Cambridge Automated Metro (CAM): the reaction…

Last month’s Cambridge Automated Metro post got quite a reaction. Beyond the tens of comments on this blog, it made pages 11 and 2 of Cambridge News, was reported on by ITV News Anglia and got me an interview with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire2. The proposal has certainly inspired some debate and thoughts, which was good to see. Below are my reactions to the coverage and your feedback.

Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone who has added their thoughts to the debate as, encouragingly, the vast majority of responses have been constructive. I had anticipated a more NIMBYish response sprinkled with some vague engineering concerns – this is the response that proposals for tunnels under Cambridge have been countered with in the past.

In terms of this proposal, it has become clear that reaching towns, villages and even cities in Cambridge’s hinterland is important to many people. After all, restricted residential development in Cambridge has pushed many people out into the surrounding area – the city has over 40,0003 commuters. Cost was also an issue for many and there were concerns about the ability of local politicians to make such a project successful. I see that the construction delays, cost overruns and other problems with the Guided Busway (which, after 5 years in Cambridge, I have still neither used nor met anyone with a use for it4) haunts many. Personally I am of the opinion that the Guided Busway is only a stopgap unless it eventually provides routes in a variety of directions and, most importantly, isn’t as slow as every other method of transport once it’s within Cambridge.

The radio and newspaper coverage was pleasing, but the TV coverage was less so. I would like to point out that the people asked about the proposal shared several properties which means they’re not in a target demographic:

  1. They have time to visit central Cambridge on a weekday afternoon. (Unlikely to be commuters).
  2. They’re lucky enough to have not been caused enough grief by the current transport system to avoid their trip to central Cambridge. (The lucky few, or they live in central Cambridge).
  3. They have time to chat and are therefore unlikely to be paying the extortionate parking fees (or they’ve accepted a cheaper fine). (Unlikely to be drivers).
  4. They were concerned enough to give a response. (Unlikely to be tourists).

The Cambridge Automated Metro, like most rapid transit systems, would be most useful for commuters. It would also, again like many other systems, be useful for tourists and visitors to the city. Additionally, as highlighted by one of the videos linked to above, it could be handy for families who are priced out of parking and for whom cycling is not a sensible option. All of these are sizable groups and catering for them properly would only increase their numbers. For others it is simply a convenience, though it might also take the pressure off the cost of accommodation in Cambridge by increasing the distance one can live from it while still availing of its benefits.

Later this year5 I hope to find the time to look into the issues and information highlighted by the feedback and produce a map of how such a system might look by 20506. The existing proposal only tested the water for inter-settlement transit with the Central line running to Northstowe. I aim to propose specifically where in Cambridge any underground, surface level and above-ground tracks could run7. This would be accompanied by well-reasoned8 track section cost estimates and I’ll try to calculate some passenger numbers (at the very least, the total pool of potential passengers9). Obviously it would help to have a range of information about the existing situation if anyone has any, including additional figures such as the number of people using each existing form of transport, the amounts spent on transport, etc.

  1. If anyone is a subscriber to the E-Edition of Cambridge News, you may have enough information for me to link to a better image of the front page. Please contact me if you can help! []
  2. If you know of a legal way of sharing that radio show with others now that it’s no longer on iPlayer, please do let me know. There’s a shred of evidence here, from around the time I was interviewed, indicating my presence on the show. []
  3. Extrapolated from slightly old data. []
  4. I’m sure it’s wonderful if you live a significant distance along the route and need to get into Cambridge, but this rather limits its scope. []
  5. I have very little time for additional activities and I am not experienced with planning transport infrastructure, so it will take time. []
  6. It would be preferable for a number of reasons not to build lines to everywhere at once. []
  7. By skirting around the edge of the city to the south and north-west, the North and South lines could have significant ground-level sections, reducing costs. Additional complexity-reducing and cost-cutting measures could include the Chesterton to Cambridge Science Park section of the North line making use of Stourbridge Common for a cut-and-cover section and runing at ground level parallel to the train line when it meets that. []
  8. From existing data. []
  9. This would include residents served by the stations as well as visitors to Cambridge, who would find such a system easier to use than navigating Cambridge themselves by bus, bike or on foot. []