Yesterday I took the day off work and travelled with my bike on the train to Cambridge for a ride out with my brother. It was, after all, the day for withdrawing labour in support of one's brothers.
We had decided to investigate the Cambridge Guided Bus route which has its own cycle track from Cambridge Science Park to St Ives, and it was fascinating to see this new service in operation.
Built along a former railway line, this new commuter service provoked much hostility when it was being constructed from campaigners who would have preferred a traditional train or tram service. Well over budget and behind schedule, the 11 mile concrete track was finally opened fully last year and is the longest system of its kind in the World.
Custom built Scania buses travel in the concrete grooves and have horizontal guide wheels which keep the main tyres away from the concrete edges. These buses are powered by bio-fuel produced entirely from food waste and have onboard wifi and laptop sockets for commuters. At either end of the expressway they simply drive off into the normal roads, something trains or monorail systems cannot do.
In theory the whole concept sounds a little odd and detractors had predicted it would become a very expensive white elephant. However, looking at the system in practice I was greatly impressed with the vision of Cambridgeshire Council in supporting such a ground-breaking concept. The buses travelled fast (60-70mph), frequently and full, and the new park and ride areas on route were jam packed with cars and bikes.
I couldn't help but contrast this with the train service from Norwich to Cambridge I had used that morning, this week operated by National Express. 15 minutes late, my train had arrived "into" the "station stop" with just a single carriage instead of the normal three "due to a unit shortage" and therefore entailing an uncomfortable 50 minutes in unhealthy proximity to human misery. The system, apart from the diesel engine, was 170 years old and felt like it.
If we are to survive as a prosperous nation we need to experiment with our transport infrastructure like the guided bus system. We need to design, develop and actually manufacture the systems in this Country and use our natural resources to the full. Having squandered our oil resources it looks like brains and ingenuity are all we have to go on.