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Could the Cambridge University Cavendish Lab be the site for a new underground transport tunnel?


By Ben Comber


The Cavendish Lab, West Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell
The Cavendish Lab, West Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell

The Cavendish Laboratory has been suggested as a location for a tunnel entrance that would take a mass rapid transport vehicle underneath the city, but what does the university say?

It’s a possibility that has been suggested by vice chair of the Greater Cambridge Partnership board, Cllr Lewis Herbert.

He told the Cambridge Independent: “It’s only hypothetical and it’s clearly dependent on several things: it’s the university’s site, it’s not our site; there’s still a study about what routes to follow and also there’s the issue of the underground and light rail and fast bus study as well.”

A £150,000 study being financed by both the GCP and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority is looking into several different modes of mass rapid transit, including rail, buses, monorail and an Affordable Very Rapid Transit system that is being proposed by a Cambridge University professor.

Cllr Herbert continued: “It’ll be subject to the study. The difference is that AVRT uses a narrower tunnel, but there’s all kinds of factors about what kind of vehicle would use the tunnels.

“And similarly, as with light rail’s viability, no-one has actually produced the bus and run it yet. It’s perfectly feasible, a fast bus on a track in a tunnel is perfectly do-able.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, and who’s to say whether the university will play ball? But there are reasons why that location is useful – it links into the job site there.”

The university has not said that it will refuse to ‘play ball’, but has confirmed that there have been no formal discussions about the proposals with the Greater Cambridge Partnership yet.

The lab, which stands in the West Cambridge Campus, is planned to be replaced by the third Cavendish Laboratory at a cost of £300million, which will house the university’s Department of Physics.

The Cavendish Laboratories have an illustrious history, being the sites of many world firsts such as Crick and Watson’s discovery of DNA.

Although the new Cavendish Laboratory would be built on a different site in the West Cambridge campus, the site where the current laboratory stands is not vacant for such a tunnel – it has been earmarked for a new building that would provide facilities for the university’s Department of Engineering.

:: New routes for the Cambourne to Cambridge busway have been revealed

It’s the Department of Engineering’s Prof John Miles who is developing the AVRT transit system that would run high-speed ‘sprinters’ from interchanges on the north, south, east and west edges of the city to a station in the centre.

Prof Miles has said that, should the AVRT mass transit system be chosen for development by the GCP and Combined Authority, a driverless vehicle could be tested along the guided busway, and a prototype ‘sprinter’ could start being developed for £5million.

A spokesman from the University of Cambridge said: “The GCP’s proposals are purely exploratory at this stage, and the university hasn’t had any formal discussions with it in respect to this issue.

“In any event, the university’s masterplan for the development of West Cambridge hasn’t changed and we look forward to welcoming the arrival of the Department of Engineering to the site in the near future.”



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