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Talking of time travellers…

In which we analyse a police suggestion


Ah, snow. You can’t beat it for sending people a bit mad and panicked. Yesterday the roads were gridlocked for half an hour at lunch time, because of the number of people who rushed home at the fall of the first flake. Last night, the news was full of dire warnings. Don’t travel if you don’t have to. Stock up your car. Make sure you take a shovel, blankets, a flask of tea, a flask of soup, sandwiches, cakes, a propane stove,* three woolly jumpers and the complete works of Proust, because you never know when you might get stuck.

I was particularly impressed, though, by the words of one of the local police spokesmen interviewed on last night’s news. “If you wake up in the morning and your car’s all frosted up,” I’m fairly sure he said, “you should get up 30 or 45 minutes early and make sure it’s completely defrosted before you set off.” It took me a minute to spot the flaw in the statement – assuming I’m not misremembering what he actually said. I think it’s a pretty good plan, though.

* Not a butane stove, because – as hardy campers will know – its boiling point at standard pressure is just below freezing. In cold weather, butane stoves get sluggish, give up and go to sleep. To cope with chills you need propane.

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High Speed News

In which we look at trains and the money behind them


Today’s big news story: the East Coast rail franchise is to be temporarily taken into state hands, because the company running it, National Express, has decided that they can’t make the huge wodge of cash that they have promised to pay. Which, to be honest, many many people could have told you was a little unlikely.

The East Coast route has always been seen as a bit of a cash cow, ever since it has been operated by a single company. Back in the 1930s the LNER, the aforesaid first company to own the route from end to end, was struggling somewhat, as most of its profits came from servicing the declining heavy industries of the North-East. So, it negotiated itself away from the non-compete restrictions which hampered its London-Scotland timetable,* and started to introduce faster, record-breaking, headline-grabbing expresses. They introduced the longest regular non-stop train service in the world, and the fastest type of steam engine in the world; and introduced innovations such as at-seat radio services, and the “in-flight movie”. The route has stayed at the forefront of speed, technology and publicity ever since, and at several times has featured the fastest trains in the country.**

By the time privatisation came along, the East Coast route was one of the few profitable rail services in the country. It was quickly grabbed, by Sea Containers, the shipping company which had already bought British Rail’s Sealink shipping line. And everything went smoothly, for some time, because the route did indeed make plenty of money.

In this decade, though, there were problems. As the line was seen as a cash cow, other companies started running competing services over what was already a very crowded and busy route; and their franchise payment went up to £130million per year. Sea Containers tried to bring a court case arguing that there wasn’t enough room for anybody else’s trains on their line, but the case failed. The company started hinting that it was having trouble making money on the route, and that its position was financially unsustainable. In October 2006 the company filed for bankruptcy protection in the USA, and told the British government that they would walk away from the East Coast route if not allowed to renegotiate their contract. A month later, the government told Sea Containers that their franchise was being withdrawn.

In the auction for the rights to run the route from 2007 onwards, Sea Containers played little part, holding a 10% stake in a joint bid made in the names of Virgin and Stagecoach. The winner, though, was National Express. They promised to pay £1.4 billion in total, to operate the route from 2007 through to 2015. Rather more, in other words, than the £130 million per year that Sea Containers had had trouble meeting. You have to wonder what was going on in their decision-making. It must have been obvious to them that the line would have trouble generating that much money. Did they really think they had enough spare cash elsewhere to prop it up with?

It’s not surprising at all, then, that they haven’t managed to keep the line running. It’s more surprising, though, that it apparently took National Express 18 months to realise that their sums were a bit off. Never mind the recession: passenger figures were already falling well before National Express took over, which was partly why Sea Containers had trouble. Maybe they thought they could get things to turn around faster. Evidently, though, they made a mistake somewhere. That still leaves this, though, as one of the more predictable news stories of this part of the decade.

