Driver negligence caused last month’s Cambridgeshire Guided Busway crash, according to a report from Cambridgeshire County Council.
CCTV from inside the bus showed the driver apparently “reading something…balanced on the steering wheel” as the bus entered a guided section of the busway on the wrong alignment and at excessive speed on 22 February.
Five passengers were slightly injured in the accident, which occurred around 2pm to the north of the single track Trumpington Cutting. The bus had left the single track guided section through the cutting, crossed an open unguided transition area and entered a twin track guided section.
Maximum recommended speed for this transition is 30mph. Steel guiderails, or ‘flares’, at the entrance to the concrete guideway sections are designed to assist the driver in aligning the bus correctly and engaging with the guideway upstand.
Cambridgeshire Guided Buway
Drivers are supposed to conform to the Busway’s Operations Handbook, which states: On approaching the guideway, a vehicle must be steered gradually to the right until the guidewheel lightly contacts the right-hand metal guiderail that leads onto the concrete track.
However, CCTV cameras further along the busway clearly show the bus impacting the left hand guiderail at high speed, calculated to be well in excess of 50mph. This throws it to the right, where it hits the concrete upstand hard enough to rip off the guidewheel.
Swinging back to the left, the bus still has enough momentum to mount the left hand upstand, cross the tarmac maintenance/cycle track and embed itself in an embankment.
Damage and deposits from the bus’ paintwork on the left hand flare and the concrete upstands confirm the evidence from the external CCTV cameras.
According to the report: “The loss of the offside guidewheel as a result of the collision with the right hand guideway beam upstand had a catastrophic effect on the bus’s guidance, an effect that was magnified by the bus’s forward momentum.”
CCTV footage from bus operator Stagecoach’s internal CCTV cameras is both illuminating and damning. According to the report, the CCTV shows the bus entering the twin track section at 54mph. It goes on: “during the transition … between the two guideway sections, the driver appeared to be reading something (possibly a duty board or a book)… balanced on the steering wheel…. and was not looking out and ahead of the bus.”
When the bus was jolted by the collision with the left hand flare, the driver was seen to look up with “a shocked expression” on his face. The next impact with the right hand guideway upstand threw the driver out of his seat into the footwell, after which point the bus was totally out of control.
In its conclusions, the report states that there was no evidence that any part of the guideway was at fault. It pins the blame squarely on the driver, stating he was either inattentive or overconfident, and that “the only cause for the derailment was the driver’s action, or lack of action, in the moments leading up to the collision with the left hand entry flare”.
The report’s main recommendation is that the council should work with the bus operators “to create an open and transparent system of scrutiny which evidences the operators’ procedures in training and monitoring of its own drivers.” Stagecoach has confirmed that all its drivers are issued with the Operations Handbook.
Overall, the busway’s safety record is good, despite previous instances mentioned in the report of buses losing guidewheels. In 2013 stray horses on the line caused two buses to crash into each other, and last year a pedestrian was killed by a bus, so far the only fatality.