Colnbrook segment of ‘Slough Mass Rapid Transit’ scheme in the slow lane

A £5.6 million scheme to improve bus flows in the town has been approved this week but the eastern section, covering Colnbrook, has been put on hold indefinitely.

SMaRT

The Slough Mass Rapid Transit scheme (SMaRT) was originally proposed to cover nearly all of the A4 within the Slough area and through to Heathrow. But the Eastern section, covering Colnbrook, has been pushed into the slow lane.

While funding was awarded last Thursday for the Western and Central sections – covering a 4 mile stretch from Dover Street (near B&Q) to the junction with Langley High Street – Slough Borough Council says it still intends to deliver the Colnbrook segment as a “Phase 2” if it can raise the funds.  However it no longer remains a priority.

The SMaRT project provides a range of infrastructure improvements including

  • New and extended bus lanes;
  • Carriageway widening;
  • Junction improvements; and
  • Upgrading to SCOOT and MOVA ‘intelligent’ traffic signals.

Not quite as revolutionary as it sounds, Slough Borough Council ruled out introducing trams and a ‘guided bus transit’ system in formulating its SMaRT plans. It also rejected improvements to the local the rail network.

The intention is to increase the number of passengers using bus services to travel to work at the expanding Slough Trading Estate, thereby reducing congestion. The scheme will:

  • Increase the frequency of bus services to one every ten minutes, moving to a ‘clock face’ timetable;
  • Improve the punctuality and reliability of the 75, 76, 77, 78 and 81 bus services;
  • Introduce new diesel-electric hybrid buses;
  • Provide real-time passenger information screens at all stops on the Bath Road.

A simplified fare structure is also being mooted.

The A4 between Heathrow and Maidenhead is described in the proposal as a “strategic public transport corridor” linking Slough Trading Estate, Slough town centre, and Heathrow. Improved punctuality and journey times are seen as essential to tie in with Crossrail and Western Rail Access to Heathrow (WRAtH) services due from Slough station from 2019 and 2021 respectively.

Bus services on the route currently take between 20 and 38 minutes, depending on whether the bus runs along the A4 throughout (route 77), via Langley (routes 75, 76 and 78) or via Colnbrook (Route 81).  Morning eastbound journey times have already increased by 20% between 2010 and 2013 while evening westbound journey times by 23%.

The services that will most benefit from the scheme are routes 75, 76, 77 and 81, with some improvements to routes 58, 74 and 78. In addition to savings in waiting time, there will be savings in journey time of up to 4 minutes.

Nevertheless the scheme’s objective to use dedicated lanes to make journeys by bus quicker and more reliable between the three points, will be constrained without the eastern section. With buses reverting to single lane shared carriageways on the Colnbrook By-pass, home of some of the worst congestion on the route, some of the gains are likely to be challenging.

While the Eastern section was classed as a lower priority last year, Slough said last month that while it still hopes to implement it at “a later date”.

Construction of Phase One of SMaRT will run from the award date in November 2015 to August 2016 with project management being undertaken by Slough Borough Council itself.

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