* ever since the mid-1890s, the East Coast and West Coast companies had had a minimum-time agreement restricting the point-to-point average speed of their trains to around 50mph, following the dangerous “Race To The North” competitions of 1895.

** For the past 20 years almost it has had its own specially-designed trains which are capable of 140mph, until recently beating every other domestic train in Britain – but for the whole time, it’s been in the slightly silly position of having a top speed limit of 125mph, leaving that speed advantage unusable.

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Local Transport

In which we consider the Wensleydale Railway


Sometimes, when we’re idly sitting on the sofa after work, we put the telly on and can’t even summon the energy to change the channel. Instead, we leave it showing things we’d never normally bother watching; but sometimes that throws up an interesting gem.* Like tonight’s One Show for example. We wouldn’t normally watch The One Show, but occasionally it does have some interesting inserts. Tonight: an item on the Wensleydale Railway.

Coming from Oop North, I’ve been on the Wensleydale Railway a couple of times. It’s pretty long, for a private railway, pushing the length of busy, popular private railways such as the West Somerset, the Ffestiniog or the North Yorks Moors.** Unlike those railways, though, it’s something of a quiet backwater, slightly ramshackle, with a sparse service operated mostly by 1950s diesel trains which main-line companies retired in the 90s. Being a bit of a backwater, appearing on the telly will hopefully be a big boost for it: not many people tend to know it’s there. It may be in the Yorkshire Dales but it stops just short of the National Park; it may be on the A1, but it’s damn hard to notice from the road. If you want to see what it looks like, I run a small Flickr group for Wensleydale Railway pictures, largely because I had some Wensleydale Railway pictures on there and there wasn’t a group for it already.

One of the Wensleydale’s directors appeared on The One Show, and told the world what a unique railway it is; and how it performs a vital link in the community, and in Wensleydale’s regeneration, providing services to commuters and enabling them to get to major regional centres. Neither of those claims, really, are true. The director carefully skirted around the issue of whether the Wensleydale provides those services right now. Certainly, they’re hoping that it will do: that the company will be able to connect to the main line at Northallerton, and thence provide a connection to Newcastle, York, Teesside and Manchester. Right now, though, it stops short, and completing the connection seems to be on a distant horizon. When it does, the company will need a fuller timetable to be a reliable link: at present it operates three trains a day, on about 185 days of the year. The first one starts moving just after 9 o’clock; the last has stopped by 5.

Running a community rail service is hardly a unique aspiration to have, too. In fact, almost every private, preserved, or steam railway in the country has aspired to run a commuter and/or community service at some point. Very few have even got as far as trying it; the Worth Valley Railway did, in the late 1960s, and rapidly found it to be unviable. One private railway has done it successfully: the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch, operating services for schoolchildren. They do not, unlike most private railways, rely on volunteer workers to operate. The Ffestiniog also provides a genuine service for local residents; but it is strongly subsidised by their tourist revenues, which the Wensleydale doesn’t have.

There are two big problems with trying to operate a community service; well, make that three big problems. Firstly, there are two connected problems: price, and workforce. Railways are workforce-intensive, and private railways have to either pay staff, or get volunteers to turn out every day. Moreover, if they want to run a commuter service, they have to persuade those volunteers to start very early in the morning. Paying the staff, and the running costs, is very expensive; when you’re operating a railway which was considered too expensive to run at a profit, you end up charging fares which are too expensive for commuters. A return ticket on the Wensleydale already costs over £10, for the full line.*** Moreover, there’s a third problem: speed. Nearly all private railways have to operate with a blanket speed limit of 20 or 25mph. Over the sort of distance the Wensleydale operates, that means a long journey. Fine for a summer jaunt; not good for serious travel. It’s the speed, more than anything else, that makes the Wensleydale’s long-term aims rather impractical.

There’s nothing wrong with the Wensleydale aspiring to their aims, of being a community railway operating a non-tourist service. I would be very surprised, though, if they do manage to complete them, purely because so many have gone before and so many have failed. If the Wensleydale think they are unique, and if they don’t realise that they are treading down a well-trodden path once more, they are very unlikely to reach that path’s end.

