Preliminary funding has been secured to increase the number of trains on the Abbey Line – a single track line linking Watford with St Albans.

Abbey line – based on Network Rail map

The funding comes from the central government’s “restoring your railway” fund, which has been touted as undoing some of the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. Some wags pointed out that the Abbey line was never closed, so why is it being funded.

Read on.

The Abbey Line is a single-track railway that opened in 1858 and linked Watford Station 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, except for summer holidays when people would travel en-mass to the countryside where two large fairs were based.

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 tack, and that lack of frequency is not just sufficiently infrequent to put people off relying on it, but also the timetable doesn’t fit into neat “x-mins past the hour every hour” thinking which would at least make it easier to remember when a train will arrive.

The train is faster than the car during rush hour due to road congestion, but its infrequent service means far fewer people use it than could.

There has been a long running campaign to either increase the rail service, or even replace the line entirely with a tram or bus line.

The railway plans, if carried out, could see the restoration of a passing loop at Bricket Wood station. When the station was built, it was like the others, a single platform, but the holiday traffic volumes made it viable to add a second platform, and a passing loop on the railway in 1913. This allowed a lot more trains to run along the line and created a regular timetabled service.

Bricket Wood station 1940s (c) Bricket Wood Station Trust

However, by the 1960s the line was slumbering again, and the entire line was nearly axed as part of the Beeching cuts, but following protests, the plans were cut back to simply removing the second platform and passing loop at Bricket Wood station.

Ever since, campaigners have been trying to reverse that decision.

What the local campaigners have been calling for, and now have preliminary funding for is to restore that passing loop at Bricket Wood so that more trains can run along the line.

That’s why the government funding to reverse the Beeching cuts can be applied to a line that he never managed to close.

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.

The proposal wont see the second platform restored, but will see the existing platform lengthened so that the two trains can use either end at the same time, with the loop linking in the middle. This is much cheaper than two platforms, as you would then need either a modern footbridge and lift to be added, which would cost around a £1 million more, or to split the station in half relying on a local road bridge to act as the link.

Passing loop proposal (c) The Railway Consultancy

If the loop is put back, the more regular service half-hourly should act as a big draw for the road commuters who currently spend longer stuck in traffic jams than they would sitting on a train. However, a large housing development on the Radlett Aerodrome, and developments in Watford make the upgrade if not quite cost effective yet, at least less of a loss than it would otherwise be.

Fortunately, the review agreed, and initial funding is being provided to work out the finer details and push forward for a fully costed proposal.

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.

If that were chosen, then this line could be said to be, indirectly, part of the London Underground.

In totally unrelated news, the climatic railway scene in one of my favourite horror movies was filmed at the station, along with a number of other films.

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22 comments on “Funding to upgrade the railway between Watford and St Albans
  1. Adam says:

    ngl, the station plan looks stupid goofy. if they’re gonna extend platforms, why not just build a second platform instead?

    • ianvisits says:

      As explained in the article, the cost of the footbridge and lifts for accessible access would cost at least an extra £1 million – when the project is barely viable as it is, you can’t go around wasting money on that when a viable alternative exists.

  2. Geoffrey Algernon Brabant Demprunt says:

    A full Marketing Campaign and a Concession based Scheme with a 15 minute Service between 6.30- 10.00 and 15.00 and 18.30, free for the first 3 Months built by a Bank/ Rail / Housing Developer.
    In order to Build with low Density Housing in the Station Areas and operated under TfL Concession with refurbished Old LUL Stock as used on the Marston Line.

    If its possible?

    A new School on the Line with a Catchment Area covering as much as possibke and
    20, 1 Million Houses in the Vicinity of each of the 5 Intermediate Stations with 40, 300 K Apartments at suitable Locations along the Ribbon with a 7,25% Levy.

    Why don’t TfL Model this once they’ve reduced the Journey Time to 13 minutes and made the Improvements. I’d Build the second Platform this Fall with Furlouughed Labour on a 2 week Closure.

    • ianvisits says:

      This project is nothing to do with TfL.

    • Snorbens321 says:

      The Viva Rail trains on the Marston Vale line have proved extremely unreliable. Ask the passengers on there about them and don’t believe the hype.

  3. Geoffrey Algernon Brabant Demprunt says:

    A full Marketing Campaign and a Concession based Scheme with a 15 minute Service between 6.30- 10.00 and 15.00 and 18.30, free for the first 3 Months built by a Bank/ Rail / Housing Developer.
    In order to Build with low Density Housing in the Station Areas and operated under TfL Concession with refurbished Old LUL Stock as used on the Marston Line.

    If its possible?

    A new School on the Line with a Catchment Area covering as much as possibke and
    20, 1 Million Houses in the Vicinity of each of the 5 Intermediate Stations with 40, 300 K Apartments at suitable Locations along the Ribbon with a 7,25% Levy.

    Why don’t TfL Model this once they’ve reduced the Journey Time to 13 minutes and made the Improvements. I’d Build the second Platform this Fall with Furlouughed Labour on a 2 week Closure.

    Extending it to St Albans might take a few Cats off the M25 as well!

