The government is to be asked to reconsider funding the dormant Croxley Rail link extension to the Metropolitan line in Watford, as part of its plans to support “shovel ready” projects. The railway extension was cancelled in 2016 after costs soared and the Mayor of London was unwilling to pick up the additional costs of a project that was still uncertain what the final bill would come to.

Following a meeting last week, the Three Rivers District Council, which covers most of the planned extension has agreed to write to the Department for Transport seeking funding for the £360 million scheme.

The Croxley rail link would see a short spur on the Metropolitan line that heads to Watford station diverted to the much busier Watford Junction via a disused railway track that still exists, and with two new stations along the route.

The extension has had a painful life so far, with cost estimates seemingly only ever going upwards and timelines only ever getting longer.

Initially thought to cost around £65 million in 2005, surveys and investigations have repeatedly pushed the cost upwards to the point that it’s now actually expected to cost at least £360 million to build.

The bulk of the funds were to come from Hertfordshire County Council, who planned to use a loan to fund it, with revenues from train fares on the extension going to the council to repay the loan.

The project had struggled to justify its costs to benefits ratio even before the costs soared, and to say the project became a bit of a political football is to put it mildly.

In late 2015, in one of the more controversial decisions as Mayor, Boris Johnson ordered TfL to take over the project, and put up nearly £50 million towards the rising costs of the railway. In addition, TfL would be taking over any responsibility for cost increases above the then target of £284 million.

By the Autumn of 2016, it had become clear to TfL following a review that costs were still escalating, and there was now a significant funding gap of at least £50 million. The gap wasn’t closed, and the project was quietly dropped by TfL in December 2016.

The Transport and Works Order that authorised the railway expired in August 2018.

In a meeting last week of the Three Rivers District Council’s Policy and Resources Committee, Cllr Peter Getkahn who put forward the motion, noted that on 30th June, the government announced a plan to support shovel ready projects that could be delivered quickly.

He noted that “there aren’t any projects anywhere so shovel ready as the Croxley Rail Link”, and that as a fair bit of work has already been done, the “shovel was put in the ground, then pulled back out”.

He proposed that the council send a formal application to the government seeking some of that money to restart the Croxley link.

The government fund for shovel ready projects is £900 million, so although the Croxley extension is — presumably — still seeking the bulk of its costs from the county council, and a previous deal with the DfT still exists, the Croxley extension would still consume a sizeable portion of the government pot.

Although most of the council debate was cordial, there was some dispute about whether TfL should be included in the new proposal. Cllr Getkahn argued against suggestions to include TfL and the Mayor of London Sadik Khan on the grounds that TfL is not seeking any new projects to fund, while the government is — and also that TfL isn’t in a financial position to support the project at the moment.

He noted that the council should go to the government to ask for the money as it’s the government seeking projects to fund.

A complaint by Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst that TfL wasted £16 million of its £48 million Croxley fund buying an additional Met line train was slightly disingenuous as the Croxley project itself required that additional train for capacity reasons, which is why it was bought, and would still be needed if the extension is built.

The Councillor also suggested that TfL would receive the revenues from the extension, which does differ from previous understandings that the revenue would go to the County Council to repay their loan and only then would TfL start to receive an income from the extension.

The numbers vary, but as much as £130 million has reportedly already been spent on the extension, mainly on enabling works to make way for the main construction phase. This may lower the funding requirement that would be needed to complete the line, although some of the previous investment is likely to have been wasted due to degradation.

The council meeting did, however, conclude that it would approve plans to seek some of the government “shovel ready” money to try and get the Croxley extension to the London Underground built.

If the project is approved, then the ever-moving timeline suggests it could open maybe in 2023.

The debate can be watched online – it’s Motion Three and starts an hour into the video here.

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26 comments on “The Met line’s Croxley rail link may be resurected
  1. If I was Three Rivers District Council I would have renamed that second station Watford Johnson Road!

  2. Colin Newman says:

    Sadik Khan?

  3. Andrew Bowden says:

    The rail project that just refuses to die!

    • Si says:

      It doesn’t die because the idea is a good one. Politics kept delaying it (eg the creation of the GLC and putting LU under it meaning parochial objections were able to carry weight), and that delay is why the costs skyrocketed – the disused rail infrastructure has moved from being a boon to a liability – rather than being able to be reused, reducing costs, it needs to be removed, increasing them.

      There’s lots of other rail schemes in London that have been kicking around for decades. And even some that have had construction start before not happening. Croxley is far from unique here.

  4. Melvyn says:

    Perhaps it’s time for someone to reassess this project and look at whether it could be delivered for less cost .

    For example could single track operation be used to reduce costs ?

    I suppose one way of funding would be a Council Tax precept on Hertfordshire residents !

    Recent photos on Twitter have Shaun Bailey outside Watford Station so will he fund extension ?

    • ChrisC says:

      Single track may reduce costs but at the expense of a much reduced service.

      Reduced service would affect the calculation of the cost benefits analysis.

  5. Southern Heights (Light Railway) says:

    Two words: Humber Bridge!

    • ianvisits says:

      You might want to try a few more words so that we know what you mean by that comment?

    • ChrisC says:

      County and local council elections next year (part on existing schedule and part postponed from this year) so this would be a good local campaigning issue.