* such as a local news item about the wildlife of the BS3 district which made me laugh, for entirely the wrong reason – but that’s a story for another day.

** Incidentally, the local news has been annoying me recently, by proclaiming loudly that the West Somerset Railway is the longest steam railway in the country. It’s one of the longest, certainly, at just under 20 miles operational and 3 more miles not regularly used; but the Welsh Highland Railway, owned by the Ffestiniog, is longer and not yet fully open. By the end of the year, the Ffestiniog Railway Company will be operating a network pushing 40 miles in length. Longest steam railway in England, maybe.

*** The Ffestiniog gets around the price issue by having local residents’ discount cards.

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The Detail

In which we look at the detailed plans of the Guided Busway


Long-term readers will recall that, particularly last November, I’ve been covering the local guided busway developments: to whit, the West Of England Partnership, the quango which is, you could say, the haunting ghost of Avon County Council, and its plans to turn an old railway line into a private buses-only road. Sort of. Railway lines, of course, aren’t generally wide enough for that sort of thing; so they will mostly be building half a road.

Well, all has been quiet for a while; the consultation was completed, and the Partnership wrote off to the Department for Transport to say “can we have some money, please? Oh, go on.” A reader of this site, the other day, tipped me off to the fact that WEP have published their persuasions on their website. So, finally, we can read all the details which were conspicuously absent from the public consultation documents.

Firstly, there seems to be a change as to where the money is coming from. In the past, it was mooted that this application would be to the Transport Innovation Fund,* and therefore would need to have a congestion charge element to it. That’s not the case: the application is for Major Scheme Funding. So, no congestion charge: nothing is going to be done directly to reduce traffic. All we get is a new, shiny, park-and-ride service which replaces the still-shiny existing park-and-ride service, but serving Spike Island instead of Hotwells.

Secondly, it includes documentation on service frequencies. And half of the buses using the route won’t be the shiny new “Rapid Transit” buses; they’ll be the same old buses to Weston and Nailsea that already exist. Another thing which isn’t going to make the guided busway scheme any friends: it’s being marketed to the government as the first stage of a Rapid Transit Network, in which it becomes the Ashton Vale-Emerson’s Green route. In other words, the old let’s-pave-over-the-Railway-Path scheme which attracted large amounts of protest.

One of the most interesting bits, though, is the detailed plan of the new route. We learn, for example, that the rather worn and tired old swing bridge across the New Cut is to be “refurbished” – it sounds cheaper, after all – with a new footbridge alongside it. The small Butterfly Junction nature reserve is to be flattened and paved over – it isn’t even marked on the maps – and the Bristol Harbour Railway’s stop there is to be replaced by a new one.

Plan of guided busway at Butterfly Junction

The Bristol Harbour Railway is where it gets most silly. The plans finally confirm what was hinted at in the consultation: it is to be turned into a tramway, with buses running on top of it. According to the bid documents:

The tracks for the heritage railway will be retained to provide for seasonal Sunday services and events such as the Harbourside Festival. When these infrequent events occur, services will run on Cumberland Road.

In other words, trains on the Harbour Railway will run on about half as many days as they do now, and along a tramway, which doesn’t quite tally with what my local councillor has told me in the past. As the railway is only just wide enough for one bus, one bus there will be; outbound buses will run along the road all the time, not just on Sundays. To squeeze under Cumberland Road and keep the cycle path, the busway will be narrowed to a single-track road/tramway with traffic lights.

One of the vaguest parts of the consultation documents was: what happens at Prince St Bridge, which isn’t currently strong enough and probably not wide enough to take buses. The consultation map was hard to read; the Evening Post reported that there would be a new bridge. Some people suspected that the current “trial” arrangement of having cars on one side of the bridge and pedestrians on the other was a taste of things to come, ready for the guided bus scheme. Well, it turns out they were right.

