Busway closed, but for how long?

Tuesday 1st February 2022

As expected the southern section of Cambridgeshire’s guided busway between the railway station and Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Trumpington closed yesterday for an indefinite “temporary period” pending the outcome of an independent safety review expected to conclude this month.

I wrote about the background to this last week which led to a lively discussion in the comments. Busways, cyclists and safety are always hot topics, so put them all together and it’s not surprising there’s lots of opinions.

After last week’s closure postponement Cambridgeshire County Council updated the information on its website last Monday confirming the “temporary closure on a section of the Guided Busway in one direction between Cambridge Railway Station and Addenbrooke’s will start on 5 February” ie this coming Saturday.

So what’s with the total closure from yesterday?

This involves “both the maintenance track and the busway in both directions closed from the entrance of the busway at Hills Road bridge to Addenbrooke’s spur junction for five days to install the temporary barrier” the update continues.

The website goes on to explain “it will take five days to install the temporary fencing inside the upstand of the guideway and will run along the 1.7km stretch of the busway not the maintenance track. It is being installed to stop people from walking and cycling on the busway track that isn’t being used. Also, work will take place overnight to repair some parts of the maintenance track damaged by tree roots from neighbouring properties“.

Sure enough yesterday morning workmen were hard at work on the completely closed busway (including the adjacent footpath/cycle way/maintenance track – whatever it’s called) installing bright red and white bases ready to take wire fences to run alongside the controversial section of busway.

This work raises three perplexing questions in my mind.

Why is so much trouble being gone to this week after so much time has elapsed since the fatalities and when we’re on the cusp of receiving the independent safety review?

Secondly come this Saturday, when the bright red and white bases and fences are all in place and the southbound busway track reopens, the northbound busway track will stay closed for an indeterminate “temporary period”. Surely the preventative measures being introduced this week should have been installed on the “maintenance track” thus allowing the northbound track to reopen?

Why are they being installed, particularly bearing in mind elsewhere on the busway there are no such safety measures at all?

No safety measures for this section of busway leading to and from the hospital site.

I took a few rides on the busway between Trumpington and the city centre yesterday morning to see the impact of the closure.

It didn’t go well.

Busway departures are timetabled to leave the Trumpington Park & Ride site terminus every 15 minutes at 00/15/30/45 minutes past each hour.

I arrived for the 08:15 departure and there was already quite a queue forming.

A bus finally arrived at 08:20 and the driver made a comfort stop using the on site toilets before she started the boarding at 08:23. With more and more passengers arriving all the time it was ten minutes later at 08:33 when she finally cleared the queue. I counted 53 on board as we left including many standing.

I have to say the driver remained calm and unflustered despite the pressures and ensured there was a good atmosphere among the passengers on board who were mostly staff going to work at Addenbrooke’s Hospital who all enjoyed some special ticket arrangement – just flashing their NHS ID passes which the driver told them “had been extended to 7th February” whatever that meant.

Not so happy were the ten passengers waiting to board at the first (and only) stop on the Busway serving Trumpington ‘village’ itself. We sailed by leaving them waiting and with the next bus nowhere in sight.

We turned off the Busway at the point where workmen were installing the barriers to enact the closure at the southern end of the busway towards the station.

Normally it’s a double run to serve Addenbrook’s Hospital from this point for a full tour of the hospital grounds. Yesterday morning we did that and dropped 46 passengers at various points in the extensive grounds as well as pick six more passengers up.

Then instead of heading back to the closed busway we made our way out to Long Road (the A1134) to battle our way to Hills Road. The time was now 08:50.

It took us seven minutes to crawl the 500 yards to the traffic light junction and turned left to head north along Hills Road (the A1307).

It was slow going but not as slow as the traffic heading south, including busway buses being severely delayed.

We arrived at Cambridge railway station at 09:06, 33 minutes after leaving Trumpington.

Stagecoach’s revised timetable introduced from last weekend (I’d assumed taking account of the temporary busway closure) allows 20 minutes for each journey whether peak or off-peak. This is patently woefully inadequate. The 08:15 departure from Trumpington is scheduled to arrive at the railway station at 08:35 thereby making our arrival 31 minutes late which would have inconvenienced more passengers on the route all the way through to St Ives and no doubt the following journey would have been curtailed.

I headed back to Trumpington from the station finding two buses on route A arriving together and picking up another good crowd of passengers between them and all, bar one passenger, for Addenbrooke’s.

We joined the slow moving traffic still queuing in Hills Road at 09:14 …

…..eventually arriving at the first stop in Addenbrook’s at the Out-Patients at 09:34 having passed slow moving buses hopelessly delayed in the northbound direction.

23 passengers got off as we toured around the hospital site still following the bus in front and arrived at Trumpington at 09:44 having taken 30 minutes (not the scheduled 20 minutes).

