Going underground?

David Moulder – News Reporter 16 August 2012

Proposals for Cambridge underground bus network receive mixed reception

Plans have resurfaced recently on the potential introduction of an underground bus tunnel network in Cambridge.

The proposals have been backed by Deputy Leader of Cambridge City Council, Councillor Catherine Smart who said recently that presentations on the idea were “far more convincing” than she expected.

Following a couple of years’ absence from the political agenda, the idea of an underground bus network was again mooted at a meeting of Cambridge City Council’s East Area Committee at the beginning of August. Local resident Jon Green highlighted the importance of looking at alternatives to surface transport to solve Cambridge’s traffic problems, to which Councillor Smart responded by saying that Cambridge “really ought to look at” building a bus tunnel system.

Speaking to The Cambridge Student (TCS), Councillor Smart, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Romsey ward, expanded further on these comments, describing underground bus tunnels in Cambridge as “perfectly possible”.

She highlighted how earlier proposals for an underground bus network had in particular “said that the underlying ground was gault clay similar to that underlying London so it would be perfectly possible”.

A 2008 study led by Professor Robert Mair CBE, former Master of Jesus College, outlined an ambitious £190 million plan for an underground network of roads for buses to drive along. Mair, Cambridge’s Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering, insists “new but proven technology and favourable geology have demonstrated the technical and economic feasibility of constructing tunnels beneath Cambridge for the purpose of bus tunnels”.

Mair’s proposals suggest two tunnels, one starting at Castle Hill in the north of the city and the second running under Coldham’s Common to the east of the city, with a possible third linking the city centre to the railway station. There would be a station under Christ’s Pieces, with possibly an intermediate station at The Grafton shopping centre.

Local activist and blogger Richard Taylor is particularly enthusiastic about linking the main railway station to the city centre. He admits “we certainly need radical and imaginative thinking on how to solve Cambridge’s transport problems”.

Although buses would be far less of a drain on resources than an expensive metro system, or previously suggested space-age pods, it appears that the plans have been met with a mixed reception. Taylor himself is slightly critical of the plans, and emphasises the importance of lower cost and ‘lower-tech’ measures. He maintains that a focus on, for example, making cycling in Cambridge safer and more attractive “would be better than a grand and expensive engineering project”. Councillor Smart herself is wary of the cost, telling TCS, “Just at the moment, I doubt if the finances would be available”.

Peter Gillis, a former Anglia Ruskin student, is of a similar opinion to Mr Taylor. He told TCS, “Cambridge is too small for an underground system – it’s pointless, wasteful and people should get a bike”.

More serious discussion of Cambridge’s transport issues is expected later this year. County Councillor Ian Bates is currently holding a consultation on improving the city’s transport running until September 28.

David Moulder – News Reporter