Guided bus plan for Prince St Bridge

Red in that diagram means “bus lane”. Prince St Bridge will be closed to cars; with this scheme, it will be divided between pedestrians on one carriageway, and buses and cyclists on the other. Instead of cyclists being able to run into pedestrians whilst dodging opposing traffic, as now, they’ll be able to get flattened by buses instead. It’s also quite hard to work out how much money has been set aside for Prince St Bridge works, because the costs aren’t itemised very clearly – indeed, the surveyors who reviewed the WEP costings also had trouble on that point.

I don’t think the busway scheme is going to go ahead. That’s partly because the funding bid includes a convenient “low cost alternative” scheme. It is, essentially, the same scheme, same nice new buses, new bus stops, but using the existing park-and-ride route with no new infrastructure. The funding bid says:

A key element of the [Low Cost Alternative] route is the avoidance of the main bridge structures at Ashton Avenue and Prince Street … in order to reduce the construction costs.

The infrastructure will, they say, halve travel times along the park-and-ride route. Whether the Department for Transport think that that will make it worth the money remains to be seen. I’m not convinced they’re going to go for it. In a few months, though, we will all find out.

* as you can see from this Joint Transport Forum presentation released under FOI. Thanks to correspondant Gareth for pointing me to that URL.

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A Medley

In which we discuss local things, and eat pancakes


A few different things on my mind today, none of which are worthy really of a full post.

Firstly, in serious local political news, the city council’s minority Labour administration has collapsed, to be replaced with a minority Lib Dem administration. Whether the change in cabinet will lead to any changes to or abandonment of the destructive and wasteful guided busway scheme, much blogged about here in the past few months, we will have to wait and see. For that matter, there may well be changes to the rather rushed scheme to pedestrianise half of Prince St Bridge, which some people think was part of the guided busway plans; but which I think was more likely to be some sort of council sop to transport charity SusTrans, whose main office overlooks the bridge.

Talking of things round the Harbourside, regular readers might remember me talking about Folk Tales, the monthly music-and-storytelling event at the Scout Hut on Phoenix Wharf. February’s Folk Tales was last night; however, me and K didn’t remember this until about half-seven last night, at which point we didn’t really feel like going out. Oh well: roll on the next one. I remembered, when noticing that people have been searching the internet for information about it (and finding me).

Another topical search term: “what happens to Annie in Being Human?” Episode 5 spoiler time: sharp-eyed viewers will have noticed that although Annie was on the verge of passing on to the next world, she hadn’t actually gone when the credits rolled, so will no doubt still be in the final episode. Highlight the preceding bit to read it.

Aside from that: we had plenty of pancakes on Tuesday night, as is only right and proper; and enjoyed them so much, we had more yesterday. Which is probably slightly going against the point of Shrove Tuesday, but never mind. More pancakes has to be a good thing.

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The Guided Busway Still Haunts Us

In which, yes, the guided busway is apparently still on the agenda


Yes, it’s back in the news again. The Ashton Vale guided busway route, which I devoted several posts to at the end of last year, has reared its ugly head again. A quick update: the local councils want to convert a chunk of South Bristol railway line – most of which operates as a council-run heritage railway – into a private buses-only road, to replace the current park-and-ride bus route through Hotwells. They had a consultation about it. Now, 7 weeks later, the consultation results are about to be revealed.*

What do they say? From what’s been released so far, not very much at all. Only that the previous rather low price estimate is already on the way up – no surprise there then. It’s confirmed that a new bridge is going to be built alongside Prince St Bridge – that will take a big chunk out of the budget, for starters. But one of the big empty questions from before the consultation – the route the buses will take from there – still isn’t addressed. The planners are also positive that these will be fast, rapid, high-speed buses, because there will be Special Measures to make sure that they don’t get delayed in the city centre – but they have no idea what said Special Measures actually will be. The buses are still due to run along Cumberland Road – a decision which, as I discussed previously, means taking both the Bristol Harbour Railway and most of the width of Cumberland Road and giving it over to the bus route.

