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.