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Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Thursday, 28 October 2010 16:10 UK
Guided bus: Operators concerned over spiralling costs
Top deck view of tracks
The view from the top deck of a guided bus being tested at Histon

The operators that will run vehicles on Cambridgeshire's guided busway have voiced frustration over the delays.

BAM Nuttall Ltd, the busway's contractor, said buses could have been using the tracks safely since 2009.

However, Stagecoach and Whippet Coaches have agreed with Cambridgeshire County Council that vehicles should not use the tracks until the defects are fixed.

Meanwhile, Peter Lee, whose Whippet buses should be running on the tracks, said he regretted buying the vehicles.

"The company has been here for 90 years, so of course when we heard about the guided busway, we wanted to be involved," Mr Lee said.

Increasingly dissapointed

"I really didn't realise how big this project was going to be, but I admit I did think it might go over estimates a bit."

He said he had become increasingly disappointed each time the opening was delayed further.

A guided bus
A guided bus currently being used on traditional routes in Cambridge

"We've invested £450,000 in new vehicles, plus the extra staff we took on to operate the services. That's a considerable expense and I'm not seeing any income from it.

"We bought these vehicles specifically for this purpose. I didn't buy them thinking I'd be using them on anything else.

"They're additional to what we wanted and to be honest, I don't really need them. Why did I buy them?"

The company has removed the guide wheels from its new vehicles and is using them on traditional routes throughout the county.

Mr Lee added: "We're in an awkward place. We're in between the two. While they argue, I have no input and I can only wait for them to resolve it.

"It will take a considerable amount of time to break even. But to make a profit? Well, I really don't know. We've got to get on the busway, first."


Andy Campbell is Stagecoach's managing director. He said: "It seemed like a good idea at the time. There were 12,000 new houses to be built at Northstowe and two additional park and ride sites for the county.

"With the congestion on the A14 we believed this rapid transit system would be a success, with all those component parts."

The company ended up purchasing 20 vehicles at a cost of over £3m.

"The success of the scheme depended on Northstowe being built," he said.

Mr Campbell added that although the service, when it begins, would still be high quality, he was doubtful whether it would be profitable in its first year.

"After that, without Northstowe, it's debateable whether we could continue with the commitment of a bus every 10 minutes," he said.

"I don't dispute what BAM Nuttall has said. You could run buses safely on the busway now.

"The parts of the track that we've tested so far are of a good standard but the defects could affect buses running and must be fixed before we open, as we don't want the route to have to shut down once passengers start using it."

Government response

Meanwhile, transport minister Norman Baker refused to be drawn into the on-going battle between BAM Nuttall Ltd and Cambridgeshire County Council.

When asked if the government should step in, he said: "We've got to be careful because we're a government that believes in localism. We're not a government dictating to local authorities what they should and shouldn't do and I don't want to cross that line.

"But I certainly think there are issues here that would merit consideration by the government in terms of ensuring that we learn the lessons for the future."

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