The M25 and the role of express coach

The ‘Orbit’ mutimodal study that underpinned the recent decisions to add capacity to the M25 was published in 2002. The report was very clear that without measures to control demand that it would provide no long-term benefit. To quote: “Widening the M25 has been likened to digging a ditch in a bog – it fills up as fast as you dig”.

‘Newsletter 2’, published in June 2002, said that “the best opportunity for providing improved public transport in the M25 corridor would be a considerably enhanced, high quality, orbital coach system which could provide a real alternative for some existing trips on the M25″ (my highlight). The main features would be:

  • New services providing orbital journeys in two rings around London.
  • High quality vehicles with spacious facilities for on-board working
  • Coach priority (or high occupancy) lanes and traffic measures
  • Transport interchanges with good connections to other services with comfortable and secure waiting areas.

The executive summary went on to say that “The consultants do not believe that the development of such a coach system can be left to the private sector. They believe that it should be very actively promoted by Government and that for this purpose a Strategic Coach Authority should be established” which would define services, frequencies, interchanges which would then be franchised. The authority would also “secure road space from local authorities and the Highways Agency” to provide priority measures necessary to ensure the reliability of the service (my highlights).

So, what has happened with these recommendations… Err, nothing to my knowledge. In November 2010 the National Audit Office criticised the Highways Agency for being too committed to widening the M25 and failing to properly consider the potentially cheaper option of ‘managed motorways‘ with hard shoulder running’ and estimated that between £400m and £1.1b could have been saved.

Managed motorways would have been better for express coach given that it could be configured to provide priority for high occupancy vehicles. If the agency didn’t consider hard shoulder running properly then it is unlikely that it considered coaches properly either.

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Reusing existing crossings

One of the interesting things about this project is looking at how to create neat interchanges that avoid diversions for coaches that are also convenient for people to use to access local transport using existing infrastructure. Given that one of the more expensive elements are bridges and tunnels it is worth looking at how to reuse existing ones. It has been an interesting realisation that the best locations may be between, rather than at junctions. Start by looking for road or pedestrian crossing that are close to a park and ride sites, stations and other good transport links.

Take the A14 to the east of Ipswich as an example. There is a foot tunnel under the A14 close to the current A12 which was built for the old A12 route (‘London Road’) before the current junction to the SE was built. At a later date a park and ride site was built on part of the old road. Here is the current layout.

Convenient foot tunnel close to a park and ride site

Here is the tunnel from ground level.

A view of the pedestrian tunnel

My suggestion is that one should build out coach laybys on either side of the A14 above this tunnel with steps and a ramp down to the pedestrian tunnel. This keeps the coach route as efficient as possible, avoids an additional expensive bridge. The park and ride site has frequent buses, cycle storage and car parking.

Location of coach laybys

There is an interesting bridge on the M25 over the B172 close to Theydon Bois underground station which is one of the outer-most stations on the Central Line. With the addition of slip-roads down to this road coaches could access the station very efficiently.

Slip roads to a minor road to access an Central Line station

Here is a view of the bridge from the local road.

A view from the local road

I am well aware that this doesn’t meet current motorway regulations and that some drivers could be tempted to use it but there don’t appear to be any overwhelming problem that couldn’t be overcome.

Finally, here is a very minor bridge across the M25 which could provide access to the West Coast Main Line as well as to Kings Langley and potentially also Watford.

A very minor bridge over the M25 at Kings Langley

Here are the proposed slip roads and service road. I am not proposing this as the best solution for the area, only as a candidate to be considered and an example of the potential of re-using existing crossings of all sorts.

Kings Langley slip roads and access road

Save Leicester Forest East services!

Leicester Forest East Services would make a excellent Coachway interchange for the nearby city of Leicester. There is however a serious problem which I will come to below.

The service station is on the M1 just to the west of the city of Leicester and has rear entrances on both sides of the motorway which would allow access to the service station by buses from the nearby A47 road. It also has a foot-bridge over the M1 to allow both sides to access bus services on one side if that was preferred.

Leicester currently has 22 coach services all of which use the centre of Leicester and some of which have multiple services each day. Destinations include Blackpool, Glasgow, Cornwall, Newcastle, Manchester and London. Moving these to the edge of the city would reduce congestion on the local roads and greatly improve journey times for people not wishing to stop in Leicester. There are further coach services that currently pass Leicester without stopping which could be temped to stop if the was a low penalty to their timings.

