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1981: A Bus For The Railway Tracks?

From the Cambridge Citizens' Guide, 'Cambridge Evening News', January 1980. Bus routes in the city way back then.

The old Cambridge and St Ives Branch railway line, which ran between North Arbury to the south, and Impington Park, the original King's Hedges plot and Rectory/Trinity Farm to the north, had been closed to passenger trains in the Beeching era of the late 1960s. Today, of course, it is the Guided Busway. It may surprise some that buses on the tracks were being mooted by local ecologists as far back as 1981...

The Arbury area in 1900, with the Cambridge & St Ives Branch railway line - now the guided busway.

'Cambridge Evening News', 15/5/1981:

Cambridge ecologists are planning a demonstration to prove that a bus which can run on railway lines is the solution to transport problems in 15 local villages.

The aim is to borrow the prototype bus in early July, and run it from Cambridge's city centre to Huntingdon - and use British Rail's tracks between Cambridge railway station and Swavesey. 

The project is being led by Mr Tim Eiloart, of Rivermill House, St Ives, who was an Ecology Party candidate in the recent County Council elections.

During his campaign he said a road-rail bus would provide a better service to the villages on the closed Cambridge-Swavesey railway line, stopping at the former stations of Histon, Oakington, Longstanton and Swavesey. 

This week, he said: 'The next step will be to get the machine up here so that we can show what it could do. 

'I am thinking that we could run it for several days, possibly to coincide with an open day at one of the local schools.

'I have not approached British Rail about the project yet, but I shall be doing so. I would be terribly sad if we could not run it on the railway.'

The present plan would be for the bus to travel to Cambridge station and get on to the tracks there. A railway driver would be needed to take the bus up to Chesterton Junction, and on to the branch line, which is now only used for freight.

Mr Eiloart's aim is to use the bus to cover the entire route which his party has proposed.

This includes a number of Cambridge city stops at Mill Road, Chesterton and North Arbury. The route then follows the branch line to Swavesey, from which point the lines have been removed by BR.

The ecologists propose using the line's trackbed from this point to St Ives, a distance of about three miles, and then serving the St Ives centre, Hill Rise, Wyton Aerodrome, Houghton, Wyton, Hartford, Huntingdon, Godmanchester and the Hemingfords.

Mr Eiloart denies that this new three-mile road would cost as much as a conventional road, and believes that a two hourly service could operate with only three buses.

The road-rail bus is owned by the Centre for Alternative Industrial and Technological Systems, based at the North East London Polytechnic and founded in 1978.

The centre, which is jointly run by the Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards' Committee, launched an appeal for the project in 1979 and  built the vehicle last year, using a conventional Bristol single decker.

The bus has four steerable front wheels, and a retractable guide axle with flanged wheels running between them. When lowered on to [a] railway track, the flanged wheels steer the pneumatic tyres, which continue to carry the main load. A further pair of retractable flanged wheels guide the rear of the vehicle.

The bus has already undergone trials on a private railway in North Somerset. The centre claims that it could be manufactured for no more than the cost of a motorway coach.

Mr Eiloart is in the process of drumming up support from the villages which would benefit from the service.

The total journey, with the new road, would take about 55 minutes.

More soon.


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