Cambs guided busway - still no progress on defects

GUIDED busway contractors BAM Nuttall have done no work whatever to remedy what Cambridgeshire County Council says are serious defects in almost two weeks since the project was handed over on Maundy Thursday, the council said yesterday (Tuesday). But they have been on site doing other things.

Under the contract, BAM has 28 days after handover to rectify notified defects before the council can get someone else to do the three months’ work thought to be involved. Contractor Jacksons Civil Engineering is standing ready to move onto the busway as soon as the 28-day period expires.

Notified defects include missing expansion joints in the viaduct over the River Great Ouse between St Ives and Fenstanton, correcting gaps in the guideway beams to allow for hot weather, inadequate gradients on the St Ives park-and-ride car park in Meadow Lane, leaving it allegedly liable to flooding, and part of the maintenance track-cum-bridleway that the council says is so low-lying that it is liable to be under water for six months of the year.

BAM, which has been extremely reticent during the four years of the work, is believed to deny that any of this work constitutes a defect under the contract.

Once that work is done, and drivers have been trained – or in many cases re-trained, because they were originally expecting to be operating on the route more than two years ago – the busway (at 25km, the longest guided busway in the world) can start to accept paying passengers. That could happen in August if all goes smoothly.

But, given the history of this hugely-over-budget project – the �116million budget has already become a projected outturn cost of �180m – no one is making any bets on when what was originally hailed as a prestigious project to be delivered at no cost to Cambridgeshire’s Council Tax payers will actually carry paying passengers.

As it is, the guideway will open without the terminal buildings planned for the St Ives and Longstanton park-and-ride sites and without a kiss-and-ride facility at Swavesey that were deleted from the contract when the budget overshoot became obvious more than two years ago.

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A council spokesman said it would consider reinstating those facilities when the full cost to the authority became clear – ie not for years, until the High Court has ruled on the council’s �45m ‘overpayment’ to BAM, or, more likely, never.

One facility that is likely to be built is a showcase at Longstanton park-and-ride for the new 9,500-home eco-town planned as Northstowe, on the site of the former Oakington airfield – a project even more heavily delayed than the guideway itself.

In the meantime, according to a county council spokesman: “BAM Nuttall have not carried out any work on site to fix the defects since the route was handed over. They have been on site carrying out the minor jobs as expected.”

Those minor works are not critical to the opening of the operational busway but include tasks off the guideway, such as planting and other habitat measures that are driven by seasonal considerations.

The county council is expected to announce the opening date at around the time the two operators lodge their proposed timetables with the Traffic Commissioner – eight weeks before they come into effect.