Thursday 31 October 2013

Impressions of the Luton-Dunstable guided busway

Yesterday, along with Hugh Taylor who also contributes to this blog, I visited the Luton-Dunstable busway.

It is a very different beast from the Cambridgeshire busway, running almost entirely through an urban setting, and it has both steep gradients and frequent curves.

The busway follows the line of a former railway linking Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Harpenden, Luton and Dunstable. For a map of the busway click here.

We started from outside Luton Station where a series of bus stops effectively forms a mini bus station. It wasn't well signed though. We had to hunt around to find which stop our bus ran from.  On a wet, windy winter's day, the 'bus station' would be a bleak place. I got the impression that most of the buses serving central Luton run to/from stops in Church Street about half a mile away and there doesn't seem to be a policy of encouraging all bus services to go to the railway station.

We boarded an Arriva service A, a high quality single decker with a substantial luggage rack - essential as this route serves Luton Airport, and is the principal link between the Airport and Luton Station.

The bus drops down to a flat crossing of Guildford Street, then climbs steeply to what I imagine must be the former railway trackbed. It runs parallel to a road, Hatter's Way, passing Clifton Road and Stanton Road busway stops. The bus rarely reached its maximum running speed of 50mph because of frequent speed restrictions e.g. for footpath crossings and side turnings. As with the Cambridgeshire busway there are frequent breaks in the guide rails requiring buses to slow down. Approaching Dunstable, the busway passes an area of open countryside on the left. The busway crosses the A505 on a bridge, and after about 200 metres, the bus veers off the busway and performs a slow loop around Dunstable Town Centre on roads with many tight bends. The bus then returns to the busway, climbing up a steep slip road with a 5-metre guided section half way up. This loop costs about 7 minutes of running time. Our bus then turned left, retracing part of its earlier route, before continuing straight on at the White Lion Retail Park. The busway next follows the former freight branch railway that ran into the cement works. Close to Portland Ride stop, the busway reverts to bus-only road, with no guide rails. The route ends in the Townsend Industrial Estate by merging into the narrow and congested Blackburn Road. A sharp left, then a sharp right, took the bus out onto Houghton Regis High Street.

Part of our return journey was on a service E provided by Centrebus. Not such a comfortable vehicle - hard seats, a bit rattly and with a noisy engine.

Later we travelled out on the Airport route (service A). Contrary to the map , the section east of Luton Station Interchange is a bus-only road, with no guide rails. There is no convenient stop for Luton Airport Parkway, and most of this end of the route uses ordinary roads with occasional stretches of bus lane.

The Luton busway has a cycle track along side most of its length. It has a gravel surface, so not good for bicycles. The gates would be very difficult to maneouvre a bike through  - you'd have to twist the handlbars.

On the plus side, the cycle track is fenced off from the busway presumably for safety reasons.

Hardly surpising, there were very very few cyclists on the cycle track.

The entrance to the busway at Blackburn Road has no pavement, so any pedestrians would be forced out on the roadway.

The next three photos show some of the design features of a typical Luton Busway stop (Portland Ride).

There are no ticket machines (you buy from the driver). Live bus information isn't too obvious. At Portland Ride, it appeared above the map seen in the middle photo, but I couldn't get a photo of it due to light reflection.

At off-busway stops (e.g. Morrison's) timetable information was a bit patchy - not presented in an integrated way, just a series of small timetable posters stuck there by the different bus companies.

Regarding engineering, I noticed that bus vibrated much more rapidly than on the Cambridgeshire busway. This was due to the concrete track elements being shorter than on the Cambridgeshire busway. Transverse track beams were not visible.  This image shows what they are like underneath a covering of ballast, earth/grass.

What services run on the Luton Busway? Three bus companies provide the services. Link to timetable details here.

Arriva run route A between Luton Airport, Dunstable and Parkside. mostly on a 15-minute interval, hourly in the evening and on Sundays. Extra shuttle trips run between Luton Station and the Airport right through the night. Centrebus run the B ( Luton Station to Dunstable and Downside) and E ( Galaxy to Toddington bypassing Dunstable). Grant Palmer's  C links Luton Station to Dunstable and Beecroft.

A bit complicated for visitors to Luton, especially with buses looping around Dunstable town centre.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

A14 upgrade and the Busway

Today's County Council Cabinet meeting also considered the Council's response to the Highways Agency consultation on the A14 upgrade. Buried in the paperwork for this agenda item was the following paragraph:
There is a need to complete an unsigned 2010 agreement with the HA to protect the integrity of Guided Busway services during modifications to the A14 over bridge on the Cambridge Northern Bypass and it is proposed that this be flagged up in the consultation response.
My understanding of this is that there is no statutory protection for the Busway when it passes under a road bridge, in the way that exists for rail lines. So the County Council has to negotiate with the Highways Agency to ensure that work - as and when it's carried out - doesn't prevent Busway services from running. If anyone has a clearer, more informed understanding of the situation, please add a comment.

Terms of reference for independent review of Busway approved

Cambridgeshire County Council’s cabinet today approved the terms of reference for an independent review of the Busway "fiasco". But not before concerns were expressed by some councillors. The Cambridge News has the story.

For the actual terms of reference, and some background to the review, go to the County Council website.

Monday 28 October 2013

Busway neglect - ticket machines

The ticket machines on the west bound platforms at Histon and Swavesey have been out of order and boarded up for months.