Furthermore, there’s still a great silence over where the money’s going to come from, exactly. Because that’s where the problem is, as it happens. Secretly, this isn’t going to be a bus scheme at all, because of how the council want to raise the money. Regular readers can skip ahead, because I’ve talked about this before, too. The money is coming from the Transport Innovation Fund, a body which provides grants for “demand management” schemes – in other words, congestion charging or similar. This new bus route might be being promoted, so far, as a new fast bus route: but at some point, unless the funding radically changes, the truth will pop out from underneath it. This is a congestion charging scheme with buses on top; the congestion charging part has, so far, been kept quiet.

None of this has been mentioned widely as yet. The Evening Post’s reporting has mostly been limited to repeating the relevant press releases, which of course have been rather quiet about this. It’s not surprising that councillor Mark Bradshaw says, according to the paper, that he wants to get the scheme finished as soon as possible. He’s presumably hoping that the funding bid will be written and in the post before anyone asks him what the demand management part of the bid is going to consist of.

* I like the way the Evening Post went with the headline “New Bristol bus route revealed” when barely anything has changed since before the consultation.

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Return Of The Guided Bus

In which I discuss the likely and hoped-for death of the Bristol guided busway plans


Regular readers – local regular readers, if there are any – might have noticed that it’s a while now since I’ve mentioned “Bus Rapid Transit”, the West Of England Partnership’s unloved and highly expensive scheme for a South Bristol guided busway to replace the current park-and-ride route. Because, you know, the way to improve bus services in Bristol is to replace the bus routes that are, erm, already the best bus routes in the city, with slightly different buses* on their own private roads. If you’ve not heard about this: you might want to read this, this, and this, in which – with a few misconceptions which got sorted out along the way – I demonstrate that it will be rather tricky to build the thing.**

I’ve been quiet, because, well, there’s only so many times you can ridicule these plans, and I hardly have enough space here to point out all their shortcomings. Their consultation phase is over; and presumably the Partnership is now collating the results. Catching up on the blogs I read, though, I’ve noticed that the other day Chris Hutt of the Green Bristol Blog has spotted that the project is probably doomed. Not because of anything going on here in Bristol, but because of events up in the North, where Mancunians have overwhelmingly rejected the proposed Manchester Congestion Charge scheme.

The Manchester proposals were horridly complex, with two rings of toll lines, motorists paying to cross each line in either direction, and the outer ring following the M60 motorway.*** But the scale of the no-vote is bound to put off any other councils from putting forward further congestion-charge proposals in the near future. Even though, as London’s shown, they definitely work in terms of reducing traffic, no city population as a whole is going to vote for them. Even in an apparently-green city like this one.

The reason this is important is: the Bristol guided bus scheme was, essentially, nothing more than a pill to sweeten a congestion charging scheme which would be coming along with it. None of this was mentioned in the consultation documents, of course; but then, you had to study the consultation documents pretty damn carefully to spot that it was about a new bus route. The key is that the guided bus route will be funded from a bid to the Transport Innovation Fund – a body which only accepts bids for “demand management” schemes. You can’t just have the carrot of a new bus route; you have to be proposing a stick to go with it. The exact nature of Bristol’s stick is, as yet, unknown; but it would almost certainly involve some sort of road pricing.

You never know; the council – sorry, the Partnership – still might push forward with the scheme. Presumably they’re planning to produce positive results from the consultation,**** and then say: well, you wanted this scheme, and we can only have that if we have the congestion charging too. But I doubt anyone in Bristol really wants a guided bus – itself a grand waste of public money which would be much better spent improving the ordinary bus routes – enough to agree to congestion charging in return.

* using vague and unspecified “sustainable fuel”, of course. Not that the planners have said what said fuel is going to be, or even shown any sign that they have any idea what it would be.

