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