Bus frustration again…

December 28th, 2013

I was in Cambridge at the weekend, and re-acquainted myself with its bus system. A few things have changed in the two years I’ve been away, but some obvious things appear not to have been acted upon.

Let’s start with some good news – the guided bus system appears to have been popular enough for the original routes to have been expanded somewhat, and for some routes to now be operating at a higher frequency. For instance, the Stagecoach route A service from Trumpington to St Ives is now every 15 minutes rather than every 20, and now makes a slightly better job of connecting Addenbrooke’s with the railway station, although the Park & Ride bus service from Babraham to Milton still actually has a faster journey time.

I used the route A to get from our temporary flat at Addenbrooke’s into the city on Saturday (partly because the guided buses stop within 2 minutes walk of the flat, whereas the main bus station is about a ten minute walk) and it arrived ahead of time at the railway station and sat there for a few minutes. The new bus access road and bus stops at the railway station (built as part of the CB1 development) are a big step forward for traffic flow around the station, but I can’t help feeling that some important details have been lost in the remodelling. Our Route A bus stopped at stop 9 at the station, which is the one that’s nearest to the station entrance. No fewer than six people came and asked the driver if his bus went to the city centre. He answered no – which is probably the right answer, the route A calls at New Square, which is fairly central but not the main shopping street – and directed them further down the road to another stop (stops 6 and 7 both have buses to the city centre). Surely it would be more logical for the “buses to town” to be using the stops nearest the station entrance, so as to make things easy for people unfamiliar with the city?

This has been a longstanding complaint of mine. Outside the front entrance to the station should be a large signboard explaining where to go to take the buses to a few popular destinations (the city centre and Addenbrooke’s being obvious ones). The bus stops themselves should also be clearly labelled “buses to city centre from this stop” and should also clearly show the fare and explain that the drivers can give change for banknotes but don’t take credit cards.

Now, let’s get onto the thorny topic of ticketing. Stagecoach have a near-monopoly on services in Cambridgeshire, so the majority of people will be happy buying Stagecoach’s tickets: there are singles, returns and two all-day tickets (Dayrider covers the city only, Dayrider Plus covers the whole county). It’s impossible to obtain the single or return fares on the web – you have to call the depot and ask – which seems daft in this day and age. About 20% of buses in Cambridgeshire are operated by other independent operators, so the County Council applied some leverage to the bus companies and made them issue a ticket called a Multibus, which was originally a day ticket covering all buses in the county. A Multibus is quite expensive – £7.80 as against a Dayrider Plus at £6 and a city-only Dayrider at £3.90 – and I suspect they don’t sell very many. Until recently it wasn’t even listed on Stagecoach’s website! However, the Multibus ticket now doesn’t cover the Stagecoach-operated Busway A and B routes, for no reason I can properly understand. There is, however, a special busway smartcard ticket that works on both Whippet and Stagecoach busway buses, but nowhere else! Logical!

Cambridge rail improvements 2013-2019

December 20th, 2013

We’re moving to Cambridge in the new year, so I thought I’d follow up the previous post about Oxford rail improvements to cover changes in the Cambridge area.

Hitchin flyover

One of the long-standing problems with the Cambridge-Kings Cross service has been the flat crossing at Hitchin, where trains going north to Cambridge had to cross all four lines of the East Coast Main Line in order to reach the Cambridge branch. Any disruption to the timetable tended to result in a Cambridge train getting held at Hitchin station whilst waiting for the line to become clear. Network Rail have built a new line that crosses on a large curved viaduct, which opened in the summer of 2013. Only a few trains a day have been using it so far, but with the timetable change in December 2013, the Cambridge route trains have been switched to using the new line. This actually adds about a minute to the journey time, but should avoid the previous delays.