** and – for train geeks – that it will effectively destroy the Bristol Harbour Railway in its current form, as the route requires almost the entire railway trackbed right up to Prince St Bridge.

*** The only circular motorway in Britain, road trivia fans.

**** Would I be cynical to suggest that they had planned the overall tone of the consultation result beforehand? Would I?

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The Return of the Guided Bus

In which we wonder how the Misguided Bus will fit along Winterstoke Road


Time to return to the West Of England Partnership’s misguided Bristol Guided Bus project,* I think, although Councillor Bradshaw never did reply to my last email. The rude chap. In the meantime, I’ve been poking my nose around the Winterstoke Road area.

Whilst I was doing so, the Evening Post, as I’d done, interpreted the scheme’s maps to read that a new bridge was going to be built over the harbour. It apparently isn’t, although you have to look at the maps very very carefully to spot this. Which is a sign of how poor this whole “consultation exercise” is, if the main local press outlet is allowed to get the wrong impression like that. In the same story, the partnership admitted that they have only a vague idea of the cost of the scheme. And then, Cumberland Road was closed for emergency repairs, due to a burst water main. At present the road’s mostly used by cars, with relatively few buses. What’s going to happen to it when there are buses putting much, much more stress on it every few minutes?** Moreover, this, like any other traffic incident on either Cumberland Road or Coronation Road,*** froze the rush-hour traffic trying to get south out of the city centre. What’s going to happen when the westbound side of Cumberland Road is taken up by bus lane?

Anyway, pressing on. Winterstoke Road, where the new bus road is due to run alongside the railway to Portbury. This railway line was only used occasionally for the best part of thirty years, before being rebuilt for heavy coal traffic from the docks. When that happened, it was singled, so there’s plenty of space alongside the line. Plenty of space for a new road, you might think. Let’s look.

Winterstoke Road with added guided busway

Not much room there at all, really. That blue band is the width of two guided busways, with a narrow kerb at the side for access and evacuation. I’ve drawn it right up to the edge of the still-active railway; and it takes up, well, pretty much all the space available. No room at all for the promised cycleways alongside the road. I’ve widened it a bit at the site of the Ashton Gate stop shown on the maps;**** if it’s any bigger than I’ve drawn, it then starts to swallow up the existing (and rather poor-quality) cycle/footpath too.

What’s going to happen to that building alongside the line? The partnership’s simulation video shows it on the ground and unaffected by the busway – which, at the bottom of that picture, is due to ramp up onto a flyover and, at the top, execute a sharp turn across the railway and off to the left. Is there really enough room for that, though? Without scraping the side of the building every time a bus passes? I’m not very convinced.

* You know, the one they like to call “Bus Rapid Transit”, or just “Rapid Transit”, to gloss over the fact that it’s nothing more than a slightly-altered bus route.

** Some useful information here: the stress caused on a road varies with the fourth power of the axle loading, more or less. In non-maths language: if you double the weight on a wheel, that wheel will cause 16 times as much damage to the road. A car’s axle loading isn’t likely to be above 1.5 tonnes even for something big; a bus will be more like 9 or 10 tonnes on its heaviest axle. That six-times weight multiple turns into a 1296-times damage multiple. So, a stream of cars with one passing every couple of seconds – supposedly the safe separation, according to the Highway Code – causes roughly the same amount of road damage as one or two buses per hour. That’s a very rough back-of-envelope calculation, but gives you an idea of the scale of difference we’re talking about. Trucks, of course, are even worse.