This first map shows the location of the service station, the rear access roads to the A47 and the nearby park and ride. To make this work a suitable bus service would need to be provided to the city centre. Possibly this could make use the existing park and ride bus service. It would also be useful to allow people to be collected by car. Bike and ‘car club’ hire would be a bonus. The layout of the service station would need to be adjusted to allow coaches to pick up and set down very close to the main building entrance.

Leicester Forest East services map

The map below shows coach services calling at Leicester and also ones that pass on the M1 without stopping. Notice that the ones that pass without stopping are much faster, but do not of course benefit the city.

Coach services colour coded by speed. purple is fast, green and yellow slow

The big problem is that the service station is scheduled for demolition if/when the M1 gets widened at this point and the junction with the M69 gets ‘improved’. Of course, our plans are to move enough people onto coaches that there is no need to widen the motorway. Here is a view from the Highways Agency website showing what the area would look like with a widened road and no service station!

Leicester forest removed!

Coach services from Leicester:

SB    Norwood Green (London) – Bradford City Centre
1    Wolverhampton – Gravesend Town Centre
SK1    Leicester – East Midlands Airport
3    Leicester – Gravesend Town Centre
4    Gravesend Town Centre – Leicester
5    Wolverhampton – Leicester
6    Leicester – Wolverhampton
7    Leicester – Norwood Green (London)
8    Norwood Green (London) – Leicester
230    Gatwick Airport – Mansfield (Notts)
308    Digbeth – Great Yarmouth (Norfolk)
310    Bradford City Centre – Poole (Dorset)
326    Cambridge (Cambs) – Newcastle upon Tyne
332    Digbeth – Newcastle upon Tyne
335    Poole (Dorset) – Halifax Town Centre
339    Westward Ho! – Grimsby
350    Liverpool – Clacton (on-Sea)
397    Leicester – Blackpool (Blackpool)
440    Victoria (London) – Manchester City Centre
537    Corby – Glasgow
661    Digbeth – Ingoldmells
767    Nottingham – Stansted Airport

Reading coachway

Reading Coachway is an interesting example of how the UK coachway network is growing organically. Coach services were de-regulated by the 1980 (five years before local buses), since then coach services have developed as the operators wished. A curiosity of the approach has been the development of ‘Reading Coachway’.

A clue is in the official title of the bus stops in question. They are called ‘Calcot, Sainsburys’ because the coachway interchange is in reality a few bus stops in the car park of Calcot Sainsburys supermarket that happened to be close to a good junction on the M4 for Reading with good local transport links.

Here is the ground level view:

Reading Coachway streetview

And here is the overhead view:

Reading coachway aerial view

The list of coach services is impressive, covering England, Wales and Scotland.

M14    Cheltenham (Gloucs) – Victoria (London)
200    Gatwick Airport – Broadmead (Bristol)
201    Gatwick Airport – Swansea
202    Swansea – Heathrow Airport Terminal 4
303    Southsea (Portsmouth) – Birkenhead
310    Bradford City Centre – Poole (Dorset)
403    Victoria (London) – Street (Somerset)
404    Shortroods – Felton (N Somerset)
444    Hereford – Victoria (London)
501    Edinburgh – Victoria (London)
502    Victoria (London) – Ilfracombe
504    Victoria (London) – Penzance
505    Newquay (Cornwall) – Victoria (London)
508    Haverfordwest – Victoria (London)
890    Fishguard – Victoria (London)

There are also a wide range of local services:
1 Reading Town Centre – Newbury (W Berks)
18 Reading Town Centre – Calcot (W Berks)
N26 Reading Town Centre – Theale (W Berks)
26 Reading Town Centre – Calcot (W Berks)
74 Reading Town Centre – West Ilsley
S85 Little Heath (W Berks) – Southcote
S86 Little Heath (W Berks) – Southcote
S87 Little Heath (W Berks) – Southcote
S88 Reading West (Oxford Road) – Theale (W Berks)
S90 Purley on Thames – Theale (W Berks)
S92 Theale (W Berks) – Reading Town Centre
S93 Theale (W Berks) – Castle Hill – Bath Road
S94 Castle Hill – Bath Road – Theale (W Berks)
S96 Tilehurst – Theale (W Berks)
101 Newbury (W Berks) – Reading Town Centre
104 Tilehurst – Newbury (W Berks)
105 Newbury (W Berks) – Reading Town Centre

The store is open from 7am to midnight and according to its website has: Disabled Toilets, Toilets, Baby Change, Parking, Restaurant, a Starbucks coffee shop and a Pharmacy. And yes, there is also a big supemarket!

We are pressing for more interchanges of this sort. Sometimes however, some infrastructure work will be needed to create all the right conditions for such services to develop.