      Humber Bridge funding was announced during the 1966 Kingston-Upon-Hull Nirth parliamentary by-election and led to the government retaining the seat it was likely to have lost otherwise

    • Southern Heights (Light Railway) says:

      As ChrisC says: But also the numbers don’t really stack up, if I recall the articles correctly in LondonReconnections…

  6. cbm says:

    I do have a soft spot for this project. Could a station be dropped (double ended?) – and could they be simplified?

    I recall designs much like Wood Lane.

    Watford Junction will have something of a rebirth after HS2 enables more trains to stop there, so it would be very useful.

  7. Andrew Jarman says:

    Its a vital connection to the Watford General Hospital too. Plus theres spare bay platform 5 at Watford to run trains into and then run them via the little used north curve at the Watford Triangle to give Chesham and Amersham a direct service to Watford all day every day.

  8. cbm says:

    Watford Junction definitely has the capacity. There are the four platforms, and 5 needs a signal moving but is there also.

    I did always think that if Chiltern took on a shuttle from Chesham to WJ, that service could remove the Met from the fasts north of Harrow (simplified to only WJ or Uxbridge at higher frequencies) – with Marylebone upped to Amersham to compensate.

  9. Loopy says:

    Surely cheaper to run a reliable bus service?
    Would have to build a bridge over ascot road.. put in track.. build stations.. plus money for a train. .. TFL have been bailed out twice as lacking money. ..

    • ianvisits says:

      Most public transport is cheaper to build if you replace trains with buses, but also in the long term, buses are more expensive per passenger to run and they lack the capacity of trains, limiting their ability to carry passengers.

      As for TfL’s bailout – As the article explains, around 85% of the cost is coming from the county council and national government – this is not a TfL funded project.

  10. Andrew Gwilt says:

    So it can still happen despite it’s costing lots of money to build a viaduct plus 2 new tube station (Cassiobridge and Vicarage Road) as part of the Croxley Rail Link to Watford Junction. Will Watford High Street station be upgraded with 2 extra platforms for the Metropolitan Line S8 Stocks and London Overground Class 378 & Class 710 trains operating the London Euston-Watford Junction service. Hope it does get given the go ahead.

    • Andrew Gwilt says:

      Also Metropolitan Line could add a new shuttle service from Watford Junction to Amersham using the spur that isn’t regularly used but only for empty S8 stocks. And even Chiltern Railways could run a service from Watford Junction to Gerrards Cross and High Wycombe.

  11. Doug Robinson says:

    Watford Council should ask Chiltern Railways to take over the project to run limited stop trains from Marylebone. They of course took over a similar long abandoned freight line and built a short spur linking Marylebone to Oxford which has become highly profitable for them.

  12. Rob says:

    Whilst I’m generally supportive of new railway projects, I can’t get my head around the benefits (& costs) of diverting the Met line into Watford Junction.
    Anyone who wishes to travel into London from Watford would use the faster London North Western service into Euston.
    However, I appreciate would provide better access to Watford General hospital where it can be a nightmare to find parking also to Vicarage Road for the football ground.
    Does anyone know of current passenger numbers from the Watford Met line station? It’s going to be a fair old walk for the existing customers to new Cassiobridge station if Watford Met closes!

    • Peter C says:

      If you don’t understand then try driving into Watford during the morning rush hour. A lot of people commute to places other than central London.

    • Becky Kennedy says:

      Going back about ten years when the Overground from Watford Junction or High St was very unreliable, the Met line was my only realistic train route to my job in Isleworth – and it took roughly two hours each way, as it was four trains with a massive knock-on effect if one of those was late. It was a nightmare. The wealthy residents of the Cassiobury estate have always had their tube link to bolster their house prices, whereas those of us by the hospital and football ground in West Watford were promised a tube link, new hospital, sports facilities and community spaces which never happened as part of the so-called Health Campus hospital regeneration. We lost our 140-year-old allotments to a car park for the football ground, the projected 300-ish dwellings on the Health Campus gradually became around 1000, and we still have no new hospital and reduced community green space in the most crowded part of Hertfordshire. None of the new housing in West Watford is being built with parking, or even being made eligible for parking permits, as the council says it will only be bought by car-less people commuting by train to work! So I do think the least anyone can blinkin’ well do is build us a train link to carry commuters from all this new housing, and bring hospital visitors and especially football fans to Vicarage Road without them trooping up the middle of the roads on match days for the 20-minute walk from the existing Met Line.

      Sorry about the rant, I’d underestimated how cross I still am about it! I still don’t understand how it’s gone from £65m to £360m, though.

  13. CliveP says:

    I wonder who has their eyes on the disused bit of Met Line when it becomes available. Worth a few million

  14. Richard says:

    Two additional S8 trains were delivered for the link in 2017 so no new rolling stock is required for a revised project.

    Now that the 710’s are in use Watford Junction does not need to cater for 378’s which makes things slightly easier. It was always the plan to use platforms 1 and 2 for the link S8’s with 3 and 4 for 710’s.

  15. jason leahy says:

    The cost of the line could be cut if electrification isn’t used and battery/3rd rail bi-modal trains are used instead.

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