped the kerb as buses pass the scene.
The County Council have done the right thing to contract an independent review by a professional safety expert and I wouldn’t want to second guess the findings not least because I’m not qualified to do so, but I hope it will take practicalities into account as it seems to me the circumstances could play out in other locations too, albeit this particular stretch is probably the most popular for walkers and cyclists and the footpath at its narrowest.
Someone retweeted my tweet from Saturday making the observation there are other places – they quoted the A10 – where the potential dangers are even greater.
Someone else tweeted the point that other sections of the main busway north of Cambridge has even narrower footpaths.
The same infrastructure on the section of closed busway also applies south of where the accidents happened and where the speed limit has been retained at 40mph.
I wonder if the independent review recommends significant infrastructure changes whether they will be affordable.
If, for example, it was suggested a higher ‘crash style’ barrier is called for, it could prove challenging both financially and practically to install it over such a long distance and might also prove a hindrance in the event of a bus breakdown or incident where passengers needed evacuating on to the footpath.
The family of Steve Noir have suggested installing white lines to make the danger clear and delineate space for cyclists separately from pedestrians. This would be the ideal but as already said I’m doubtful there’s room. The only markings I saw on Saturday were “BEWARE OF BUSES” every few hundred yards which are not really serving any purpose as I’m sure everyone knows buses use the busway.
One radical suggestion would be to ban either pedestrians or cyclists from using this stretch to avoid the conflict that certainly led to Steve’s death if not Kathleen’s. I should add I’ve got my tin hat on as I write this as I know how emotive such a proposal will be either with pedestrians or cyclists. But there are precedents with motorways for example where both are banned. I’m just keen the outcome isn’t a prolonged closure for buses with the consequential impact on passengers who are never as articulate as pedestrians and cyclists at making their voices heard among decision makers, while bus operators who speak up are accused of having ‘vested interests’.
I’ll report back next week on how the temporary (I hope it’s ‘temporary’) closure is impacting bus routes and passengers but I’ll end these thoughts by affirming it really is a lovely walk along the footpath, and I can see how attractive it would be to cycle along there too. Perhaps the answer then is to accept the level of risk and two fatal accidents, albeit very tragic, in over ten years of operation is on a par with the safety record of many other roads in the UK.
Southern’s missing trains mystery update
As promised in Saturday’s blog here’s an update from Tina at Southern’s Customer Relations (aka Capita based in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, North West Leicestershire) answering my query of how running trains from Sussex to London Bridge rather than Victoria at huge inconvenience to thousands of commuters and leisure travellers is saving staff resources. Readers will recall Tina’s previous reply was worthy of a Cabinet Minister’s reference to the “fastest vaccine rollout” when challenged by journalists about evidence of Government corruption and the Prime Minister lying to Parliament and taking the country for fools. Well, Tina’s surpassed herself with this latest response received yesterday. On the positive side there’s an admission she’s “unable to provide information” but the ensuing 245 words are a classic of the customer service genre of saying nothing in reply to a question/complaint. But, just like the PM, Southern is “truly sorry”.
We’re making sure journey planners including nationalrail.co.uk are updated so the timetable we plan to operate on a week-by-week basis is reflected. These will only be updated until a certain date so as mentioned previously, you will find all the latest information on our webpage. All customer comments are passed to the relevant planning team and if there’s any way we can improve the service on your route without compromising the timetable already in place, we’ll be sure to do so.
We know the current situation is very difficult for all our passengers and I can assure you our top priority remains providing a safe and reliable service through this challenging time.
Thank you again for taking the time to get in touch.
Kind regards Tina Customer Relations Advisor
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu
Next blog, Thursday 27th January 2022: B is for Bracknell.