Approaching the Trumpington terminus on the single track section of guided busway.

I headed back into the city centre again, this time on the bespoke Park & Ride service – route PR3 – that left at 09:50 as part of the route’s ten minute frequency. This service heads into the city centre along the better flowing Trumpington Road and we arrived at the route’s city centre terminal point in just nine minutes, with half a dozen passengers on board. An impressive journey time but not so impressive number on board.

My next journey back to Trumpington was again on route A from the railway station to see what the off peak would bring. I had a look around before leaving and couldn’t see any information on display about the diversion.

And then it occurred to me I hadn’t seen anything displayed at the Trumpington terminus either despite some makeshift signs. No wonder one or two passengers on board had looked mystified about why we were stuck in traffic on Hills Road.

This second southbound journey on the busway left the railway station at 10:42 and with Hills Road finally free flowing after the morning peak, we arrived into Trumpington at 10:59 after a quick 17 minute run.

It would seem the arrangements will just about cope in the off peak, but the peak is a complete disaster. The sooner buses are able to get back to using the busway the better.

Bearing in mind this whole escapade is over safety concerns I noticed roadworks at the southern end of Hills Road have closed the cycle lane that runs alongside the main traffic lane resulting in cyclists dangerously weaving their way between slow moving traffic.

It didn’t look very safe to me.

Maybe Hills Road needs to close pending an independent safety review too.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu.

Nest blog: Thursday 3rd February 2022: My bus ride to a “living lab project”.

9 thoughts on “Busway closed, but for how long?

Add yours

  1. So most of your passengers travelled from Trumpington to Addenbrokes. Great . . . P&R in operation!!

    In the short-term . . . reduce the service to run exactly that; there are plenty of regular buses from Addenbrokes to the City Centre. Passengers on the Busway-only stops use the shuttle bus service to link to the real P&R service.

    That would capture most of the passengers and avoid Hills Road. Even if that was peaks-only . . . it’d be better than the carnage that RF experienced.

    In the longer-term . . . I despair, I really do. By all means build a decent (say 1m high) fence, but on the maintenance track side of the raised kerb; don’t ruin the travels of the many for the stupidities of the few. (Of course, we must protect cyclists and pedestrian at all costs . . . !!!).

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  2. Cambridge always had a blind soft spot for cyclists.
    Or do I feel a third blog coming on, advocating the resurrection of (former Cambridgeshire Mayor) Palmer’s Underground system! After all, money’s no object for a hobbyist white elephant; is it? The more the merrier, apparently!

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  3. Firstly, why not ban cyclists from the closed section of Busway to enable the Busway to reopen? Secondly, reduce the fares on Busway to attract those that may have wanted to cycle to now use the buses on the Busway – extra fare income or Build Back Bus Better funds could help make up the shortfall (although with peak time delays, passenger numbers may drop, so fare income would reduce anyway).
    Longer term, maybe build a fence along the Busway. any passengers wanting to leave the bus in an emergency can use the offside emergency exit.

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  4. I wonder if the idea that, in an emergency, passengers should be able to leave the bus “anywhere” rather than at specified places is a bit of a canard? Think of the London Underground: drivers have to continue to a station as it’s totally impossible to detrain in most of the tunnels. Even on a normal railway network there’s lots of places where it can’t be done, eg high embankments or viaducts (quite apart from the drop to the ground).

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  5. Why is the temporary safety barrier being installed ON the inbound track rendering it unusable and inconveniencing bus passengers? Logically the barrier should be ON the maintenance track and then both busways and maintenance track can reopen.

    I note the HSE hasn’t concluded it’s report into the 2018 accident, so this closure could be lengthy. This is an example of how buses “flexibility” to go around obstacles works against them, as no way would a tram line be closed in such circumstances.

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  6. I expect that Lord Prescott is looking into it closing a perfectly good railway line to build it.Perhaps he could use some of the money he used to bail out then privately owned Jaguar when he should have let them fold?

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    1. One 2-coach train will carry around 150 seated passengers every hour . . . even if the branch line could provide two trains each hour (very difficult with a single-track line from Cambridge North to St Ives) that’s around 300 passengers each hour.

      Before Covid, the Busway was running at least 15-20 buses each peak hour, using double deckers with 75 seats. That’s well over 1000 passengers per peak hour . . . plus penetrating right into Cambridge City centre, and with through links from a wide area to Addenbrokes Hospital. And don’t forget the extension to Huntingdon (and previously on towards Peterborough).

      The myth about the Cambridge Busway being inferior to a long closed branch line needs to be debunked once and for all!!

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      1. Much like the myth that Lord Prescott would never join the aristocracy!A myth that he was keen to put around before joining up!

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