Transport 2000 Cambs & W Suffolk

Newsletter 52, March 1996


In this issue of our newsletter the Secretary is writing in the first person more often than usually. The reason for this is that it contains much more personal opinion and experience than normal because of the relative lack of contact with what is going on in England. This also means that I am unsure about some information which I would have checked up on in England.

However, I did return to Cambridge for a few days in mid-February (and convened our meeting on the 17th), and spent much of the time looking through back (and current) issues of newspapers. One item particularly struck me: an article in the ``Independent on Sunday'' of 18 Feb (note: the date is according to my recollection, but I don't swear to it -- and this is an example of what I meant in the last sentence of the previous paragraph). This said that there was growing evidence that global warming might be leading to a weakening of the Gulf Stream that keeps our own climate mild and temperate. It also suggested that this weakening, together with the breaking off of a sheet of Antarctic ice the size of Oxfordshire (reported some time ago), might be a precursor of a sudden change or ``flip'' in the climate. If so, the British climate could get colder even as other parts of the world become warmer. The effects of such changes on the map (i.e. flooding of low lying areas) and on agriculture are very worrying.

All this is conjectural, but (adapting an analogy previously used by the anti-disarmament lobby), if energy efficiency policies are considered as a form of insurance, failure to adopt such policies is now equivalent to cancelling one's insurance when the fire has started.

As a campaigning organisation we have to take the optimistic view that the world can still be saved. To use another analogy, one may hypothesise that the pre-industrial atmosphere gave us capital wealth in the form of a finite amount of capacity to absorb pollutants without undue harm, and that though we may have spent most of this capital, there is still some left. Let me just ask this question: have we got good value for the capital we have spent?

If we restrict our attention to the transport sector, I think there can be no doubt that the answer is ``no''. Many journeys made by car could perfectly well be made by other means (see the report of an RAC survey in our last newsletter). If the ``other means'' was public transport, not only would the energy used in the car journey be saved, but the efficiency of use of the bus or train would go up. As more people used public transport the service would improve to the point where more journeys could be replaced.

Nor is this all. Many journeys are only made by car because developers and planners have created a system whereby convenience of access by car is the over-riding factor in deciding the pattern of development. Even when people would have used cars anyway, the sprawling nature of car-based development makes journeys longer and therefore more energy consuming.

As the political mood gears up towards the forthcoming general election, it is worth asking prospective candidates if they support the following policies. One must emphasise that these policies should not be considered as luxuries to be brought in ``as funds permit''; they are as essential as maintaining one's fire insurance as one sees the flames approach.

  1. Adjust the costs of motor transport to reduce fares on the more efficient modes (buses, trains, boats) and increase costs on the less efficient (cars, lorries, planes). Note that even though some less used rural buses might seem inefficient in terms of energy usage, it is still important to maintain them and encourage their use; what counts in this context is how efficient they would be if people used them in preference to driving, and this is always likely to be more efficient than cars. If public transport isn't maintained then people won't be able to switch at all.
  2. Adjust the system of local government finance to favour both capital and revenue spending on walking, cycling and public transport. (Note: making the streets safe by effective policing is important in this context.) It is equally important to free local authorities from dependence on private developers for finance; there is nothing wrong with private finance as such, but everything wrong with a system whereby a local authority is forced to allow a greenfield development so that the needs of local people can be met through ``planning gain''.
  3. Develop a vision for the future development of public transport, locally, nationally and at the European level. At the local level in particular, such a vision should be the result of a programme of public consultation. (In our incarnation as the Cambridge Area Bus Campaign, we produced a report that described how we saw public transport -- both bus and rail -- as developing. We circulated this report widely and hoped that it would initiate an ongoing debate that would be the equivalent of just such a programme of public consultation. This report was met with a deafening silence. ``Where there is no vision the people perish.''
  4. Introduce traffic management measures to help the more efficient modes. This goes far beyond the introduction of bus lanes as currently planned. There must be a readiness to take roadspace away from motoring even if this creates jams in the short term. The only pre-condition is that alternative jam-free facilities -- including, but not solely, park & ride -- should be available.
  5. Greatly scale down the roads programme. What's left of it should be focused on traffic management, safety and environmental improvement and should be designed with the aim of minimising the generation of extra traffic. Also, reduce speed limits for cars to at least the current level for buses and coaches -- this would improve safety, encourage people to go by rail (or bus), and save energy.

Branch news.

