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