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.

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