Is the County Council doing anything about them? Are they going to be repaired or replaced?

Histon ticket machine

Swavesey ticket machine

Friday 25 October 2013

Satnav problems

Anther truck has been driven onto the busway at Longstanton due, apparently, to a satnav error. A photo of the incident appears in a Cambridge News article here.

Work on busway track at Histon

Yesterday there was a 10mph speed restriction near Histon for part of the day. A team of workmen appeared to be surveying the section of track affected by settlement.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

St Ives Morrison's

There is a hint in this week's Hunts Post ( 23 October, page 24) that Whippet is planning to divert its busway route C.

A new Morrison's store that is planned for the eastern edge of St Ives close to the Marsh Harrier pub/restaurant. The article suggests that the store will be served by six buses an hour, with services 12 and  C diverted. The C currently does a loop around north-west St Ives serving Hill Rise and Ramsey Road.

Read article here.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Developers threaten guided busway cash

Brookgate, the major player in redevelopment of the area around Cambridge Railway Station, appears to be disputing its commitment to make financial contributions towards the guided busway and other transport initiatives, claiming that new legislation means it doesn't have to honour commitments agreed when it got permission for the CB1 development.

Of £2.4 million at stake, around £2.1 million relates to the busway. Brookgate argues that, as the busway has already been built, its contributions are no longer needed.

Read full article at Cambridge News.

Monday 21 October 2013

Chaos on busway

Bus services on the busway were not running according to timetable this morning, presumably as a result of accidents on the A14 and M11.

There is a report about the accidents here.

Travelling from Cambridge to St Ives about 12 noon, I had to wait 25 minutes at New Square before a bus to St Ives appeared (an A). In all that time I did not see a B or a C going in the St Ives direction. While I was waiting, there were no buses heading in the opposite direction either.

Any other busway users affected by this disruption?

Thursday 17 October 2013

Car stuck on guided busway

A car  got stuck on the busway  at King's Hedges this morning causing delays to bus services, according to the Cambridge News.

The article also reveals statistics of other incidents of cars driving onto the busway - 20 in the last six months, of which 18 were at St Ives.

At a recent Cambridgeshire County Council meeting it was revealed that Stagecoach's insurance company had paid £91,263 to the Council following a bus crash at Longstanon in November 2012.

Access charges paid by Stagecoach and Whippet for use of the busway amounted to £597,734 last year, up from £349, 572 the previous year.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Michaelmas Fair in St Ives

This year, for the first time, bus traffic in St Ives was not plunged into chaos by the  Michaelmas Fair.

The Fair takes over the main market square in St Ives and in past years the regular Monday Market has been moved out onto the bus station. As a result buses have had to use a very inadequate bus stop in The Quadrant, with all the ensuing inconvenience for bus passengers, gridlock and delays.

This year was different. The Monday Market (well, a small remnant of it) could be found in a corner of the car park between the bus station and Waitrose.

And buses were running as normal, via the bus station and Station Road.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Busway faults

Cambridgeshire County Council is having to consider how to remedy a number of serious faults with the guided busway.

Some relate to shrinkage and heavage of clay affecting the foundation of the busway. Others concern dropping of the end of the concrete beams.

BAM Nuttall is said to have rectified a fault that required buses to slow to 5mph at Histon in the summer.

But regular travellers on the busway will be aware that buses still traverse some bad sections of track  a short distance east of Histon.

Read Cambridge News article here.

Friday 4 October 2013

Neglected Busway - Stud Lights

When the studlights were installed along the cycle track, the Cambridge News reported "Solar studs to light the busway bridleway"

Part way down it says:

Cllr Ian Bates, the cabinet member for growth and planning, said:  ........
“Solar studs will provide a trail route for users to follow while having no ongoing cost for the council.

Maybe they thought no maintenance would be required?

Tonight I took a photo at low point between St Ives Park & Ride and the Ouse viaduct, about 20 minutes after sunset. (Hence grainy - I have lightened it so it can be seen)

Approach to Ouse Viaduct   04/10/2013 18:53
The reason:  None of the 5-10 pairs of studlights - which were all on - were visible due to the overgrown vegetation.

With no spend on maintenance, the studlights are useless here.

Last week I reported to Cambridgeshire County Council several maintenance issues on the cycle track - including hidden stud lights, and a point just west of Covells drain where the 3.1m wide path is reduced to 1.4m because of overhanging vegetation. 
Track reduced to 1.4m wide

Track progress here. Currently says Cambridgeshire County Council not responsible - it has been referred on to ..."the appropriate party"...

Separately, I have reported to Cambridgeshire County Council the overgrown approach to the A1096 crossing between the Park & Ride site and St Ives town centre. Getting very difficult for 2 cyclists to pass. Track progress here. Currently says : We recognise that your reported fault needs addressing, and the work has been scheduled to be undertaken at the earliest opportunity.

Approach to A1096 Crossing - 20 Sep 2013

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Neglected busway - another comment

Another letter has appeared in the Hunts Post (2 October, page 7) in response to the letter last week about lack of maintenance of the busway.

The writer, a resident of Brampton, notes that the busway is starting to resemble to railway it replaced, that the approaches to Cambridge are defaced by graffiti, and that many of the recently planted trees are leaning over or have lost their protective sleeves.