1. Transport
  2. Rail
January 26, 2015updated 19 Jul 2021 2:19pm

No, Cambridge probably isn't getting a subway or a monorail

By City Monitor Staff

Tremendously exciting news from the Fens today. Here’s a screen shot from Cambridge News:

That looks a lot like a map of a proposed rapid transit system for a certain university town. Cambridge has one of Britain’s fastest-growing economies. It also has a housing crisis and traffic-clogged streets, and nobody’s very keen to drive a motorway through the middle of, say, King’s College Chapel. Consequently, everyone agrees some more radical thinking is probably required.

The map’s a little on the blurry side, and at time of writing we’ve not been able to track down the original. But what you can see in there is the town’s existing railways (black) and the guided bus way, which opened in 2011 and which links the town to Huntingdon (blue). The really interesting bit, though, is the orange dotted line, the key for which promises

“Aspiration of future High Qualtiy Public Transport linkages”

This is extremely exciting (we may have already said that) – but note the use of that weasel word “aspiration”. Sadly, talk of monorails and underground railways and so on seems just a tad premature. From the Cambridge News story:

Radical solutions to Cambridge’s transport crisis are back on the table after a key player in the City Deal pledged to make it “a melting pot” for any and all ideas.

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Underground tunnels, monorails and hi-tech pods have been among the more outlandish ideas mooted in recent years to solve Cambridge’s gridlock, with the £500m City Deal possibly providing the catalyst to these more costly projects.

However, Cllr Tim Bick, chairman of the City Deal assembly, said it had to deliver schemes in the first five years in order to unlock further tranches of funding.

Roughly translated: yes, these things have been proposed; no, they weren’t in any way official; and no, there’s no money for them at the moment. Now, let’s see how we do with these buses.

So if they’re not official parts of the mildly devolutionary Greater Cambridge city deal signed last June, where did all the talk of mass transit come from?

The Cambridge Underground idea stems from a 2008 proposal for a series of bus-only underground roads, with stations at major sites of interest. It’s the work of Robert Mair, a professor of civil engineering at Cambridge Unviersity, who’s been involved in major projects including the Channel Tunnel and Crossrail, and who told the Cambridge News in 2009:

“I believe there’s a need for radical solutions to Cambridge’s traffic problems. We have a very historic city centre with narrow streets which hinder public transport provision and there is no question that buses and cars are causing increasing congestion and pollution.”

Talk of a monorail is even less official. That comes from a local businessman who, best we can tell, just really likes monorails.

We’re not averse to this sort of thing: last November we got very excited about this imaginary tube map of Leeds. But sadly, map or no map, Cambridge is a long way off getting its own metro system. Boo.

Also, to illustrate the monorail plan, the story uses a picture of something running on – get this – two rails. Poor show, Cambridge News. Poor show.

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