GUIDED BUSWAYS – on the wrong track?
15 May 2008
British engineer, Arthur Henderson claims to have invented Kerb-Guided-Buses (KGB) in 1965, for services from Paddington to Heathrow. A guided-wheel hovercar system for Paddington to Heathrow was reported in Engineering in July 1964. Government’s 1967 Transport Study referred to guided buses.
Basic principles of the system
Kerb Guided Buses have horizontal guide wheels on each side at the front, to steer buses - via arms attached to the steering knuckle - within 18cm high concrete ‘rails’. Gauges range up to 2.6m. Articulated buses also have centre guide wheels also. The gauge at entry to ‘rails’ is 1m wider, to ‘funnel’ vehicles in. Width is 0.8m more on radii under 400m.
A Paper to the Select Committee on Transport  stated:
· Light Rail Transit (LRT) requires least space, busways most, guided busways are in between. LRT and busways are similar in cost, guided busways are generally slightly cheaper,
· Buses can run at the same speeds, same capacity and pollution levels, as light rail, (which given diesel versus electric is questionable).
· Light rail vehicles have a longer life than buses.
· European light rail systems gained more passengers than buses. 20% transfer from car to light rail, whilst transfer to busways is lower.
· Their survey of
1850 car drivers in four
Another Paper  mentions:
· Light rail systems include vehicle costs whereas those of guided bus systems are funded by operators.
No other country has installed a system.
In contrast to
Claimed benefits of guided systems are invalid as all schemes involve off-system improvements and carparks, which implemented separately, may have a better return.
Transport expert, Professor Carmen Hass-Klau describes current guided bus operation and plans as “terrible, terrible, terrible systems”.
It warns: ‘as with any large construction project this programme is subject to change’. Of nine major tasks, Project Newsletters show seven already have later finish dates. Being too low for double-deck buses, a railway bridge was rebuilt, closing a road for six months. Utility diversion is involved.
Operators will pay maintenance - but not capital. The council claims peak passengers will wait less than ten minutes for buses, but does not say whether some will stand. Supporters claim light rail requires feeder buses. Many rail commuters walk to stations. The guideway on the closed railway will be no nearer to homes.
Objectors said “the Council would send men with
shovels to clear snow; bus schedules require Formula 1 acceleration and
braking; costly alterations had been overlooked, and a bridge supposed to
require minor modification must be demolished”. “This scheme is
set to fail environmentally, as tailpipe pollution can only be less dirty and never clean”. “Few locations
justify using railways for guided-bus tracks.
The Luton-Dunstable 15km system includes13km on disused railways. Government promised £78m in 2003, £4m was a ‘planning gain contribution’. The East of England’s Regional Fund Allocation promised support.
Objectors say : “it will not switch freight to rail in line with government targets. Half the cost is to be a loan to the council, repaid by local taxpayers for a scheme they don’t want. The council provided no evidence any operator will use it or pay track costs. Meetings supported rail with virtually no one supporting guided buses. Letters to newspapers show preference for rail. No proof has been advanced to show journeys will be shorter than on existing roads. Trade bodies favour light rail. Busway demand was overestimated.”
Expert Professor Carmen Hass-Klau said the catchment population for a light rail option was underestimated. The County Council voted to halt the scheme.
Kent Thameside considered guided buses in the 1990s, but opted for a bus-only road, without guide rails.
Advantages attributed to guide systems:
A Consultants’ Report  sets out advantages only, including ‘improved ride’ (not borne out in Edinburgh and Leeds), ‘higher speed’ (30-40mph over short sections), ‘access for mobility impaired’ (available on other transport), ‘environmentally friendly’ (not demonstrated), ‘more flexible’ (not within guide rails), ‘grass may be sown between rails’, (needs weeding, feeding and mowing!).
Blocked to other traffic. (As are bus-only roads. Bus lanes are used off-peak by other vehicles).
The overall width of guided bus lanes is slightly narrower than lanes where buses are steered by drivers.
