Cambridgeshire Metro costs could be cut to £2billion by having smaller vehicles
Experts have suggested a way to cut the cost of the Cambridgeshire metro in half, while also warning the current concept is unaffordable.
The mayor and head of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, James Palmer, said the new approach is a game changer, but insisted the metro has always been deliverable.
The plan for a Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM), including an underground section in Cambridge, has received wide cross-party support, but with a price tag estimated at more than £4billion the reality of such a scheme ever going ahead has also been subject to doubt.
Now an alternative approach has been proposed – with an estimated cost at just under £2bn.
A report from the Combined Authority’s technical advisory committee, dated from May this year, reveals how using smaller vehicles could significantly reduce costs, especially for the proposed underground tunnels and stations.
The mayor said the report is an exceptional piece of work which gives a clear way forward.
He said it was right that the Combined Authority learns and evolves the project throughout development, and said work on the outline business case had been delayed to incorporate the report’s findings.
He also suggested the innovation required to deliver the scheme could then be sold to other cities in the UK and abroad.
The report is critical of the current concept, which has an estimated price tag of more than £4bn.
It says: “The scheme, as currently defined, will be unnecessarily expensive to construct. It will prove to be unaffordable.”
The report says the current proposal is to use a system similar to light rail, albeit using autonomous vehicles on rubber tyres, which it warns would not be justified by the passenger numbers anticipated moving around Cambridge. The size of such vehicles would also dictate the size of the tunnels and underground stations, which account for a “dominant” part of the estimated cost.
The infrastructure would be “unnecessarily large” and “the cost disadvantages are acute,” the report says, adding the system would be too “inflexible” to take account of new technology.
In addition, the report also says the infrastructure should be future-proofed, and it looks further ahead to a possible future of more personalised journeys using advances in autonomous vehicles which could see passengers hailing their own ride on such a network. Over the next 20 years we can expect “fleet control systems and personalised journey planning apps to combine to make the spontaneous use of multi-modal public transport a convenient reality,” it says.
To achieve a fast, frequent, and reliable transport system, which can incorporate the expected advances in technology – all for half the price – a new concept has been proposed, and its defining feature is size.
It would see a bespoke vehicle with a much smaller cross section, which would carry around 40 passengers, rather than the vehicle options currently being proposed which would carry more than 100 passengers.
“Smaller vehicles mean smaller bore tunnels, roadways and stations leading to savings in infrastructure costs. These savings are substantial and mean the difference between an unviable scheme (as currently proposed) and one that would make financial and economic sense,” the report says.
The paper has been authored by Dr David Cleevely CBE and Professor John Miles of the CAM Technical Advisory Committee, with assistance from Xiaofan Zhang, an engineering student of Selwyn College at the University of Cambridge.
Prof Miles contributed to work on Affordable Very Rapid Transit, known as AVRT, for the Greater Cambridge Partnership which was released in public reports in 2017 and 2018.
This newly proposed alternative system for the metro is similar to AVRT in its vision of vehicle sizes.
AVRT was considered as an option for the metro by the Combined Authority in the Greater Cambridge Mass Transit Options Assessment Report from January 2018. That report weighed options between light rail, AVRT, and a third option – the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro – which attempted to incorporate parts of both systems, similar in size and function to a tram, but using rubber tyres and autonomous technology.
The February 2019 strategic outline business case for the metro said AVRT had been assessed as the “least deliverable” and warned against the costs of light rail, while the CAM was described as “the only viable option for a metro-type network that extends beyond the city fringe”.
The mayor has said he envisions the metro reaching out well beyond the greater Cambridge area, and he even hopes to see it reach Peterborough.
The paper from the Technical Advisory Committee from May this year argues for a return to considering a smaller vehicle.
The mayor told the Local Democracy Reporting Service “there’s a lot more innovative thinking” in the latest proposal compared with the previous work by the GCP.
Prof Miles said work on a smaller vehicle option has evolved and he is keen to see it move forward.
He said “the first generation of vehicles could be built tomorrow”.
“I am delighted that some of the ideas that we put into play two or three years ago have now been developed to the point where they really look like they could work for Cambridge,” he added.
“The work that has been done in the meantime looking at conventional ways of providing the solution has been very helpful. It has thoroughly explored the traditional alternatives and, because that work has been done, I hope we can now pursue this radical solution with a very high degree of confidence. Something which is a Cambridge product, not only for Cambridge, but also for many other cities in the UK which face similar public transport problems.
“The AVRT concept is founded on a very simple idea. It combines ‘compact infrastructure’ – which, because of its reduced size has lower costs and reduced environmental impact – and ‘intelligent vehicles’, which, because of their high-tech DNA, enable fast, frequent and flexible services to be operated. The combination leads to a very attractive solution, both for the traveller and for the funding authority.”
The mayor said it was right that the project should develop throughout the process and stressed that more work would need to be done as the plan for the metro develops.
He said it was not the case that the other options being considered are not affordable, but said this alternative approach will make it easier to fund.
“It was achievable before, certainly, but it was going to take some pretty strong lobbying to get there,” he said. “It still will take work to get to where we need to be, but this is eminently achievable.”
He said the report would not alter the delivery timeline of 2023 to 2029, but he couldn’t say when construction on routes may start.
He said: “You have to have the evidence-base before you, and as the work goes on, as we go from feasibility study to strategic outline business case to outline business case to business case, you learn along the way.”
He added: “This work by David and his team has proved that we have the ability to deliver world class public transport in Cambridgeshire including tunnels under Cambridge, and the costs associated in here are game-changing.”
The mayor is now calling for a specific company to be set up to progress through the next phases, bringing together information from the Technical Advisory Committee and others, which he said would provide a more unified approach.
“The work that Dr David Cleevely and his team have done on behalf of the CAM has brought forward a system that is so innovative, that is so groundbreaking, and so exciting it demands a one CAM model,” he said.
“Because it’s not just creating a road, and then just running buses on it and hoping that they fit on CAM metro, this is a system that means the cost of delivery of the CAM has come down from £4.5billion to under £2billion.
“The work that we commissioned from Dr David Cleevely and his team, informs us of where we need to be to deliver what will be the most exciting public transport system in the world.
“What we will have here will be second to none anywhere – it will move people at speed, it will move people safely, it will move people in an environmentally friendly way, and it will be transformational for the county of Cambridgeshire and our neighbours.”