*** such as the fatal motorbike accident at the Coronation Road/Dean Lane junction a few weeks ago.

**** using the size of the Leeds guided busway stops as a guideline

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More on that guided busway

More on the guided busway, as it paves over the Bristol Harbour Railway and replaces most of Cumberland Road


As promised yesterday, I’ve been doing some closer looking at the West Of England Partnership’s guided busway – sorry, I mean “Bus Rapid Transit” plans, and some measuring up on aerial photos. It seems I made a couple of misconceptions, though. Firstly: some of the plans show the Harbour Railway converted into a sort of tramway running along the same road as the buses. Secondly, I was slightly wrong about the route in the Winterstoke Road area. My mistake was to assume that it might actually serve a residential area; I was wrong, it doesn’t, and its sole use is as a replacement for the current park-and-ride services. The council have also said it will serve the football ground; but that slightly contradicts other things they’ve said.

Anyway, here we go: what does a guided busway actually look like? Never mind the Partnership’s shiny traffic-free plan: here’s a real one. This is the A64 on the outskirts of Leeds, which has a single-carriageway busway down its central reservation.

Aerial shot of East Leeds guided busway (from Google)

Never mind the bus lanes at top and bottom; the busway is that lovely expanse of concrete in the middle. The width of the whole thing, by my calculations,* comes out at about 3.8m. So, for a two-way busway such as the council wants to build in Bristol, you’re looking at 8m width. That’s for plain road without stops. Here’s a picture of where the council wants to build it: Cumberland Road. To the same scale, as you can tell by the cars.

Cumberland Road, Bristol (from Google)

From the top: road, railway, cycle track, river.

The plans include building over the railway for one side of the bus route. Remember what Councillor Bradshaw told me: the plans “do not prevent” trains being run. Does that mean no bus services at weekends when the railway’s running? Or fewer trains? Who, at present, knows? Anyway, that means, for our FP Militant Invective Laboratories simulation (better value that the Partnership’s, I’m sure), we only need paint over part of the road:

Cumberland Road with proposed busway overlaid

There goes the railway and just under 4m of the road, painted over in wobbly freehand. That’s the amount of land the council’s planning to concrete over for its posh new buses (and all the older ones which will also be allowed to use the busway).

So, goodbye to half of Cumberland Road – even by narrowing the pavement on the north side, there wouldn’t be enough room to make the road full-width. The council’s simulation does seem to show there being a bus lane in the road at this point, rather than a proper busway. However, there’s a slight problem with that: the buses and the road traffic would be going in opposite directions, unless one were to drive on the right, so no space gets saved. The published proposals go on and muddy this point by showing both buses and normal traffic driving on the right at this point – which, of course, would be no help at all.

Still to come: the even more awkward pinch-point where the busway is due to run alongside the Portbury Dock railway line, at Winterstoke Road, with a stop which will take up even more space. They seem to be planning to run the busway over Network Rail land – I wondered if Network Rail knew about that, so I’ve asked them. For that matter, I wonder who owns the land the rest of the busway will run on – presumably either Network Rail or BRB Residuary, the organisation that is one of the last remaining stubs of British Rail. BRBR’s website is a bit broken at the moment, so I can’t search their property listings to see what they do or don’t own.

* including the small width of kerb separating bus and road on the buses’ left, which is presumably needed for safety reasons.

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Guided Bus

In which we discuss the West Of England Partnership’s misguided Guided Bus proposals


Through my door the other day: a leaflet from the West Of England Partnership, the organisation made up of local councils* that replaced the dead and unlamented Avon County Council. It’s about their proposals for a guided busway scheme in this part of the city. A new road, in other words, limited to buses only. Some of the buses on it would be expensive new buses cunningly disguised to look like trams, and running on “sustainable fuel”;** the rest would be the boring ordinary diesel ones that already serve this area. It would replace the current park-and-ride buses in this area, which are already the nicest and most modern buses in this part of the city. So, frankly, I don’t see why that’s the bus route that most urgently needs replacing.*** You can see their proposals for yourself, on the Partnership’s website – they very carefully avoid using the term “guided busway”, and instead call it “rapid transit”, using the word “bus” as little as possible.