The Secretary's office address in Aachen will be valid until 29 March. Note that the postcode was given wrongly in the last newsletter; the full address is S. Norton, (Internet users please email. The email address will stay valid - Webmaster). The office telephone number is still 0049 241 804542 (office, best times 12.00-16.00 GMT) or 0049 2407 3143 (home, best times 20.30-21.30 GMT). After 29 March use the Secretary's home address and telephone number at the head of this newsletter until 22 April, after which all correspondence (other than by email) should be addressed to Basil Bonner, address and telephone number also at the head of this newsletter.

Here is a diary of forthcoming events.

Fri 29 March: meeting of the Save Our Railways campaign at 7.30 in the area of Victoria Road, Cambridge. More details from Cllr Geoffrey Heathcock (01223 244901) who is also Lib Dem prospective parliamentary candidate for Cambridge.

Sat 30 March: day of action against the Trans European Network. This is coordinated on a continent-wide scale by Amsterdam based ASEED (Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment and Development). While there is the odd anti-rail or waterway action planned, with which we may not agree, the vast majority of actions announced so far relate to roads. In our area contact Terry Figg (01438 367452) for details of an action planned against the A1 motorway project. Other actions planned in the UK relate to the Newbury by-pass (by Friends of the Earth nationally), the South Coast Motorway, M62 and Thanet Way -- and that's just so far.

Mon 1 April: revised date for Cambridge Friends of the Earth transport campaign meeting. This is usually on the second Monday of each month, but in April that's Easter Monday. 7.30 at the Bath House, Mill Rd/Gwydir St, Cambridge (use the Mill Rd entrance), near the rail station and about 15 minutes walk from the bus station.

Sat 13 April: our own AGM at 2.30, probably in the Main Hall of the Bath House in Cambridge. It isn't certain which entrance will be open, so try both. We hope to see as many of you there as possible.

Finally, we welcome new members D. Miller and F. Arnaud both of Cambridge.

Cambs rail projects.

Little has happened recently on the St Ives line project, but there have been developments on two other projects: the Wisbech line reopening proposal and the east-west link.

To deal with the latter first, the consultants rejected the option involving reopening St Ives to Huntingdon. At our February meeting we decided that we were dissatisfied with this. We believe that this reopening is essential for the following reasons:

  1. To provide a new strategic route linking Ipswich and Peterborough via Newmarket, Cambridge, St Ives and Huntingdon. This would lead to knock-on improvements to transport facilities in both Newmarket (whose service is currently abysmal, and not surprisingly so given that it is not on a through route) and Huntingdon (which we believe should be a major interchange -- no pun intended! -- covering Inter-City as well as local services). An Ipswich to Peterborough service could replace existing services Ipswich-Peterborough, Ipswich-Cambridge and Cambridge-Peterborough plus the proposed St Ives line service. That is what we mean by a coordinated public transport network.
  2. To take road traffic off the A14. Reopening St Ives to Cambridge may take a limited amount of local traffic off the A14, but it will have little importance for longer distance traffic. By contrast, a through service to Huntingdon would feed the East Coast Main Line and take long distance traffic off the A14 (and A1).
  3. To provide a service that has a chance of competing with road on the A428/A421 corridor. The consultants' route is far too circuitous to do this. If people have to go via Hitchin to get between Cambridge and Bedford, they are likely to opt for a cheaper and more direct bus service (the X5 currently takes 50 minutes from Cambridge City Centre), which won't be too harmful, or to drive, which will. The A428/A421 corridor is one of those where widening is already a threat (mainly due to the Cambourne development), and it is just as important to provide a competitive alternative as on the A14 corridor. Furthermore, the Huntingdon route serves St Neots, which the consultants' preferred option doesn't.
  4. To develop an East Coast Main Line interchange. If the consultants' route is used, Sandy is the most likely site for such an interchange. It is far less suitable for an Inter-City stop than Huntingdon, and overall journey time from Bedford as well as Cambridge will be greater.

Is it worth supporting the consultants' preferred option as an interim measure? We think not. We support the reopening of Cambridge to St Ives and Bedford to Sandy because they not only satisfy important local needs they but also fit in to our overall vision. The spur at Hitchin required to link the Cambridge line with the East Coast Main Line will be fairly expensive and will be completely wasted if St Ives to Huntingdon gets reopened later (unless some other use is found for it).

