The County Council has and continues to run a series of ‘open days’ at the guided bus site. I joined one last week. It was a good morning, there were a dozen or so of us in attendance and we got a fairly good briefing about the busway and its construction. However as an opportunity to really understand what this development might do for the county it failed.
For starters we didn’t get to ride on a bus! We were told that such an excursion would get in the way of construction activity. But since there was no construction on the day we were there and no reason for any heavy traffic to be using the route that rang a little hollow. It may be of course that the council doesn’t have a bus at its disposal which is fair enough but given the importance of this project and the need for its current low level of public esteem to be raised it would have seemed sensible to have made one available.
We got lots of facts during our tour of the factory. We were told about the need to shake the beams during construction to get rid of any air bubbles; but not too much which would have resulted in phase separation. We were told that the reinforcing structures had been ordered in advance from Wales (good old Welsh steel), were prefabricated and delivered daily. And we were told that curves on the track developed gradually to give a smooth ride and were challenged to tell the curvature of individual beams.
What we were not told was important stuff like how many buses will be ready to use the guideway on day 1, or how long it will take to get through the city centre (we’ve tested speeds on the guideway itself but the challenge comes when the buses run off it and compete with City traffic), or when will phase 2 come along when the guideway will connect via the new Chesterton station to the main station!
As a feat of engineering and project management the Cambridgeshire Guided Bus is impressive and council officers and contractors Nuttalls are to be congratulated. But there is always the nagging doubt that this is a lost opportunity. It’s a project that goes nowhere and you can’t help thinking that a strategic decision which looked at broad transport needs for the future would have chosen an alternative technology.