Cross roads require breaks in continuity.
At unsignalled roundabouts, buses exiting the system give way to traffic from the right.
Pedestrian lights for central busways, will delay other traffic, but some passengers may miss a bus.
If guide wheels break, or buses break down, following services are delayed.
The unit cost of a few
When guided buses are unavailable, unmodified replacements may not serve all stops where busways are not along ordinary roads leaving passengers waiting at some bus-stops.
Delays will occur if trained drivers are unavailable, as it is a criminal offence to drive modified buses even on ordinary roads without special training.
During strikes, systems will be empty, whilst replacement cars congest roads.
Debris flying in from adjoining roads cannot be bypassed, and will cause delay.
Unless under-surface heating is installed, services will be suspended until snow is removed by hand.
Re-surfacing busways, and repairing ‘rails’ requires diversions to ordinary roads.
If operators withdraw, there is no guarantee others will take over.
If operators are responsible for maintenance, and one pulls out, it is unlikely others will pay more.
Buses travelling beyond guided systems will be late on re-entry.
The DfT advocates replacing rural trains by buses to cut subsidies. Bus companies running railways get 5-6 times BR’s subsidy. Bus operators will not pay all infrastructure costs, just as applies with bus shelters, bus lanes, red routes, raised pavements and lay-bys.
Railway level crossings for roads, farms and footpaths have narrow gaps for rail wheel flanges, which are not feasible for bus tyres. Bridges or breaks in the ‘rails’ are necessary.
Drainage is needed. Railway gradients up to 1 in 200 are commonplace, but during a debate on converting railways to roads, at the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1955, A.A. Osborne, Engineer with Wilson & Mason stated: “Gradients are a serious problem; less than 1 in 200 is inadequate for drainage on roads. A drainage system would be necessary”. In 2005, Cambridgeshire County Council wrote: “a closed railway being converted to a road required land to be purchased to provide verges and drains, whilst a bridge was replaced with deeper piling”. Their letter and drawings showed the new width was about 3.3 times that of the closed railway.
“The general public report many services do not meet the standards they expect, and in too many places, patronage remains on a downward trend. Rural bus subsidy grant and Kickstart have provided support for new and improved services. Bus subsidy has risen to £1.8bn in 2005/6. This includes the Bus Subsidy Operators Grant, up 59% in real terms on 1997/8, and Subsidised Service Spending over 300% more”.
Under original Enabling Acts, which gave compulsory purchase powers, current owners of land crossed by railways may still have legal powers to seek restoration, if it ceases to be used for its original purpose. Those concerned should research land and Parliamentary records and lodge objections and claims.
It is 24 years since
 Transport Correspondent, Times 18.1.67
 Passenger Transport Executive Group, Annex 4. Select Committee 8th Report 2000.
 Institution of Highways & Transportation RT18.
 Christopher James Long, ‘Review of Translink scheme’, November 2005.
 Professor Graham Currie,
 www.lrta.org September 2007
 Traffic Engineering & Control, November 1990.
 Michael Taplin, Tramways & Urban Transit, May 2001.
 Telegraph & Argus 22 March 2002, 22 April 2002.
 Evening News, 15 November 2005.
 CastIron Fact Sheet No 5 February 2004.
 LRT Fact sheet 124, July 2001. Does the guided bus really have a purpose in life?
 Cast.Iron Information sheet No 5, February 2004
 Arthur Henderson, inventor of KGB in e-mail copied to the author.
 Tramways & Urban Transport May 2007
 Select Committee 8th Report 2000, Paper RT 18.
 e-mail to author from local authorities.
 Read, Allport & Buchanan, The potential for guided busways, Traffic Engineering & Control, November 1990.
 E.A. Gibbins,
 E.A. Gibbins, Railway Conversion - the impractical dream, page 188, Leisure Products, 2006.
 Jim Harkins, Tramways & Urban Transport May 2007