Are the consultants right in saying that providing the Huntingdon link would be unduly expensive? Maybe, but we believe it could be fitted into an overall scheme that would bring many other advantages. This scheme is what underpins our Huntingdon Transport Strategy. The main elements are:

  1. Build a Godmanchester southern by-pass to link the A14 and A1, the latter at the existing A141 interchange to avoid impinging on Hinchingbrooke Country Park. Do not widen the rest of the A14.
  2. De-trunk and narrow the existing A14 through Huntingdon. Part of the formation would be used to reopen the railway. A new access would be provied between this road and the A141 near Huntingdon station; this would take traffic off the Huntingdon ring road and, more important, allow the bridge to Godmanchester to be closed to all motor traffic except buses, thereby bringing considerable environmental benefits to Godmanchester.
  3. And what about Wisbech? Well, this reopening also fits into our overall vision as described above. The diversion of trains between Cambridge and Peterborough will deprive March of a through service to Cambridge. A link between Cambridge and Wisbech will be a natural way to fill the gap. What is more, this provides an opportunity to reduce the divisive effect of the Ouse Washes barrier (without any new construction that would prejudice this important wildlife area) by upgrading the station at Manea and reopening one the other side at Black Bank. A link between these two would provide new opportunities for cyclists in the area.

The report of the relevant consultants examined four options for a train service to Wisbech, none of them involving a through service to Cambridge. While Peterborough may be as or more important as a destination for Wisbech people, existing facilities by bus are reasonable, whereas getting to Cambridge is much more difficult.

Recent bus changes.

The withdrawal of Pullman service 20 marks the end of tis operator's commercial operations. The Cambridge Evening News originally highlighted the entry of Pullman as an effect of its ``Better Buses'' campaign, but the moral is that the kind of direct competition envisaged by the proponents of deregulation is not the best way to secure permanent service improvements. We still believe that services on the Barton Road corridor out of Cambridge are grossly inadequate, but the best way is to develop the services of the existing operators Cambus and Whippet, and to link them with the United Counties network around Biggleswade or Sandy, and/or County Bus route 331 south of Royston (running under tender to Herts CC north of Buntingford).

Turning now to the Februrary issue of Travel Times, we welcome the changes to the X5 which are in line with some of our own ideas (for once!). We hope they will improve timekeeping and offer new facilities in the St Neots area. Now we call for connections from the town centre, especially on Sundays when the town bus doesn't run. Not so good news is the reduction in service 354. The ``Peterborough Card'' seems to be a consequence of the promotional offer on this line in autumn 1994 -- we were told that it had been highly successful and would be repeated in 1995, but this never happened. However we don't like the idea of a profusion of ``cards''; it would be better if the availability of Network Cards was extended.

Elsewhere the main changes of note are to school buses: in Beds a service from Staploe and Duloe to the A428; in Herts the 446 now starts Brent Pelham and may connect in the afternoon with the Ware postbus. We understand that other new services have been introduced in E Herts but do not have details. Other news: users of Cambridge library can now browse through their bus timetable collection without having to ask the staff, and Norfolk bus enquiries now have a freephone number (0500 626116). We also understand that from May the name of the Sunday bus ticket will be harmonised between the various counties as a Sunday Rover.

Cuts to bus services.

The February meeting of the Traffic & Minor Improvements Committee was presented with a package of ``savings'' to achieve cuts in the council's budget. We have not seen the minutes of that meeting so for the purpose of this newsletter we are assuming that the officers' recommendations were accepted. By the time you get this, you may know more about this from the March issue of Travel Times or other sources. If not, please don't take this as a definite indication of what will happen.

We believe that these cuts demonstrate graphically the council's lack of a rural public transport strategy. In not one case were the councillors presented with any ideas for increasing patronage, though clearly if more people use a service it will cost less to maintain. There are many cases where we believe there are definite opportunities for such developments.

Furthermore, even when services are to be cut, there may well be ways of maintaining useful facilities by amending other tendered services. Again, this was never considered.

Here is a service by service analysis of what is going on.

45 (Cambridge-Newmarket Fri/Sat evenings, other services not affected): to be withdrawn. We are mainly concerned about the Friday service, which, we suggested some time ago, should be diverted via Cambridge station and recast to form a replacement to the last train from Bury to Cambridge and back, which doesn't run on Saturdays. There would be a good connection from London.

110: New market day service from Milton, Histon and Cottenham to Ely. Welcome -- but this sort of thing should be provided by the main network.

120 (Cambridge-Bassingbourn): Daytime service withdrawn as alternatives exist.