Cambridge Science Park station

Cambridge’s main station is to the south of the city centre, and it can take up to 45 minutes by bus to reach the northern part of the city. To help resolve this, a new station is going to be built in Chesterton, using land that’s currently occupied by goods sidings. This will be called Cambridge Science Park, and is in the advanced planning stage at the moment. Assuming no major holdups, construction should start in the summer of 2014, with the station being open from December 2015. The station will be served by the existing King’s Lynn – London trains (every hour), and should also get an hourly semi-fast service (i.e. stopping at Royston, Baldock and Letchworth). There should also be a service to Norwich. Detailed train provisions will be worked out nearer the time. The station will have three platforms – two on the main line and one “bay” platform for terminating trains from London. Access to all three platforms will be via a footbridge, as passengers need to cross over the line that leads to the remaining goods sidings. Vehicle access will be from Cowley Road, and a guided busway spur will be built along the trackbed of the former St Ives branch line to reach the new station. There will be no through route for buses or other vehicles, so it will be interesting to see if the bus companies choose to terminate some of their bus routes from St Ives at this station rather than run all the way into the city.


The Thameslink Programme is due to finish in 2018, and one of the final changes is the connection of the East Coast Main Line to the Thameslink route via a tunnel under the Regent’s Canal. The current proposal is to re-route the half-hourly Cambridge-Royston-Baldock-Letchworth-Kings Cross semi-fast trains to go via Thameslink. These trains will run through London and continue to Horsham in Sussex, providing a direct link to Gatwick Airport en route. They’ll use Thameslink’s new 12-car Siemens trains, which are unusual in that they are a fixed formation of twelve carriages rather than being made from two smaller sets joined together.

Intercity Express Programme

The existing Class 365 trains used for the fast services from Kings Cross to Cambridge and King’s Lynn are due to be replaced with shiny new Hitachi-built Class 801 sets as part of the government’s Intercity Express Programme. These are a more comfortable “long-distance” design, which will also be used to replace existing high speed sets (HSTs and IC225s) on several routes. They are due for introduction in 2018. These sets are designed for electric operation, but have an emergency diesel engine which should help reduce disruption on the days when high winds bring the wires come down on the Fenland section!

New franchise

First Capital Connect’s franchise comes to an end in September 2014. The new franchise is already being advertised by the Department for Transport, and will cover an even bigger area – incorporating the existing Southern franchise from 2015 (London-Brighton and branches) – as a result of the planned expansion of Thameslink services from 2018 onwards. Some new requirements have already appeared in the Invitation To Tender document, the most interesting of which is the provision of two trains per hour (as against one at present) serving King’s Lynn, Downham Market and Ely. This will probably be achieved by extending the hourly Kings Cross-Cambridge non-stop train to run to King’s Lynn. This hasn’t been possible previously because of a single-line junction in Ely, but this is going to be dualled during 2014.

Freight improvements

Various improvements are being made to rail routes in East Anglia as part of a programme of works to improve railfreight access to Felixstowe docks.  At the moment, container trains leaving Felixstowe either have to go to London, down the busy main line to Liverpool Street, or the locomotive has to change ends in Ipswich station, which is very disruptive. Network Rail are currently building a new piece of line (a “chord” in rail jargon) just north of Ipswich station, which is due to be finished in the spring of 2014. Once this opens, container trains will be able to travel from Felixstowe to Ely without reversing, and will then carry on via March and Peterborough to reach the East Coast Main Line. Those going to the West Midland and North West of England will carry on via Stamford, Melton Mowbray and Leicester and join the West Coast Main Line at Nuneaton, using a new flyover that opened in 2012. These proposals will allow much more freight traffic from Felixstowe to travel by rail to the Midlands and North of England, and should help to relieve congestion on the A14. A single container train can carry between 30 and 45 lorryloads!


  • December 2013 – Hitchin flyover in full use by Cambridge route trains
  • Spring 2014 – Ipswich chord opens, more railfreight travels via Ely
  • Summer 2014 – Construction starts on Science Park station
  • September 2014 – New franchise begins
  • December 2015 – Science Park station opens
  • December 2018 – Thameslink route trains start serving Cambridge. IEP trains take over Kings Cross – King’s Lynn services.