Risk of 'catastrophic failure' on '£200m' Cambs guided busway


It has been beset by difficulties since delivery, with legal battles, a troubled beginning and a difficult first few years, but is the Cambridge guided busway finally coming off the rails?

Campaigners have warned that Cambridgeshire’s troubled guided busway may have inherent design flaws, leading to a high risk of ‘possibly catastrophic’ structural failure.

Local campaign group Smarter Cambridge Transport has published its own review of previous reports on the scheme that were commissioned by Cambridgeshire County Council.

Cracks on the  busway. Copyright Smarter Cambridge Transport

It said the council should conduct ‘an open re-evaluation of the busway’ and that this should be independent of court action the council is taking against BAM Nuttall, which built the scheme.

Its report argues that ‘The whole concept of a kerb-guided column-and-beam busway should be reviewed, particularly in the light of advancing guidance technology.’

The group said repairs to the scheme could push its total cost over £200m.

Three recent serious accidents on the busway have been blamed on driver error, including one in June.

The campaign group said: ‘In the aviation industry that would not suffice as an explanation. People make mistakes: always have, always will. The answer is to design out possibilities for error and to minimise the damage that an error may cause.’

The group said its review analysed the design of the busway, ‘particularly regarding the foundations, the cracks in the concrete beams, and the poor ride quality evident along many sections of the track’.

It said: ‘We now believe these may be symptoms of fundamental flaws in the design and construction, which appear not to have been adequately examined to date.

‘Our report sets out some of these symptoms, and outlines possible theories to explain them. These have led us to believe there may be a high risk of future structural failure of the busway, possibly catastrophic.’

A council spokesperson said: ‘The County Council has agreed to proceed with legal action against BAM Nuttall in respect of defects in the design and construction of the guided busway. Our legal and technical advisers are preparing the County Council’s formal claim, which will be a public document, so it would be inappropriate to comment in advance of that.

‘However we can confirm that we have received a copy of the report produced by the Smarter Cambridge Transport team and do not consider that it raises any new issues that need to be considered as part of our claim.’

BAM Nuttal declined to comment.

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