The route isn’t really any more useful than the current park-and-ride scheme, either. It’s going to be built along the old railway line that served Bristol Harbour. A small part of this is disused; some is still used by trains to the docks that are still open, but most is used by the Bristol Harbour Railway, a council-owned steam railway that chugs up and down the Avon and the Harbourside, and does a pretty good trade. Here’s an extract from the map on the website:

Proposed rapid transit scheme map (c) Crown Copyright (I'm claiming fair use)

The purple line there is the new bus route, and the yellow line is the railway. The black blob there, looking like a station, is a proposed Cumberland Road bus stop – handy for Southville, because there’s a footbridge across the river there. The green line is a cycle path.

Now, so far, this is just a line on a map. Not much detail design work seems to have been done – one of the councillors responsible, Mark Bradshaw, said as much to the local paper with the words: “Residents, businesses and other stakeholders are invited to engage in this work and help shape the detail of the proposals.” However, the Partnership have gone as far as producing a mockup of the proposed Cumberland Road bus stop. Here’s their design. On the right: the new bus stop. On the left: a photo I took a few days ago from almost the same location, although I didn’t quite get the angle right.

Cumberland Road from Vauxhall Bridge Cumberland Road guided busway proposal.  Crown Copyright, but I still think this counts as fair use

You can see, on my “present day” photo, the railway line – it’s behind the yellow fence and in front of the road, and you can make out the rails if you look carefully. More interestingly, you can see that on the Partnership’s artist’s impression, the railway isn’t there any more. The cycle path along the riverbank is still there; but the railway line on the other side of it has been paved over and turned into busway. So, in fact, has half of the road on the other side – you can see, the busway near the platform comes out almost as far as the centre-line of the road.

Mark Bradshaw is, as it happens, one of the councillors for my ward. I wrote to him, and my other councillor, before I’d realised that he was on the relevant West Of England Partnership committee that has put these proposals forward. Based on that artist’s impression, I wrote:

The project will be hugely expensive in infrastructure costs, [and] will apparently destroy the popular tourist attraction that is the Harbour Railway and replace it with a buses-only road

I must have been writing in Pompous Mode that day. You can see, based on the above, why I’d think that. Councillor Bradshaw replied:

The Harbour train service will continue and the BRT services will not prevent this (see yellow line on map in consultation leaflet)

Which is fair enough – you’ve already seen that yellow line on the map. The problem I have, though, is that building a busway isn’t quite as simple as drawing a line on a map, as the artist’s impression shows. If the Harbour Railway is still going to be there, why did the Partnership put out proposals for consultation that show it paved over? And how is the busway going to fit between the railway and the road? Something will have to be moved, for sure.

If this scheme does go ahead, I strongly suspect that the guided busway along that section of the route will have to be dropped, purely because there isn’t room to build it. In the meantime, I’ve replied to Councillor Bradshaw and asked why that artist’s impression shows the buses running over the site of the railway when the railway is, according to the map, still going to be there; when he replies, I’ll update this post. Tomorrow, I’ll show you – with the aid of Google Maps and existing guided busways – just how much room the proposals would need on the ground, and how much land it might take up.

UPDATE: local blogger SteveL has, in the comments, pointed me to the Partnership’s video of the scheme. Which apparently shows the railway being turned into a tramway along the southbound busway, something that wasn’t apparent on the still images. So, the busway won’t prevent trains from being run, so long as trains only want to run when there aren’t any buses about. I see.

* and “a range of social, economic and environmental partners”, they say. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a grand name for what is, in land area, only a small part of the West of England, but it’s hard to think what else they could have called it – anything with Avon in it was and is taboo, and “Greater Bristol”, although that’s essentially what it is, would no doubt irritate everyone out in the hinterlands.

** They haven’t decided what fuel, only that it will definitely be Sustainable. Buzzwordtastic!

*** except the political reason. This is going to be built in Bristol, but funded partly by the local councils in the surrounding area. Hence, it serves commuters from North Somerset who might want to park-and-ride more than it serves Bristolians.

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