Is it a bus, is it a train?

This year will see a contemporary mode of transport emerge from the depths of melancholy Britain. Idle tracks on branch railway lines will be ripped up and replaced with concrete channels, as a result of plans to attract people out of cars by replacing trains with innovative multi-functional buses.

New ‘busways’ will provide a smooth and fast service to passengers between St Ives and Cambridge and should be up and running as soon as summer 2009. Using old disused railway track the new busway system involves filling the track with concrete on either side of the sleepers so the rubber wheels of the bus can run smoothly at a speed of 60mph. Two smaller guide wheels are to be attached in front of the bus’ regular wheels which engage with the concrete channel beside it. This allows the bus to travel without the need for driver navigation – it is always on the right track.

Part of the beauty of the bus is that they do not have to limit themselves to the original constructed stations for pick-ups, it can stop at many different villages and towns allowing for a more convenient service. Furthermore, when the bus reaches the end of the line it can continue it’s journey on normal roads giving it the ultimate advantage in convenience and practicality. Not quite Roger Moore coming out of the sea in a Lotus, but it still has a hint of the ‘James Bond’ about it.

Bob Menzies, head of the county council’s busway project, said: “We think (people) will be attracted by the smoothness of the ride, leather seats and free wi-fi. We want people to be able to ride on the busway having a cup of coffee with their laptop open, catching up on emails”.

The DfT revealed that the busways will also be cheaper to maintain than railways. The Cambridgeshire busway is designed to operate without any significant maintenance for a staggering 40 years. A railway needs weekly inspections, regular repairs to damaged points and rails, as well as an expensive signalling system.

The council believes that the busway will be safer than rail because the breaking distance of buses is a tenth of that of trains. Buses also accelerate more quickly than trains, so they can stop more frequently to pick up passengers without adding to journey times unduly.

The new ideas have not, however, received universal acclaim. Bruce Williamson, of Railfuture, which campaigns for rail expansion, said: “The DfT has gone for a cheap and nasty option after riding rough-shod over local opinion in favour of reopening the train line. Trains are greener than buses because steel wheels on steel rails have much less rolling resistance, and therefore use less energy, than rubber on concrete”.

We at Safer Motorways think it’s a refreshing change to see the development of new and innovative forms of transport, helping to alleviate traffic from our ailing motorways. Only time will tell but these cheap and convenient busways may well be a step in the right direction for the transport infrastructure of Britain.

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