Plans to increase the number of trains that can use the Abbey Line between Watford Junction and St Albans have been setback after the Department for Transport (DfT) decided not to fund the project.

The Abbey Line is a single-track railway that opened in 1858 and linked Watford Junction with St Albans Abbey, initially with two intermediate stations, but now it has five sleepy stations along the line. Unlike most other railways this one didn’t seem to generate much in the way of house building and has remained a quiet shuttle service.

Abbey line – based on Network Rail map

The difficulty with the line’s popularity is that although the journey takes just 16 minutes, the trains run just once every 45 minutes because of the constraints of the single track.

A bid for funding to build a passing loop at Bricket Wood station had been submitted to the DfT’s “restoring your railway” fund and had received some interim money to investigate the plans further. A report submitted for the funding suggests that the restoration of the passing loop and the necessary signalling upgrades could come in at under £9 million, and while it found the benefits of the upgrade covered the capital costs, they were not quite enough to cover the increased costs of running additional trains on the line.

To run a more frequent service, they also need different trains, and while the proposal looked at conventional 2-car mainline trains, they also suggested the Vivarail scheme, which converts old District line tube trains to run on mainline railways.

However, the DfT has now written to the two local MP’s telling them that the subsequent survey did not support the business case for the upgrade.

The letter stated that the “proposal to upgrade the Abbey Line evidences that it would deliver an improved rail service to existing passengers on the line by increasing service frequency. However, sufficient passenger demand to warrant the proposed increase in frequency has not been evidenced, given current low passenger numbers. There are also high costs associated with delivering and operating the proposed services.”

As a result, the railway upgrade will not be taken further by the DfT, leaving local campaigners having to find an alternative way of paying for the passing loop to be built.

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15 comments
  1. NG says:

    Well, of course not – it’s part of the Greater London area ( If not in the GLA itself.
    All part of Boris’ Grinding Down ( Formerly known as “levelling-up” ) agenda.
    /snark

    • Latimer says:

      Well of course there’s low passenger numbers on the line,the services are really unreliable. That’s what a single track line is like.

  2. Andrew Jarman says:

    I you build it & increase service frequencies passengers will come. If they dont you only lost £9M & the infrastructure is there future proofed in case things change. A 30m service is the minimum frequency required. If they dont think it’s worth it make it hourly all day from 6am to midnight ish

  3. Peter Brown says:

    there was always a passing loop at Bricket Wood. What happened to it and who removed it. Whoever it was should put it back!

  4. Katy says:

    People don’t use it because it’s so infrequent and often not running. We live only a few roads away and drive to Watford Junction. If this ran every 30 minutes we would use it all the time!!!!!!!

  5. Regie says:

    Didn’t their use to be a loop there or am I going mad

  6. Grumpy Chicken says:

    The’ll probably wait a couple of years for traffic to recover, then spend more money re-developing the plans and inconvenience more commuters rather than just getting the line fit for the future now while it’s quiet.

    Does it not occur to DafT that increased frequencies are likely to drive increased passenger numbers?

  7. chris wright says:

    Ex Rail Minister said funds for East West Rail to Aylesbury may be needed for levelling up areas. It may apply here as only 2 schemes from South East. Increased frequency will increase use.

  8. Dave Roberts says:

    Yes there was a passing loop at Brocket Wood when I was a regular user but it was removed with the footbridge and second platform many decades ago.
    It’s a shame that so much money IS available but the Abbey Flyer seems to lose out. The present operator doesn’t seem too concerned about revenue collection either as has been the case since Network South East was a thing!

    • Richardr says:

      Revenue collection seems to be a thing – the only station with barriers is Watford Junction, and in my recent experience the level of ticket inspector on the train is low.

  9. Dave Roberts says:

    I mean Bricket Wood.

  10. Mandy Smith says:

    What about the green agenda? the amount of cars on the roads will reduce, what about the houses that are being built? Transport links are terrible! People dont use it because its rubbish!!!

  11. Adrian Betham says:

    It’s the sort of forecast that expected the M25 never to be congested. With a new line only alongside the M25 between Rickmansworth and Denham preexisting lines could link the Great Eastern main line at Hoddesdon via Hertford, Welwyn,St Albans, Watford, Denham West Drayton and Heathrow to Staines on the South Western. This would relieve congestion and pollution both on the M25 and crossing Central London while Levelling Up Hertfordshire and Berkshire

  12. David Smith says:

    The DfT should remember that the route that the Croydon tramway was built on was ( between Wimbledon and Croydon) also on the low useage list . It had been threatened with closure a number of times and yet look at the usage .

    They should look at the population parc for the area and likely passenger usage .

    Is light rail an alternate?

  13. c says:

    Poor Watford Junction. It nearly had the Met line and this increased service (and surely one would support the other) – now, nothing planned and a degradation in Birmingham service.

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