133: Proposed Ely town service, replacing Cambus withdrawals, is recommended for scaling down to run less than daily. People who live in population centres are entitled to expect access to facilities every day.

146 (Cambridge-Royston): Evening service proposed for retention. We believe it should be amended to serve the villages on the Barton Road corridor and to link with trains at Foxton.

156: Proposed twice daily fast service Swavesey to Cambridge rejected as too expensive when services already exist. There are in fact already a few fast buses (though this does not seem to have occurred to the council): 08.50 and 17.45 from Cambridge, 08.28 from Over and 11.25 from Huntingdon; these could easily be augmented by sponsoring diversions of journeys such as the 16.15 and 18.15 from Cambridge.

167 (afternoon service to villages south of Newmarket): This is confusing. The council say the afternoon journey can be withdrawn as there are other facilities available. Looking through the timetable I was unable to find any. But elsewhere they refer to a new network affecting the 46, 167 and other services in the area, which might provide such a facility. We believe that there is also an opportunity to use school buses. Any idea what is going on?

350 (Peterborough to Huntingdon late evening): Proposed for withdrawal. Again we believe this should be run as a rail replacement from Peterborough to Huntingdon and Cambridge, except on Saturdays when the 18.00 from Glasgow with which it would connect doesn't run.

380 (Ely-Wisbech Suns): Proposed for withdrawal. This is very disturbing as the route is a vital link and cutting it may prejudice other services. We have, however, suggested that March could be incorporated in the 336 (Peterborough-Wisbech) and a new ``Ouse Valley Wanderer'' could link Ely, Chatteris, Somersham, St Ives, Huntingdon, Hinchingbrooke, Brampton, Grafham Water and Buckden, Littlehey Prison or the Offords, and St Neots town centre, Tesco's (for X5 Cambridge/Bedford) and station (for trains to/from London), running 3 hourly and also replacing existing 399, 473 and 477. (Incidentally the 380 is shown as an ``existing bus service'' in the Wusbech rail study. This shows graphically how one hand doesn't know what the other is doing.)

399 (Huntingdon-Littlehey Prison, Sats and Suns): for Suns see above -- the 477 could be diverted independently of our proposed extension. For Sats provide a replacement from St Neots rail station by diverting the 152.

400 (Kimbolton surgery bus): proposed for withdrawal. It is suggested that the planned St Neots postbus (for which no details are available) could provide a replacement -- we'll have to see.

414 (Molesworth-Thrapston Fris): proposed for withdrawal. A slight extension would provide a link from Huntingdon and intermediately by service 400, which passes through Brington at exactly the right time (though this isn't advertised in the timetable).

416 (Gidding to Sawtry Tues): proposed for withdrawal. It was irresponsible to provide such a service without connections to Huntingdon and Peterborough, including an afternoon journey from which shoppers could return on school bus 807.

417 (Sawtry to St Neots Thur): proposed for retention. The comments on the 416 also apply here. This could provide a visitor facility for Hamerton Wildlife Park.

473/7 (Huntingdon to St Neots and St Ives, Suns): it is proposed to amalgamate these, though it is suggested that the service would still be very marginal. That's one reason why we want the service amalgamated with the 380 and 399 too.

Home thoughts from abroad.

This is my personal opinion of the comparison between the transport and land use situations in the Aachen area and similar areas in Britain. It is based on my very limited experience of the last 2 months. If anything I say is misleading or worse, please let me know!

Aachen is a city about the size of Nottingham in the area of Germany near the Belgian and Dutch borders. In such a border area one is very conscious of the advantages of European integration: for example all border controls have been removed, and people from all three countries flock to the same countryside at weekends.

All buses on basically German routes in the Aachen area are run as part of an integrated network, which is franchised to local operators. All buses are single deckers (for high capacity routes articulated vehicles are used) and have ``bus stopping'' signs so one knows when a stop has been requested. All the stops have names and are listed in the timetables and on the bus stop displays, and some buses have a display showing the name of the next stop. All buses have an exit in the middle; one can also get on there (except in the evenings) if one has a pass. There are heavy fines if one is caught without a ticket, but I have never seen a ticket check.

Fares are fairly high unless one gets a monthly pass. My version covers 2 zones and costs 80 marks a month (about GBP 35). It is valid on certain cross-border routes too. These passes are only available for calendar months, so visitors should plan their schedules accordingly if they don't want to pay too much!

