This was Britain's first kerb guided busway. Operated by the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive ('Centro') it featured six 'passenger stations' which were equipped with shelters, tip-up seats and electronic information displays advising passengers when the next bus would be due. Access to the stops was by ramp, so even though the vehicles were not 'low floor' they were still more easily reached by people with special needs.
The busway trackage consisted of a concrete road surface into which steel guide-walls were set, with the centre strip between the bus' wheels 'rough surfaced' to deter cars from using it and overall landscaping designed to deter pedestrians from wandering where they were not wanted. Technically it was treated like any other bus lane, ie: a part of the normal highway that had been made subject to a Traffic Regulation Order restricting access to buses only - in effect this meant that construction and maintenance were the responsibility of the local highway authority, and not the bus operator.
Promoted as Tracline 65, it featured a dedicated fleet of specially adapted brand new Mk2 Metrobuses. Because the guide wheel assemblies had the effect of making the vehicles wider than the legally permitted maximum width a special dispensation was obtained to allow these vehicles to be used on the public highway. To help make them more visible to other road users these assemblies were fitted with white reflectors on the front, red reflectors on the back and on the outer edge amber lights which were linked into the traffic direction indicators.
Driver training was carried out at the test track at the Motor Industry Research Association (MIRA) where at a press demonstration it was shown that guided operation could actually be safer than 'normal' mode. For instance on emergency stops it would not matter if the front wheels locked as it was impossible for the bus to loose steering control; when bricks were placed on the track the bus shattered them and continued as if nothing had happened.
This busway was only a small part of what effectively was an experiment in bus transport. The larger picture was to see if by a program of concentrated improvements along a specific route that led to faster journeys and a generally higher quality of service to passengers it would be possible to attract more people to bus transport. The guided section of Tracline 65 was just a 600 metre strip at the very end of the route in an area where traffic congestion was not an issue; elsewhere new bus lanes were created, parking restrictions introduced / stiffened, more and better bus shelters erected and there was much media publicity. As far as guided operation was concerned the experiment was always meant to be of limited duration and closure came in 1987 when following bus deregulation a rival bus company won the contract for the Sunday service and with it not willing to spend money equipping vehicles with guide wheels the situation arose whereby there would have had to be different stops (on the parallel dual carriageway) for different days of the week.
Within the parameters set for it this experiment was proven successful. Bus patronage on route 65 rose by 29.3% compared to a more modest 4.2% within the West Midlands area as a whole. The guidance system proved both safe and reliable in operation, the initial fears that the protruding guide wheels might prove hazardous - especially to unwary pedestrians - were proven unfounded (although one did snap off when a bus that had been diverted away from its normal routing hit a kerb) and although little now remains of the Birmingham installation much valuable information was gained.
The images which actually show the busway were taken on a quiet Sunday afternoon when unfortunately the lighting conditions were not the best.
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