    • ChrisC says:

      I’m always in favour of taking cats off roads.

      I’m even more in favour of people not posting the same idiotic comments more than once.

  4. IAIN CHIPPENDALE says:

    One platform with loop is the same as Dyfi Jn on the Cambrian, works well with 2 trains there but is a long walk from end to end.

    • Cjw714 says:

      There is also something similar at Penryn station on the Falmouth branch line in Cornwall. Again it seems to work well.

  5. Geoffrey Algernon Brabant Demprunt says:

    Divert the Line from Park St over inexpensive Land to a new Station at Napsbury Parkway with a new mixed Quality Housing Scheme;another Station at Old London Road near the A1081 for the Abbey and join the Mainline South of St Albans City into a Bay Platform.

    An Electric Bus on a 15 min Loop, between the Abbey and the City Station.

    Has anybody done the Math on that? It might be worth a Tfl Consultation especially if it was added to the now forgotten Croxley Extension.

  6. Arthur Phillips says:

    I still think, after 25 years, extending the line to Watford high Street would attract extra shoppers and football fans to use the trains making it more viable and useful.

    • Peter Hicks says:

      An extension to WFH leaves three problems: turning back at WFH with only two platforms, needing dual voltage units for the branch and the big issue of of extending the track under or over the WCML at Watford Junction to join up with the DC lines.

  7. Geoffrey Algernon Brabant Demprunt says:

    Croxley to St Albans City via Watford Junction and London Colney ( Parkway) 23 minutes?

    I sense it might progress better, if it were managed by Tfl. There Consultations really work and can be expedited.

    The North London Line, was unreliable and unknown until Ken Livingstone, took over as Mayor ; as incidently were Buses to places necessitating a 20 minute Walk to a Station.

    People are going to be without Employment and expedited Public, Private or Hybrid Schemes are required.

    I don’t know whether Watford plan to move to a purpose Built Stadium, in the near future but amalgamating the two Schemes ( Croxley Line) would seem to make sense and attract Investors. It guarantees Passengers 21 Days, a Year, in normal Times.

    I can’t speak for local Legends, like Mr Ashcroft, Elton John, Kiki Dee, Wilf Rostron, Bradley Walsh or Nick Leeson but a Stadium adjacent to one of the Stops North East of Watford might allow a dual Platform Solution, following the initial Works as would linking the almost there Croxley Line.

    Concession based Schemes allow competitive Bidding and can be scrutinised easily.

    London Overground has a standardised set of Station Designs which could be easily coated by a number of Foreign Bank led Consortia. A set of Fares adjusted for Inflation with good Passenger modelling could, including Tfl or some other equally as good Manager, take this on for a stated Period and return the same to the Public, thereafter.

    Croxley could be Rail as well. You’d be connected with a proper Service to Watford Met, to 3 regular Routes to London.

    The problem as another Watfordian has shown, is that you have to act quickly. Money could be saved this Winter, if you close the Line instead of using costly Possessions.

    A second 2 Platform Station as mooted with a Lift, might be better in the long run. 4 Trains an hour in staggered Peaks is the minimum to attract people who currently use Cars.

    I apologise for the inadvertent Post, my Hands were Sandy.

  8. Iain W Dobson says:

    As a long time member of ABFLY, who was dependent on the St Albans to Watford Junction link to get to work in Hatch End,
    I had to master a strange 3 hour time table; Leave St Albans
    @ 09.00, or 9.45, or 10.30, or 11.15 then back to leaving on the stroke of noon. This, I am sure, was a barrier to any casual travellers who “wanted to get to Watford” and who then decided to drive instead. A half hour service (with the possibility of a 20 minute service) would, by its simplicity, remove one barrier to increased usage of a vital rail link.
    Accordingly, I hope that the proposed passing loop at Bricket Wood is created in my life time (born 1938!) and that all the
    other dream/wish list ideas being floated are completely ignored for the present. Any broadening/lengthening of the scheme will simply delay the implementation of a simple answer that has been too long in planning. GET THE LOOP BUILT!

  9. David Crozier says:

    Considering how often the line isn’t operating because drivers are diverted to the “more necessary” other routes at Watford Junction, it seems unlikely that it will be staffed properly no matter how good the changes would be for passengers. Having two trains not operating isn’t really an improvement on one. If they fund that side of things properly it sounds great, but I rather fear they won’t.

  10. Geoffrey Algernon Brabant Demprunt says:

    The Sound of the Mans’ Socially excluded and ignored. It took 30 years to get a Path Built between Walthamstow Central and Walthamstow, 3 minutes instead of 15 minutes.

    Whty doesn’t Abfly examine the Costings and seek informal Tenders from qualified Rail Companies. It must be cheaper to Build in a Blockade. There are hundreds of qualified Rail Workers all over Europe likely to be out of work.

    3 Trains to St Albans Abbey and 1 to St Albans City per hour at a minimum from Croxley via Watford High St, South Junction or a Dive Under and Watford Junction Station.