In the Netherlands (note: this is the proper name for the country, not Holland which, like England, is only a part) and Belgium displays aren't quite as uniformly good, but the main stop in a village will have a timetable display. The ticketing system is rather different, with a country-wide zonal system and tickets which givebest value if purchased in advance.

In all three countries the vast majority of villages in our area have buses 7 days a week. Around Aachen the evening and Sunday services are generally well used. In Aachen, weekday buses start before 5 in the morning. By 7 it is standing room only.

The area offers excellent walking and I take advantage of these facilities every Sunday. There is an extensive system of trackways and few ``private'' signs, so one can get away from the traffic easily. Walking, cycling and riding in the area are very popular. However, some of the lesser footpaths shown on maps seem to be mythical.

As for railways, Aachen has services in four directions: the main line to Ostend and Brussels on the one hand and Köln (Cologne), one of Europe's most important rail centres, on the other; a secondary line to the Ruhr (which passes through Viersen, the centre of an area which Cambs people will have heard of because it is twinned with Cambs), and a local service to Heerlen in the Netherlands. The latter was introduced only a few years ago when the line to Maastricht was closed. There is still a direct service to Maastricht, this being by ``Interliner'' bus which is run as part of the Dutch railway network, with services until late evening.

Germany still has an extensive branch line network. The national government wants to rid itself of this and is passing it on to local government. In Düren, not far from Aachen, several lines are now run as the ``Dürener Kreisbahan'' and this devolution of responsibility appears to have had some success. Closures are happening, but there would be a long way to go before their network dropped to our level.

There are also lots of freight routes which provide much more widespread access than in Britain -- which explains why so much more, proportionately, goes by rail.

All three countries have railcards available to all which reduce the cost of rail travel by more than the 34% we get with Network Cards. In general, there is less in the way of fare bargains than in Britain, except that there is a maximum return fare in Germany (the equivalent of our ``Saver'' and ``Supersaver'') and a maximum single fare in Belgium. Belgium also has an extensive programme of inclusive day trips covering rail travel from any part of the country and admission.

All three countries have avoided the kind of edge of town sprawl that mushroomed in Britain in the 80's. In Germany the five and a half day week is still the norm (I understand it is actually a legal requirement), so most supermarkets are closed after 6.30 and on Saturdays after 2.00, as well as on Sundays. I have never encountered a traffic jam. I don't think this has anything to do with the profusion of traffic lights that any Cambridge person who thinks that city over-provided with should see. Pedestrian crossing facilities are generally reasonable, though one does have to wait. In general there is not the same sense of traffic domination that one gets in Cambridge and many other UK population centres -- at least that's my impression.

There is extensive use of traffic calming and bus priorities in Aachen. The former is not surprising -- after all the very phrase ``traffic calming'' was originally a direct translation from the German ``Verkehrsruhigung''. Where traffic calming is used on bus routes, it is carried out in such a way as to avoid the bumpiness one usually gets in Britain. The bus priorities appear to offer little more than marginal advantage -- buses still have to do a lot of waiting around. There are special signals at certain traffic lights. This includes, incidentally, an exit signal from the bus station which may be used to ensure that connections are kept -- at any rate, buses usually seem to leave a few minutes late.

The bus and rail stations are some way apart (rather unusually), but most routes operate across the city. This means that I can get very near the rail station simply by staying on the bus for three stops after the bus station.

There is an extensive motorway network. However the motorways are generally more basic than ours, and there has been far less provision of by-passes on the equivalent of our A roads. As in Britain, there is resistance to some new motorway proposals.

What of the journey from London to Aachen? The journey is rather slow, taking six and a half hours end to end (including check in time). This compares with 4 hours and 15 minutes London to Edinburgh, which is longer in distance. There are plans for high speed lines for most of the route; but London to Folkestone is still going through parliament at a time when trains can reach 300 kph (about 185 mph) between Calais and Lille, and the Lille to Brussels section is under construction. Meanwhile the ``airline'' style image which Eurostar seems keen to project contrasts strongly with the closely integrated nature of railways almost throughout Continental Europe. Fares are high compared with comparable inland journeys in all three countries -- perhaps what we need is a single railcard giving discounts throughout Europe.

As mentioned earlier, this section is very much a listing of my first impressions, with an attempt at objectivity. If you have reason to dispute any of the above, don't hesitate to contact me.

Action line.

Just two items this time: write to your local county councillor about the bus cuts, and look at the diary of events to see if you can take part in anything -- such as attending our AGM on 13 April.

Finally... we now have World Wide Web pages on the Internet. They can be found at here.

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