    Even if Watford were Relegated, a new Stadium near the M1 would be a Catalyst for this Development as would a new Housing Development at Vicarage Road and at 5 or 6 locations along the Ribbon, sympathetically woven into the Environment Watford could Fund the running Costs with an annual Concert by Elton John or Luther Bissett!

    Coordinated Rapid Action.

    In the Interim, get the Loop or second Platform Built in a Blocacde this Fall.

  11. Geoffrey Algernon Brabant Demprunt says:

    After all, when you consider the St Albans of 1963 and today, you could be forgiven for proposing a reopening of the St Albans to Hatfield Line as well, via Napsbury Parkway, New London Road Station, Fleet Ville, Smallford, University of Hertfordshire / Hays Galleria ( 2 Platforms), Lemsford New Village and Welwyn Garden City.

    Of course, you would have to put a new Alban Way in place.
    Some ideas seem good at the Time but there’s only ever been one English Pope

    The Papal Line? Croxley – Watford – St Albans – Welwyn Garden City, in 40 minutes 4 times an Hour. If Tfl or West Midlands Trains can’t do it, what about Norwegian, Japanese or Spanish Rail?

  12. James Miller says:

    I feel that the consultants’ plan is a good one.

    Two of the current Class 319 trains would fit the extended platform and would probably be able to provide a two train per hour service.

    But if they decide on new trains, why not use a pair of Class 710 trains with a battery capability.

    1. The current track would be electrified, but the loop would be operated using the batteries, so no extra electrification would be needed.

    2. The batteries would be charged, when connected to the electrification.

    3. The 710s with their walk-through design would allow trains to overhang the platform at Bricket Wood.

    4. They might even have a higher capacity.

    5. The 710s have better acceleration than the 319s, which might mean than three trains per hour could be possible.

    I think with some innovative thinking in a serious real ale pub, an excellent solution can be found.

  13. Ray Philpott says:

    This is good news indeed, should anything come to fruition. Lessons learned with North London’s GOBLIN line – once only offering an hourly ‘cinderella’ service – is that if you increase frequency you tend to increase patronage. Now with a frequent service the GOBLIN line is very busy indeed and is an integral part of socio-economic development in the Barking area. Increase passenger traffic and you increase revenue and then further improvements become more justifiable and viable. Ideally a 15-minute service interval would make this line even more attractive to the folk of St Albans and Watford (if physically achievable) but one step at a time. It’s worth remembering that when BR was at it’s most cash-strapped in the 1990s and needed to close lines, the easiest way to justify that was to first decimate the service on a line to the point that vrirtually no one wanted to use it. This loop is certainly a better option than the concrete busway option proposed by Hertfordshire County Council. Given the dire state of most local authority coffers, who still thinks that handing over the actual running of vital local/regional transport services to cash-strapped local authorities is a great idea? It is just an under-handed way for central government to palm off operating costs of loss-making railways onto councils who can ill-afford to operate railways.

  14. Peter G says:

    Would they consider extedning the contactless ticketing to this line?
    With contactless ticketing working out past St Albans on that line, and full Oyster ticketing available to Watford Junction, most peoople in the area are used to a touch in/touch out system and it would ease a barrier to casual travel on the line.

  15. Geoffrey Algernon Brabant Demprunt says:

    Having had a chance to see Mr Miller’s original and Ian’s December Artcle it looks obvious to me that it’s the ‘ Mass Transit’ Croxley to Welwyn Garden City.

    It can’t be Bus but would a Tram style Light Rail System cover the 22 Miles quick enough to warrant leaving the Car at Home for the Daily Commute? That’s the Raison D’ etre

    Galleria, St Albans, a new Stadium, Watford and Croxley would all benefit from Rail.

    However 2 Platforms in each of the Sections would need to occur at 2 Stations to minimise Delays.

    Say Galleria, Smallford, Napsley Parkway, Bricket Wood, Watford Junction, Watford High St and Croxley.

    Isn’t this a Scheme that Benefits from Private Sector Consortia being given a basic Design Brief and producing a Cost Plan and worked up Bid.

    This is crying out for Oyster Card use to manage Income.

    The Croxley, Rickmansworth Aylesbury could then run directly on the Rail Line.

    The More Stakeholders the better.

    This is surely one for this Fall and Shovel Ready in the Spring. Let, on a Concession Basis, for the shortest possible period to make money.

    Perhaps you Guys could turn your attention to the Goblin. The Victoria Line edge’s closer to Capacity as does Stratford to Dalston.

    At the Time when Camden are considering a Highline on disused Track between Camden and York Way and at Gospel Oak in the Kentish Town Plan, perhaps one Viaduct could send Trains Barking, Upper Holloway, Kentish Town West, Camden Road and York Way.
    After all DB Freight may want a more frequent Service between their Barking Terminal and King’s Cross.

    Further capacity is apparently close between Willesden and Gospel Oak. You could have a new Station in Camden Town and run Via South Hampstead and Queens Park to Willesden and Harlesden. 4-6 Consortia in a 2 Stage Process during a time of Unemployment and Low Interest Rates could work.

    Longer Peaks but equally more utilised Freight Paths.

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